A survey was commissioned by The National Autistic Society (NAS) in 2007 to explore the strong positive relationship between children with autism and Thomas & Friends.

In the survey of 748 parents of children with autism, a massive 99% ranked the Thomas & Friends character top of the toys, followed by Bob the Builder (77%).

The survey also looked at the educational benefits of Thomas & Friends and found that parents felt that their child had learnt a lot about colours (48%), numbers (49%) and language/speech (34%) from the characters.

Parents identified the clear facial expressions (55%) and simple story lines (51%), presented by Thomas & Friends as very important for their child.

Catherine Lewis, who has a six-year-old son with autism, said:

My son started liking Thomas at two years old. I actively encouraged him to engage with Thomas as I could see the benefits including helping him to understand facial expressions.  My son will need to move on to new toys as he gets older but at the moment Im not sure where wed be without Thomas.

What's more, 39% of parents said their children with autism liked the characters for over two years more than their siblings who didn't have the condition.

When it comes to popularity, cheeky locomotive Thomas is on track as childrens favourite Thomas and Friends character (60%) followed by Percy (9%) and James (6%).

NAS Director of Communications Benet Middleton said:

The NAS is aware that the relationship between Thomas & Friends and children who have autism is particularly strong for many. Parents who completed the survey feel that Thomas & Friends has played a pivotal role in the early learning of many children who have autism partly due to the clear facial expressions and simple story lines. We hope that the survey will help continue to raise awareness of autism and the over 500,000 people who have the disability in the UK today.

HRH The Countess of Wessex, Patron of the NAS, presented the survey at a business lunch for Thomas & Friends licensees and retailers on behalf of the NAS and HIT Entertainment. The partnership between the NAS and HIT has successfully raised a staggering £800,000 for the UK's leading charity for people with autism. As well as launching the new report, the organisations renewed their partnership.

Making connections: executive summary

Making connections: A report on the special relationship between children with autism and Thomas & Friends (executive summary) (PDF) (2007)