Was Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood made for children with autism? Is there any evidence that his shows help our kids?
Today’s “Got Questions?” answer comes from Mark Strauss, PhD, principal investigator at the University of Pittsburgh Center of Excellence in Autism Research; and Alan Friedman, director of development for The Fred Rogers Company.
Fred Rogers cared deeply about the social and emotional development of all children. As it happens, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood proved to be a particularly wonderful resource for children with autism. The social and emotional themes that Fred talked and sang about each day are the very skills that pose such challenges for children with autism. In our research, we have found that children with autism connect in powerful ways with the program’s calming pace, caring tone and predictability.
The Fred Rogers Company has several file folders filled with letters from parents and teachers who say that, for children with autism, watching and reflecting on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood helps decrease anxiety and excitability. It can also improve listening and speaking skills, increase attention for learning new tasks and encourage imaginative play.
Perhaps these outcomes should be no surprise. A growing body of research has demonstrated the effectiveness of video modeling. Video modeling involves observing appropriate behaviors in video recordings and then practicing them in real-life situations. It proves especially effective in teaching social skills to children with autism.
The University of Pittsburgh Center of Excellence in Autism Research has long used Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood in an ongoing research project. Recently the center collaborated with The Fred Rogers Company on a new project – a DVD entitled “Friends and Feelings: Helping Children with Autism in Social and Emotional Learning.” It features four Neighborhood episodes in which Fred and his friends and neighbors work on skills like waiting, helping and asking for help. They model being flexible, managing frustration and anger and thinking about the feelings of others. They also take walks and go to a restaurant.
We created “Friends and Feelings” for both children and their caregivers. For adults, the DVD contains introductions from a developmental psychologist, child and adolescent psychiatrist, special education consultant and social skills therapist. These introductions provide research-based recommendations for getting the most out of this and other media. Already we have distributed about 13,000 copies of the DVD in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Fred Rogers may not have produced Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood specifically for children with autism. But with this new project, the company he founded hopes to continue supporting these children as they develop the social skills, emotional intelligence and relationships that are the makings of full lives.
“Friends and Feelings” can be ordered directly from The Fred Rogers Company. All proceeds support work that advances and extends Fred Rogers’ philosophy and values.
You can find more information on helpful videos and DVDs in Autism Speaks Resource Library, here.