LivingWhen children line up their toys: why do they...

When children line up their toys: why do they do it and what can it mean?

Does your child line up toys when playing? Do you classify them by colors or shapes? What meaning could all this have?

American psychologist Jerome Seymour Bruner, who made important contributions to cognitive psychology and learning theories within the field of educational psychology, was one of the first to discuss children’s ability to align objects during play.

This type of game we are talking about usually emerges around the age of two or three, and usually involves lining up objects in a straight line. But there are more variants. The main reason for doing it? Being able to identify and discriminate those objects.

But what else could lead children to line up objects when they play? When could be a possible warning sign of an autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?

When children line up their toys: why do they do it and what can it mean?

Many boys and girls go through a period of lining up their toys during their playtime. And in most cases it is something completely normal, as one more stage of its development.

However, although there is no reason to worry a priori , in other cases (which we will learn about later), this could be a symptom of an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) .

In the first place, we will focus on those cases where this phase of the game is totally normal, understanding the causes of the phenomenon. Why do children line up their toys? Some possible causes:

as a way to explore

We know that children explore and discover the world through play. Thus, the fact that they line up the toys could simply be a manifestation of this need to explore ; it is a way of “playing your way”, with your criteria and guidelines.

In addition, through these alignments they can also create stories , thus developing the symbolic game. For example, pretending that the figures are students queuing at school.

Of course, symbolic play does not always arise from lining up toys; In children with ASD, for example, this type of game lining up toys is never symbolic, but rather repetitive and not very functional.

To categorize or classify objects

In the first years of life, children begin to develop different types of intelligence, among which is logical-mathematical intelligence.

For this reason, it is very normal that, through play, they try to classify and order the toys “in their own way”, according to their criteria. For example, depending on the colors , sizes…

to discriminate them

And it is that between the ages of two and three, children begin to discriminate objects by size , weight or color. And that alignment game is due to the fact that they are discriminating the objects.

Align toys following their “logic”

It can also happen that your child lines up his toys without an apparent “logic”, that is, without following any criteria. Well, in these cases you are surely following a logic , your own.

We must bear in mind that, apart from the fact that children can become very imaginative and creative when playing, “there is nothing written” as to how to play.

In addition, their ideas may be very different from ours, which is why they line up the toys according to preferences , for example, or to see how they are placed on the floor.

Aligning toys as a symptom of autism

One of the diagnostic criteria for autism, in addition to being the main symptom of autism, included in the DSM-5 ( Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders ) are ” restrictive and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities “.

These patterns manifest themselves in different ways, including through play.

play in autism

Thus, a child with autism can use objects repetitively , through the alignment of toys.

Also, changing their place , carefully observing a specific part of the toy (for example, looking at a part of a toy car, and looking at it turning the object, ignoring the other parts). On the other hand, their game is not usually symbolic, as we have already seen, but rather repetitive (and rigid).

In relation to this, Elaime Maciques, a specialist in autism spectrum disorders, assures that the majority of children with ASD do not reach a level of imitation that allows them to establish a functional play relationship; they tend to put objects in rows, spin car wheels…

How to know if it is an autistic behavior?

But to be able to talk about autism, it is not enough for the child to align their objects when playing, since, as we have seen, this action is very common in children without ASD.

Thus, the rest of the symptoms of autism must appear, and the other main symptom is added to the repetitive patterns: ” persistent deficiencies in social communication and social interaction in various contexts”.

This symptom manifests itself, for example, in socio-emotional reciprocity, abnormal social approach, failure in normal conversation, decreased shared interests or emotions, eye contact abnormalities (not looking into the eyes), difficulties in understanding and using gestures, etc.

The importance of a good psychological evaluation in autism

In short, in order to be able to talk about autism, an exhaustive evaluation of the child’s behavior is necessary, through questionnaires and tests aimed at its diagnosis (with the parents and the child), observation and clinical interview.

All this, from the hand of professionals specialized in ASD (neuropediatricians, clinical psychologists and developmental psychologists, etc.).

When is this behavior normal and when could it be cause for alarm?

As we have seen, in most cases, children aligning toys when playing is quite normal , and is usually part of the development of their game. In some cases, however, this game could be a warning sign of autism. In which cases?

When this type of game is accompanied by the symptoms already described for autism, and also when the child can only “play” it (he is rigid in this sense).

That is, when he is unable to play other things , he becomes obsessed with it and the game itself gets in the way of his normal behavior.

Also, when he offers strong resistance when disturbed while playing; In these cases, it is better to be alert and make an appointment with a professional so that he can carry out an adequate evaluation.

But if this is not the case, there is no reason to worry! Encourage him to continue playing as he is born and find time to accompany him during game times as well.

“Play, play and play, is there anything in the lives of children that could be more important and instructive?”

-Astrid Lindgren-

Photos | Cover (depositphotos), Image 1 (pexels), Image 2 (pexels)

Babies and more | What do children play according to their age? The four types of children’s play, Children who do not know how to play alone: what is the reason and how to encourage independent play?

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