Why does my child line up toys? Should I be worried?

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By Kristine Lucas MA,OTR/L


Someone may have told you that the regular line up of toys on your coffee table is a definite sign of Autism. Perhaps another parent at the park pointed out your child’s “red flag” or perhaps went so far as to diagnose your child as being on the spectrum.

It happens all the time.

But is your child really on the spectrum?


Maybe it’s OCD instead? Perhaps a grandparent has told you that lining up the toys is a sign that your child has OCD and you are tempted to believe them. OCD consists of three letters casually bantered around on social media and television.


Formally, Pediatric Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a significant neurobiological disorder that severely can disrupt academic, social, and vocational functioning. While this condition can start at any age, as many as 2 to 3% of young children are now believed to demonstrate obsessive-compulsive behaviors.http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1826591-overview  But does your child experience repetitive unwanted thoughts that are interfering with daily life in addition to lining up toys, which would indicate OCD?



You are not sure.


Perhaps the mommy blogger you stumbled upon is correct. She agrees with another blogger that lining up cars is no big deal and all kids do it and you should ignore it and focus on having fun with your child. She says everyone is afraid of Autism and people are slapping that label on too many kids.

While the mommy bloggers may be onto something in that you should not fear autism, have they met you or your child? Have they observed your child at play? Have they considered your child’s social development? Do they look at your child as a whole and not as a person not defined by one behavior?

Your child may line up cars because well, they like lining up cars. Your child may just like the visual order the line up provides. It could be a facet of their personality. Your child may just love basking in the pride of owning an immense miniature auto fleet. Then again your instincts may be urging you to learn more for a reason and perhaps there is a way therapy and professionals can help.

All kids do not line up cars. Some never or rarely do, even when asked to do so. Some children create lines of toys, yet they are not on the spectrum. Some children on the spectrum have no interest on lining up their play materials and yet come to have a diagnosis of autism.

It takes more than one behavior for a licensed physician, psychologist or qualified autism expert to determine whether or not a child is on a spectrum. The M-CHAT-R (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, Revised) does not ask a parent specifically if a child lines up toys. However, the behavior is considered a repetitive behavior and repetitive behaviors are characteristic of persons on the spectrum.


Now you are back where you started now with no answers and zero help.

So should you just let it go and see if your child grows out of it?


Lining up cars may be your child’s way of communicating immature motor planning abilities.  Motor planning is the ability to plan and carry out motor tasks (Ayres, 1973). Many children on and off the Spectrum struggle with developing their ability to plan and carry out motor tasks and this may result in poor performance in school as well as delays in speech development.

Does your child line up other objects too? Are you pushing your child to write or draw and all they instead line up the crayons? They may be communicating they are not ready to write their name on that pesky line at preschool or in the wide vast unruly space of their finger painting project. Your child may be showing that their motor planning has not developed enough to master written communication and that the team needs to provide other sensori-motor experiences to encourage the development of motor planning before insisting the child writes their name.

Perhaps you have conditioned our child to NOT line up crayons as a means to “stop the Autism,” but now they throw the crayons, leave their seat and walk around the classroom when it comes time to color. You are no longer worried about Autism, you now believe there is a chance your child has ADHD!

Worrying has solved few of the world’s problems if any and adds stress to children who may already be struggling with regulating environmental stressors.


Asking questions is a first step to finding answers and getting help!


Do you perceive that your child suddenly becomes stubborn and uncooperative when you introduce new tasks?  Is sending your child to school stressful for you, your child, your child’s teacher or all of the above? Have people pointed out “red flags” in what you considered to be endearing childhood actions? If so find a team of therapists and professionals experienced with pediatrics that can work with you to identify delays in motor planning, attention and change dread and fear into positive action.

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