The Thomas & Friends brand team in the UK are working with the National Autistic Society and Character.com to develop an autism-friendly range of clothing featuring Thomas & Friends.

Some autistic children are highly sensitive to the feel and colour of certain materials, to the extent that some clothing is unpleasant or even painful to wear. This range has been developed in collaboration with the National Autistic Society, who conducted research with families of autistic children and ran focus groups at the charity’s Helen Allison School in Kent.

Parents involved in the focus groups said that their children preferred softer fabric. Over half of parents who responded to the National Autistic Society’s survey said that there are fabrics their children will not wear, as well as specific colour preferences and ease of dressing requirements and needs.

In April 2021, the National Autistic Society conducted a survey* of over 1,500 parents whose autistic children are under the age of 16. According to the results of the survey, the biggest considerations in choosing clothing are:

Pull-on clothing
Easy dressing clothing
No labels
No buttons
Velcro fastenings

The new clothing range, designed with these insights in mind, includes loose-fitting t-shirts, jumpers and tracksuits, all in soft fabrics and designed for ease of dressing. The National Autistic Society then ran two focus groups at their Helen Allison School in October 2021, where autistic pupils tried the clothes over the weekend and shared their feedback. Following reports that many autistic children ‘retain the love for the [Thomas & Friends] brand beyond the core age’, the range has been designed for fans aged from 3 to 16 years.

The range launches on Character.com during World Autism Acceptance Week on 2 April 2022.

Peter Watt, Director of National Programmes at the National Autistic Society, says: “We are delighted to be partnering with Thomas & Friends and Character.com to create such an important range of clothing for autistic children and teens.

“Parents and autistic young people often tell us how sensory sensitivities can mean that children on the autism spectrum struggle with certain clothes. For some, a label on a t-shirt, a prominent seam, or certain fabrics could be incredibly itchy, distracting or even physically painful. Finding the right clothing can make shopping difficult, time consuming and stressful. So, it’s really great to have the chance to develop this autism-friendly collection.”

“Thomas & Friends is an inclusive brand which invites all of our fans to celebrate friendship,” says Claudia Caron, Thomas & Friends Marketing Manager. “We are very proud to be supporting our Thomas & Friends community of autistic fans through our partnership with our friends at the National Autistic Society to offer more choices and accessible clothing based on what mums and dads of autistic children have told us they want to see.”

Karen Hewitt, Co-Founder of Character.com, adds: “At Character.com, we value charitable relationships and responding to our customers’ needs. As a result, we are thrilled to introduce this Thomas & Friends range, which Mattel developed in collaboration with the National Autistic Society. The Character.com team are delighted to be selling a range that is unique to the industry and provides our consumers with exactly what they need. We are thrilled to be able to contribute to such a worthy cause, and we hope that this is the start of many such initiatives from Character.com.”

*Survey commissioned by Mattel and run by the National Autism Society, April 2021.