When a Line of Toys Is Just Playtime

There’s lots about this parenting gig that I find delightful.  Toys, and watching the kids playing with them, has to be one of the more fun bits.  My kids line things up.  Even when I knew it was one of those things to watch out for when the girls were little, something to be concerned about, I found it charming and highly organizational.

Think about it!  Some jobs call for lining things up, organizing things.  This is a skill that can come in handy.  If we’re looking at autism only in a doom-and-gloom perspective, it doesn’t allow us to see some of the particular symptoms simply as personality traits.  I grant you, if all a child does is line things up all day long and then have extended meltdowns about the removal or messing up of the line, there’s some work to be done on taking that trait and making it more adaptive and functional, but my girls have learned to accept that their things are going to have to be put up.

Plenty of jobs require lining things up and organizing them:  libraries, shops, all sorts of places of business have stock that must be placed on shelves in  neat, orderly rows.  The girlies liking order and neat lines of things all in their places is and can be highly adaptive; it’s certainly not harming them.  I’ve read fellow bloggers bemoan this trait, get bent out of shape and filled with grief over the kind of behavior demonstrated in the picture above, and if it were over meltdowns related to that behavior, I might be able to understand it, but often it appears to be over nothing more than what my girls do.

Now, there are times when their lines stretch for fifteen feet or more, and it means having to step over things until they are through playing, but I’m not getting it as a grief moment.  Not really.  And I didn’t when it was my son, who is much more severely affected by his autism and intellectual disability.  There were more difficult symptoms that caused grief; you know, things like his tendency to bang his head into the wall, his physical aggression (when he was little; the stroke stopped that), his lack of sleep, his extreme agitation.  Yeah, there was a lot of stuff to be worried and hand-wringing about, and lining stuff up has always been the least of our worries.

Maybe the concern over lining up things is a stand-in for all the greater fears and worries that descend on us like the birds in the Hitchcock film and not over the thing itself.  I don’t know, and I’m not sure there’s a kind way to ask folks when they seem to pour out all these negative emotions on the little things, the things that are of no real import.  You don’t want to add to their grief, you want to be supportive, but at the same time, you really want to tell some folks (oh, like the AoAers who appear to be locked into their eugenics-conspiracy theoried paranoia) to snap out of it.  When we have a doom-and-gloom track playing in our head in an endless loop, we shatter our own ability to cope adaptively, to look on the sunny side of things, to find the simple pleasures in watching our beloved children playing with their toys.  We miss their looks of intense concentration and joy as they line their star trek toys up according to which series, as they use the chipettes as punctuators.  We miss out on our children as unique, interesting and wonderful people in their own rights just as they are when we look at that scenario as a cause for pain.  I ask you, pain for whom?  And why?

KWombles blogs at CounteringWhen a Line of Toys Is Just Playtime appears here with her permission.

[image:  KWombles]

on 10/28/10 in Art/Play/Myth, featured | 4 Comments | Read More

Comments (4)


  1. Kim, thank you, thank you, thank you! I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why lining things up is evidence of pathology. Neurotypical kids line things up, too. My NT daughter used to line up all her Halloween candy on the kitchen floor, arranged according to brand. I just thought it was cute.

    And you’re right: lining up and organizing things is an incredibly useful skill. I’ve spent a large part of my working life organizing information and objects-first as a technical writer, and then as a volunteer shop assistant in a thrift store that benefits hospice. In the latter job, I was so good at organizing things to look orderly and aesthetically pleasing that people would actually *applaud* when I showed up for work!

    And besides, organizing things, whether in rows, shelves, or on a page, is an important skill for an autistic person to have. It’s really appalling to me when people complain about their kids’ problems with executive functioning, and then keep them from honing their organizational skills when they play. I’m thinking that it was a good thing that I wasn’t diagnosed as a kid; my parents let me line things up and list things out and otherwise organize them to my heart’s content, and those skills have served me well.

  2. KWombles says:

    Hi Rachel,

    It always struck me as weird that lining things up was one of the things that signaled a problem (what should signal a problem is how the child reacts when it’s time to put stuff up or if the line is messed up). I also never understood the problem with pedantic language. There are professions like being a college instructor where precision in language comes in handy. Technical fields, writers, reporters, all sorts of professions rely on pedanticism. :-)

  3. Ash says:

    Let’s see if I can do this.

    Kirk, Picard, Wesley Crusher(?), Riker, Geordi, Admiral McCoy(?), random chipmunk, Dr Crusher(?), Odo, Kira, and a third random chipmunk.

  4. Kimberly Wombles says:


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