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?


Anonymous said...

Julia's lining up her Barbies as I read this! :-)

She's lined thing up since she could manipulate them. I was never really grieved by it, and somehow now it's a strangely comforting thing when I see it. It's like even though she's making all this progress and becoming wonderfully functional, she still LOVES her lines!

Autism Mom Rising said...

I don't know Kim. As someone with Spectrum traits but not the full blown social aspects I can say that obssessive spirals do not feel good. It can be almost like an addiction. That's why I have always been uncomfortable if my son is obsessively stimming - I have too much empathy for his experience. Some people with autism may feel differently. Of course I appreciate their experience and opinions. But I also know some of them would agree with me.

I would rather give the concerned moms room to be wherever they are. After all, they might be onto something with their own children. We don't see what is going on inside someone else's house, which is probably good because we all have so much going on inside our own. :)

Autism Mom Rising said...

With that said. I think it is wonderful that you see the positive in things so often.

KWombles said...

I wasn't talking about playing and how how my autistic children do so, not about when they are engaging in obsessive stims. I think it's incredibly important to distinguish between stimming and playing in one's preferred way.

I'm not talking about when it's veered into obsessive behaviors that must be completed or anxiety ensues. We deal with that in this house, as well, and that's not what I mean.

When you see a child have to do something over and over, stuck in a cycle that causes him no pleasure, then feeling heartsick over that is a reasonable emotion.

The problem is that many people simply look at traits like lining things up or playing with the parts of a toy rather than the entire toy as something to despair over.

What should matter more is the context and how the child feels about the activity. If the child derives pleasure from the activity (and no harm is done), the parent bemoaning it seems misguided at best.

It's perfectly understandable to feel grief for oneself, for instance, at a 20 year old who still prefers infant toys, but if it isn't hurting the 20 year old or making the 20 year old unhappy, let's be clear that the grief is the parent's own, at what the parent wishes things were, not because the adult child is unhappy and suffering.

It's also entirely reasonable to hate to see a child's stimming behaviors include picking at one's cuticles until bloody; that's harmful behavior and not one the child is finding pleasant. We should feel concerned and work to help the child find more appropriate outlets. To get bent out of shape because a child is happily lining things up isn't reasonable (and that's what I'm referring to); as I said in the post, I don't say anything to point out the nashing of teeth is inappropriate; I figure the despair of lining up things is not over that at all, but simply how the blogger chooses to go about communicating her feelings about her child's autism in general.

As long as people don't place behaviors into proper contexts, as long as all they want to do is see everything different about their child as negative (regardless of the trait's adaptive values), then they will remain stuck. And that, despite how unaware people might like to think their autistic children are, will impact the child.

I get grieving. I get feeling heartbroken. I just want to make sure that when I feel that way it's the appropriate emotion. If it's not, then I want to let that go and move on to an appropriate emotion. If it is appropriate,though, then, I want to move past it, onto the action part, even if that action is simply to accept where I've been, where my child is at, what the reality is and then find a way to make the best of it.

I think people forget just how much control they really do have over what they feel.

Autism Mom Rising said...

That is very well explained Kim. Thanks. Sometimes we all get caught up in semantics - what one defines as a stim vs. what another does can be different. Thanks for clarifying. I guess I got a little touchy. Some of those people at AoA are my friends, and as much as I love your blog, and I really do, it can be hard to see them criticized some much - even as I understand from your perspective why it is done. That's my problem though, not yours. I think you are fabulous. I hope know that.

KWombles said...

Thanks, Suzanne.

I hope it's clear that I'm not lumping all readers of AoA in with those who actually write that they think vaccines are intentional eugenics programs. I'm being specific to those posters who literally write that they believe these things. It seems that only the most extreme comment with regular frequency at AoA, and these individuals are often very out of touch.

I think that most people who believe vaccines were implicated in their child's autism are not so extreme in their beliefs; many simply want to do what's best for their children, be supportive of each other, and focus on now. I don't have any issues with these individuals; I count many of them as blogging and facebook friends.

I view the differences of opinion on the vaccine thing like I do difference in religious beliefs; I have good friends who are believers in a god, although I do not believe. :-)

Ah, but those who intentionally put out misinformation, while trying to sell potentially dangerous products...yeah, I'm generally going to point that out, just like I'm going to note that a person can't call people who believe differently than her trolls, while other editors say the opposing team. Just like I have to note that those extremists are not supportive to the community, often engage in name calling and tearing down of others all while wrapping themselves in the cloak of the aggrieved parent who is deserving of pity. I'm just grateful that there really aren't too many parents like that!

KWombles said...

Ah, and I guess I should add, I'm not attacking them, I'm not calling them names; I'm pointing out inaccuracies in what they write and when their words are morally bankrupt. Many times, all I do is put their words out there and let them stand there on their own.

Autism Mom Rising said...

One last point and then I REALLY have to go, literally.

You said: "It's perfectly understandable to feel grief for oneself, for instance, at a 20 year old who still prefers infant toys, but if it isn't hurting the 20 year old or making the 20 year old unhappy, let's be clear that the grief is the parent's own, at what the parent wishes things were, not because the adult child is unhappy and suffering.

Me: I think seeing a twenty year old playing with an infant toy and feeling grief, well, that grief goes beyond the actual playing with infant toys....it is a reminder that that child will never be able to live independly and what will happen to him after the parents die? I think so much of their grief, and I know this because some are my friends, comes back to that. They love their children and even appreciate their uniqueness but that worry about the future is constantly being triggered by these reminders. Some may be dealing with their own mental health issues. Life piles on hard.

I personally don't read AofA anymore, very rarely, though I used to be a veritable addict.

KWombles said...

Sometimes I wish that comments on blogger could be embedded beneath the one you want to reply to!


:-) Yes; I get that; I enjoy putting things in order; stacking and organizing my piles of to-read books and magazines.


;-) Yup, I'll have to literally go, too, after this comment! Ah, yeah, I do get that it goes beyond that moment, since I watch my 20 year old son still very much stuck on things young children are interested in. There is grief there, but it's important to distinguish what the grief is over and where it is warranted. My bright boy isn't going to leave home nor do all the things most parents take for granted their children will do, and it does cause heartache, but to hurt for him over what pleases him, makes him happy, in the end, serves no purpose. He is happy. He does not feel as if he is less than what he should be, and if I were to let my grief settle across me, how he could not sense that grief? Some things must be set aside or they cloak our lives and become the filter through which everything else is viewed. I can mourn for what my son will not have, what my daughters may not have, or I can find the joy in their successes, the laughter in each and every day.

I have worn grief. I have sat in it, dwelt in it, stewed in it. And it can quickly reabsorb me, tether me in the mists. It is something we walk with, hand in hand, far too often. It robs us of breath and steals our strength. We must learn when we must let it go, refuse it entry.

And I do that by following my children's cues. :-) I find the simple delight in a lovely line of toys.

Maddy said...

The lining up - with all the off shoots you point out. For the time being I'm just happy to keep the 'anxiety' side of things calm, whatever it takes.

Mummy in Waiting said...

Stopping by from ICLW! I confess I drive my workmates crazy lining everything up! Not quite what you are saying but more, straightening everything up (kind of OCD behaviour) Thanks for stopping by my blog!

Happy ICLW!

James said...


Indeed. As we say in the trade, "Sometimes a line is just a line."

Consider: If the toy is a train set, not lining up the cars might be a problem.

Jim Todd