Ask any occupational therapist, and they could point to a moment that inspired them in a way they cannot forget. A few years ago, I worked with a little boy who was nonverbal. One day, while assessing his fine motor skills, he was clearly getting frustrated but did not yet have a way to effectively communicate his frustration to me. His mother, being the amazing mother she was, got down on his level and began singing a song to him. I did not have children, so the song was not familiar to me. However, it changed the little boy instantly. I watched him calm down as he listened to his mother’s singing, mesmerized by the co-regulation happening before my eyes. After he settled, I asked her what song she sang. She said it was from a favorite show of theirs, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.
“When you feel so mad that you want to roar, just take a deep breath and count to four.”
A catchy TV show song cueing a child to regulate himself with breathing strategies? I had to know more about this show! I began watching Daniel Tiger and quickly fell in love with the amazing themes, songs, and emotional intelligence strategies that it effectively provided to a preschool audience. Better yet, the show was actually loved and well-received by many kids! As it’s produced by Fred Rogers Productions, it’s no surprise that the show carries on Mister Rogers’ legacy of quality and holistic children’s programming. Inspired, I sought to find other children’s shows that I could recommend to parents for their children with autism.
Below are the top three shows I’ve found that can provide therapeutic benefit for your child.
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood centers its plot around socio-emotional themes that are relatable for all children. The show presents these themes through the experiences of Daniel Tiger and his friends, very clearly working through the lens of child development.
During each episode, the characters demonstrate simple and meaningful examples of real-life challenges, problem-solving, and friendship. Each episode also includes catchy songs with titles such as “When You Have To Go Potty, Stop and Go Right Away!” and “When We Do Something New, Let’s Talk About What We’ll Do!” While its lessons are intended for children, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood also provides wonderful parenting strategies and songs for use at home to help with routines, common struggles, and working through emotions. Check out the latest special “Won’t You Sing Along with Me,” which features themes relevant to children due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
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Caitie’s Classroom is a show produced by Super Simple, a company whose mission is to make learning and teaching easy and fun. Caitie is an adult who guides children in a sort of preschool “circle time” through play, song, and even field trips. Each episode focuses on a theme and provides a very routine learning sequence. For example, it starts with the “hello” song, moves through a few activities relevant to the theme, and then ends with the “goodbye” song. Her music is simple and repetitive, clearly written with child development and learning in mind.
Caitie also provides great crafts and activities that parents can reproduce with children to promote hands-on learning. The field trips she includes are also wonderful, often presented in a social-story format to places meaningful to children, such as trips to the dentist or to get a haircut.
An Australian animated series, Bluey is unique in that the themes and lessons it provides during its programming can be much less direct. The show is centered around Bluey, her sister, and her parents as they go on adventures through imaginative play. The main characters are often shown during their everyday life, but unlike many shows, the parents are just as invested in the shared game as the children.
Not only is it great for children with autism to view these models of creativity and imaginative play, but it is also helpful for parents to see the examples of ways that they can get on the floor, play, and connect with their children. The silliness is shared, and this representation of the value of play between parent and child is a welcomed one. Videos such as “Bluey Games to Play Indoors” are especially invaluable, as they provide parents with imaginative play ideas as well as what you’ll need to carry out these games in your home.
If your child loves screen time and you are looking for productive content, each of these shows offers valuable tools and lessons for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). While they are aimed at preschoolers, there is something to gain for every age – including parents.
This article was featured in Issue 118 – Reframing Education in the New Normal.