In the Netherlands, we celebrate the Dutch National Holiday of Sinterklaas every December 5th and on this occasion Maya gets tons of presents. Therefore Hanukkah, while celebrated joyously, present wise is always understated. Since Sinterklaas is always the big toys and the massive amount of presents, for Hanukkah we stick to smaller gifts like books, pens, pencils, dvd's, etc. We also tend to not spend a lot of money on Hanukkah gifts for a variety of reasons,, first of all, we just blew a ton of money on her Sinterklaas presents and also since Maya is our only child, we buy her presents pretty frequently. Therefore for Hanukkah we go to more the thrifty side, finding small, and hopefully meaningful things courtesy of the half-off bin.
This year I ordered some dvd's from www.Bol.com (the Dutch equivalent of Amazon) and got a great deal on some dvds from Thomas the Tank Engine so I got her two Thomas dvd's as well as some books and puzzles. Maya is quite fickle with dvd's and while she watches Tom and Jerry, Looney Tunes and Scooby Doo pretty frequently, the zillion Disney and Sesame Street dvds only get sporadic viewing. Therefore when I ordered the Thomas dvds, I wasn't sure she would like them. So, when I saw the Thomas deal (I got both dvds for less than 12 Euros), I thought well even if she only watches them a couple times, it is not so much to spend, so cha-ching, .Happy Hanukkah!
Maya opened the dvds and was happy but not overly excited or anything. That evening I asked her if she wanted to watch one of them with me and always happy for me to lay down with her in her bed, she was very enthusiastic. I thought it was more the snuggling then the dvds to be honest. Over the next week or so I started to notice that Maya was putting Thomas on her dvd player all the time. She would come home from school and go straight to her room and put Thomas on, and even if she was playing, she always wanted Thomas on in the background. A couple days later after a routine shopping trip with Leo (in which she usually scores some new toy from him), she came home with a Thomas toy and the catalog which showed Thomas and all his friends as well as tracks and other accessories and Maya was very excitedly talking about all the pieces that she wanted to get. Two weeks later thanks to multiple shopping trips with Papa as well as Oma and Opa (Grandma and Grandpa), she had all the trains and the track and Papa was putting it together in her room. I thought she was going through a phase as she can have these periods where she gets fixated on a toy or type of toy and I thought, within a week or so she will be into something else.
For the last month, Maya's fixation with Thomas is bordering on obsession. In her room she only wants to have Thomas on. She carries one of the trains with her to school every day and she talks about Thomas constantly. She has celebrated Thomas', Diesel's and Percy's birthdays, complete with fantasy birthday parties. Last week she told me that Thomas was too tired to go to school and asked if it was okay if he would stay home and rest. I have really never seen her so fixated on something as much as she is Thomas. Yesterday she asked me if we could buy toothbrushes for Thomas asd his friends (and I has to gently explain to her that trains do not have teeth).
I asked Leo about a week ago how long he thought "Thomas" would last and I mentioned that I had never seen Maya be taken in so fully by a cartoon character. I can't explain but I just felt like Thomas had become more than a toy but a part of her life. I thought it could be worse, I would rather have her fixated on Thomas (who is friendly and kind and teaches good lessons) then getting fixated on Pokemon or Sponge Bob.
Then last night Maya was watching Thomas and I noticed she had put all her trains next to the tv and I asked her why they were there and she told me that they wanted to watch themselves on tv, or what she actually said is that they wanted to watch themselves on the 'Thomas Channel'. I laughed and came and posted a funny status about it on my facebook. Then a good friend of mine in NY (who also has an autistic son) commented back and mentioned that studies have been done which prove that Thomas can help children with Autism break through barriers and that many Autistic kids gravitate toward Thomas and identify more closely with Thomas than any other character. I quickly did a google and found a cornucopia of articles on the subject. Wow!
These articles said that Thomas is naturally appealing to kids on the autism spectrum because of such things (that trains in general are appealing to kids on the spectrum, since many autistic children like to 'line up' their toys) and many autistic children like toys with spinning objects. In addition the Thomas games, books and dvds are paced well for many autistic kids and Thomas, fcan help children gain an initial understanding of emotions because they talk about emotions and show clear facial expressions which children connect with each emotion. Also, the pace of Thomas' stories is slow enough, without a lot of fast action on the screen (which can overstimulate and confuse autistic kids) which is conducive for autistic children to be able to follow the story in a good manner. Fascinating stuff! If you are interested in reading more on the topic go to http://www.myfavoritetoys.com/autism_thomas.php
Had I known about the benefits of Thomas for Maya, I definitely would have purchased it for her before now. As it turns out Maya discovered Thomas all on her own. --Thanks to the half off bin!