Do you know Thomas the Tank Engine? Great character but there are some very quirky things about it. First of all, why do they have Alec Baldwin narrating the stories and doing the voices? It’s ok for the leader of the railroad, Sir Topham Hatt, the one who says “there will be confusion and delay” in a very deep voice, but does Alec also have to be the voice for Lady Hat, Sir Topham Hatt’s wife? So weird. “They” say that Thomas is a good cartoon for children with autism because the faces on the rail cars are very expressive and it helps the kids to read faces better; some people with autism have trouble reading emotions. Bryan, however, has no trouble reading emotions, particularly Earl’s, Jason’s or mine. He knows from our voices, our facial expressions, and our demeanor exactly where we are on the emotional spectrum, but he does also see our faces and know what’s happening. In the overall scheme of life, it’s great that he has this skill and hopefully it will help him navigate all sorts of relationships as he grows up. If you know him at all, his signature line of “are you happy” is more than just a platitude; he wants and needs to know. And if you are not happy, and especially not happy with him, well his anxiety will go through the roof. It is heart wrenching to watch him sometimes. His facial expressions are super clear. He can have the most engaging smile and giggle or he can have a troubled, pained look that I see on a lot of kids with autism. It is almost as if they know they have to do something or shouldn’t do something but just can’t figure out how to get there or how to control themselves. For Bryan, his anxiety manifests in repetitive language and questions. We try to get him to think before speaking. We try to give him a visual aid like an index card with his schedule. Unfortunately, it only amounts to more confusion and delay. He gets more anxious when he thinks we are upset with him for repeating and we get more anxious when he repeats so much. I seriously rack my brain to figure out how to get him out of this. We try to distract him, we try to reassure him, we try to show him through our actions that we are trustworthy. He knows but cannot get out of his own way.
Thomas makes an annual appearance. He is really for little kids but every now and then I hear that signature “there will be confusion and delay” or the music from the cartoon that Bryan loves to sing. Bryan likes when I imitate Sir Topham Hatt so that makes it fun and silly too. I love to hear Bryan sing but of course then I worry if he’s going back to these juvenile cartoons as a form of self soothing. Hmm maybe that’s not so bad?!! Either way when I hear Alec Baldwin Ihave a chuckle.