Autism and lining up objects

As you know, Jude has a habit of lining up objects.

Everyone kind of laughs and knows it’s an autistic trait but wouldn’t it be fascinating to understand why children (or adults) feel compelled to meticulously straighten a row of books or in Jude’s case, line up every chair in my parents garden!?


Jude’s first “lining” phase occurred a few years ago now. He would go around each room and balance all the shoes he could find along door handles. I’d walk into the kitchen and every handle would have a shoe on it! Kind of creepy unless you live with a Jude in which case it’s totally expected. This also coincided with his fascination with movement. He would push chairs around in the similar fashion that many children push a buggy or a trolley. You could see his eyes trailing over the top of the chair, enthralled at how it wobbled with every bump they rode over. When the chair was no longer enough, he subsequently commandeered an ancient pushchair at my parents house and would walk around and around the garden with it, gather items and balancing them on top. My dad likened him to an old rag and bone man, it was quite a sight to behold and I wish dearly we had some photos of him then!


But unlike those children pushing their buggies, he wasn’t playing. It was a lot more serious for him that that, it was a compulsion, almost the way someone with OCD has to undertake certain acts before they can relax. In many ways, it was soothing him.



I know that lining, grouping and categorising objects is a recognised developmental milestone however, when it becomes an obsession and a need rather than a cognitive step up, that’s when it’s entirely un-educational and very much an autistic trait. It’s quite upsetting to see your ten or eleven year old child, evidently stuck at the mental level of a toddler but I guess in many ways he isn’t. To him, he’s taking it down his own little route of life development.


I’ve been doing a bit of reading up of the subject and there appears to be no definitive answer as to why autistic children like to line things up except that it revolves around a need for structure, order, control and safety.


When Jude is feeling anxious, he will crouch down into a little ball and pick at the floor. It’s horrific and I hate the sound of it and thankfully since we had our flooring changed, he can no longer sit in his room and scratch away for hours. When Jude goes to unfamiliar places, he looks for comfort in the form of recognition. Do you remember ages ago I took him to his autism assessment and he found that dolls house with the opening and closing doors and he spent ages engaging in his lift game? Well, that’s another form of his lining up objects. He does it to feel at ease and to create an order in the world in which he has been placed.



Jude can’t make a lot of sense of our environment, he doesn’t see things in the same way we do. People with autism see in pictures and mentally categorise everything they come across. Jude keeps calling Willow a cat because to him, animals with fur that are smaller than knee height have always been cats. Now there is this thing in the house that isn’t a cat but until now was in the “cat” category that he has to re-order so the only way he can do that is to form a new “box” within his brain and put Willow into it. Because of this mental overload and absolute bewilderment at having to form another category of things, Jude naturally regresses to what he can understand and control such as the chairs in Granny and Grandad’s garden.




But I need to embrace Jude’s obsessions more than I currently do and use them to our communicative advantage. I have read so many times about copying a child’s activity and attempting to break into their mindset but have rarely succeeded with Jude. I have a bit of Jude alone time coming up over the next few days so I will document what we get up to. Basically, I’m pre-warning you of a few random videos of me lining stuff up across the living room floor – please don’t think I’m nuts!


As Dr. Temple Grandin says…

“There needs to be a lot more emphasis on what a child can do instead of what he cannot do.”



Leave a Reply