I walked into Brooke’s room last night and let out a big sigh when I saw the long, snaking line of magnetic pieces that she had taken from a book and lined up so meticulously on the floor.
One of the earliest signs of autism in our home came in the form of lined up toys. We noticed that Brooke lined up her figurines, showing no interest in playing with them in any other way. She made 6 foot long ‘towers’ of legos along the floor, balking when we tried to help her to turn them into any other kind of object. Magic markers were not for drawing, but they worked well end to end to make a long row.
I remember sitting with the speech therapist that first suggested that we have her evaluated at a nearby autism center, which at the time threw me into a tailspin. She asked us all kinds of questions about Brooke’s typical play and for the first time, I realized the commonality in the way she approached so many different kinds of toys. They all ended up in a line.
The better part of 2 years later, we have spent endless hours working with her teachers and ABA therapists to break the pattern wide open and offer and encourage so many other, more typical ways to play with her toys. She has grown so much and has broadened her repertoire exponentially.
Looking around the house, you’ll find picture schedules on and around many of her toys displaying 3 or 4 different ways to play with them so that she can avoid the line-up rut. These days, she sometimes uses voices for her figurines, or puts them all on a bus for a trip (they always seem to be going to New York or CVS, go figure!) and, with some help, she’ll make a train now with her legos. She’s even started to draw people with the markers ~ you don’t think gold gilt frames are over the top do you?
And yet, all that progress aside, there are still the moments like last night when her natural propensity to create order in her world takes over. And for a moment, I have to ask, “Is that really so awful?”
I spend so much of my own time trying desperately to organize the chaos in my life. Don’t we all? I contort myself to find order in the mayhem. I have schedules, lists, filing cabinets, all to try to keep my ‘ducks in a row.’ And then, in those delicious (and rare) moments when I feel like I have it all under control, doesn’t it quiet some of the noise?
So is it so outrageous that Brooke wants to order her world in a way that makes her more comfortable? Is it so debilitating? While we will, of course, keep doing everything that we can to encourage her to expand her play schemas, I’m thinking that the next time I find her toys in a line on the floor, I just might let out a much smaller sigh. Heck, maybe I’ll even make sure it’s nice and straight.