After a discussion with a friend about my oldest child’s uncommon interests and behaviors (What is hyperlexia?), she asked if he ever lined up his toys when he was a toddler.
“Cause my daughter did that when she was little,” she said. “And I would mix them all up, and it would drive her crazy!”
So it got me thinking, did my son ever line up his toys?
You mean, like this? This is a picture of my child when he was a toddler (21 months specifically) lining up his vehicles.
At the time, I was a little panicked. Why is he lining up his toys like that? Is lining up toys an early indicator for Autism? Does this mean he is autistic? Do I need to bring this up to his pediatrician? A Google search made me question his play habits even more.
I am here to tell you today that it is okay if your toddler is lining up toys, and though it may be an early sign for Autism (and that’s okay!), it very well may be developmentally appropriate for him/her to do so.
There is actually a purpose for toddlers to line up their toys, and they are gaining specific math skills, categorizing and ordering, by doing so. Further, it is a precursor to the imaginary play that preschoolers participate in. Why it is so disconcerting is that they don’t have the verbal skills or the cognitive reasoning to explain to you that is what they are doing. But that doesn’t mean that the skill aquisition isn’t happening!
As children graduate from toddlerhood and enter the preschool years, these lining up skills may move into something deeper and more meaningful.
For example, lining up cars as an older child may serve as a means for a pretend play scenario.
Lining up cars for monster trucks to crash.
In this scenario, the cars didn’t stay lined up for long. There was a lot of monster truck mayhem happening here and snippets of pretend play language was heard:
Time to crush some cars! My friends are gonna help too. This one is called Double Trouble. Ram is my friend. Big Foot is my friend. We’re gonna smash and bash.
Cars continued to get crushed by numerous monster trucks (sound effects included).
A similar behavior is when toddlers line up fridge magnets. A preschooler may line up magnets, as well, but for a specific play scenario. After asking what’s going on with those vehicles, my son started to push the vehicle magnets like buttons and responded:
This is a car computer. You hit forklift and then you can swipe and go up and down. And you open it up and it’s a big giant drone! Then what you do next is you hit exit and then you get to play with it! You can play a game of cars with it.
In this scenario, the vehicles were actually a touch screen computer; he had a purpose to lining up the magnets.
Did your child line up their toys as a toddler? All three of mine have. What kinds of items did they line up?
If your child is exhibiting multiple red flags or you just have questions about your child’s behavior, it doesn’t hurt to talk to your pediatrician or to a local mental health professional. Just know that the range of Autism varies widely. A good resource for further reading is through The National Autism Foundation: Signs of Autism.