Do autistic toddlers line things up?

Answered by Michael Wilson

Autistic toddlers often engage in a behavior known as lining up objects. This behavior is commonly seen in children with autism and is one of the distinctive play patterns that differentiate them from typically developing children. While it is important to note that not all children with autism engage in this behavior, it is a common characteristic observed in many.

Lining up objects refers to the act of arranging toys or objects in a straight line or in a specific order. Autistic toddlers may spend considerable amounts of time carefully arranging their toys, typically in a repetitive and organized manner. This behavior may include lining up cars, blocks, or other objects in a specific order, often based on size, color, or some other characteristic.

The repetitive nature of lining up objects is a hallmark feature of autism. It is thought to provide a sense of predictability and order for children with autism, which can be comforting and calming for them. Through repetitive actions like lining up objects, autistic children can create a predictable and structured environment that helps them make sense of their surroundings.

It is important to understand that lining up objects is not the same as engaging in imaginative or pretend play, which is more commonly observed in typically developing children. While typically developing children might use their toys to create stories, act out scenarios, or engage in social play with others, children with autism often prefer repetitive behaviors, such as lining up objects, rather than engaging in imaginative play.

The reasons behind why autistic toddlers engage in lining up objects are not fully understood. Some researchers believe it may be related to sensory processing differences in autism. For example, lining up objects may provide visual stimulation or a way for children with autism to explore the physical properties of objects, such as their size, shape, or texture.

Personal experiences with autistic toddlers often highlight the prevalence of lining up objects. I have observed this behavior in many children I have worked with who have autism. For instance, I worked with a young boy who had a particular fascination with lining up his toy cars. He would spend hours carefully arranging them in a specific order, lining them up by color and size. This repetitive behavior seemed to provide him with a sense of control and structure in his play.

It is worth noting that lining up objects is not inherently problematic or harmful. However, if this behavior becomes extremely rigid and interferes with a child’s ability to engage in other age-appropriate play activities or social interactions, it may be necessary to provide support and guidance to help the child expand their play skills.

Lining up objects is a common play pattern observed in autistic toddlers. This behavior, along with other repetitive actions, helps provide structure, predictability, and sensory stimulation for children with autism. By understanding and accepting these unique play preferences, we can support autistic toddlers in their individual ways of exploring and engaging with their environment.