What Does It Mean When Autistic Kids Line Things Up?

by Karen Doyle

    Autism is a complex disorder with many symptoms. Children with autism might have most or all of the symptoms, and will have them in varying degrees. A penchant for order and sameness, repetitive behavior and narrowly focused interests are some of the hallmarks of autism. Depending on the child, these characteristics can be mild, moderate or quite severe.

    Lining Things Up

    Lining up toys or other objects is an example of an unusual interest or behavior that is related to autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children with autism spectrum disorder might also play with toys or parts of toys exactly the same way every time. A disruption in the order or alignment of the line of toys might be upsetting because lining the toys up provides comfort and a sense of control.

    Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

    According to the Autism Speaks website, some medical experts consider this compulsion to line objects up in exactly the same way to be a symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder. True OCD, however, causes anxiety, while these repetitive behaviors are comforting to those with autism. Lining up toys or other objects provides a sense of order and control in a world that is often difficult for these children to understand and navigate.

    Intervention

    If a child lines up all of his toy cars on the floor of his room, it might not be considered a problem that needs to be addressed. If, however, he throws a tantrum when one car is out of order, or he will not allow you to vacuum his floor because he will not move the cars, it might be time to intervene. Setting limits on the behavior can help. Tell your child ahead of time, “You can line the cars up now, but after lunch we will pick them up so I can vacuum. Then you can put them back in a line.” By acknowledging that your child needs to have the cars in a line, and letting him know that he can put them back again later, you might prevent a meltdown.

    Changes as the Child Grows

    Lining up toys and other objects is one way in which autistic children exert control over their environment. As they grow and mature, this need for control may take different, more socially acceptable forms. In some circumstances, it might be used as an advantage in school or work situations where organization and structure is required. As a parent, you might be able to help your child use this characteristic to his advantage.

    About the Author

    Karen Doyle has been a writer since 1993, covering finance, business, marketing and parenting. Her work has been published in "Kidding Around" and "A Cup of Comfort." Doyle holds a bachelor's degree in marketing from Boston College.

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