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Nurturing Independence Using the Art of Lining Things Up

Updated: Apr 7

By Karen Kaplan

The other day, I saw a mom’s post about her son with autism, who lined up all his yellow toy vehicles, trying to choose the one he wanted for his bath time. I hoped this mom was not worried too much about this habit, and I started to think about how the art of lining things up might later inform volunteer and employment opportunities, as well as teach organizational skills.

Think about it with me.

  1. Lining up is like stacking up. We stack plates and bowls in cupboards, right? Coffee mugs and cups are lined and stacked up, right? Many refrigerators have egg holders so we can line up our store-bought dozens of eggs. So, why not ask your kiddos for help stacking things up in the kitchen? You can say something like, “I love the way you line up your things. Can you help me?” This is nurturing problem-solving, which develops daily living skills. They could also help put spices in line on the spice rack. How about the pantry? What gets lined up there?

  2. Consider buying a shoe rack for your child and let them see how shoes can be lined up. Then, they can organize their shoes at the door or in the garage. Additionally, some of us line up clothing in our closets. All our shirts get lined up together, then our hanging pants, then dresses and skirts. Lining up clothes in a closet encourages great fine motor work and problem-solving. Your child might line up all the socks that have been washed according to pairs, then fold them and put them away.

  3. Often, we enjoy our dining room chairs lined up in a certain way around the table. Perhaps your child can help with that? They could also line up chairs when they attend a sibling’s sporting event or a parade and arrange them for your family to sit and watch.

  4. What about their toys? You could put some shelves in their room and ask them how they would like to line up their toys. This could also occur for the books, video games, and films they enjoy.

  5. In the workplace, someone who enjoys lining things up could excel at any job that requires shelving display items, such as in grocery stores like Walmart or Target. At a coffee house or restaurant, they could help put chairs back under the tables, arrange silverware or decor, or assist a dishwasher with drying and stacking clean dishes. While working at a clothing store, these skills could be applied when taking articles of clothing from a changing room, putting them on hangers, and organizing them. A packaging plant is also an option, where lining up the correct number of items to be packed could satisfy their organizational needs.

  6. In volunteer work, they could help take coats and hang them up at an event or help a soccer coach set out cones in a line for drills. Afterward, they could help place the balls back on the rack after practice. They could also consider helping at a horseback riding organization; all those cleaned bridles must be hung back up in the barn for the next day.

So, when your kiddo gets highly interested in lining up things, see the bright side of lining up. Just think of how to expand that interest and realize it might be a helpful skill for nurturing independence and seeking future opportunities. See it differently.

For free resources on managing diagnoses, mobility, and accessibility support, self-advocacy, personal rights, educational rights, occupational therapy, mental health support, schools and camps, transitioning to adulthood, job opportunities, financial planning, supporting the family/caretakers, subscribe to Exceptional Needs Today. Subscribing to our award-winning e-magazine is free, and it enables us to connect with more readers, helping us support the special needs community more effectively. We publish a new issue every quarter - delivered straight to your email.

Karen Kaplan, MS, is a native San Franciscan. She completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, in speech pathology and audiology. She minored in special education and obtained her speech therapist and special education credentials in California. Karen worked as a speech therapist for schools for 20 years before opening her own residential and education program for students with autism. She worked in credential programs at Sacramento State University as well as UC Davis and spent 20 years directing private schools for those with autism and similar learning challenges.

Karen founded a non-profit, Offerings, which helps cultures globally to understand those with developmental challenges. For seven years, she founded and facilitated an autism lecture series and resource fair in Northern California. Karen still facilitates an annual Autism Awesomeness event. She is currently consulting, helping families, schools, and centers for children, teens, and adults. Karen has authored three books: Reach Me Teach Me: A Public School Program for the Autistic Child; A Handbook for Teachers and Administrators, On the Yellow Brick Road: My Search for Home and Hope for the Child with Autism, and Typewriting to Heaven… and Back: Conversations with My Dad on Death, Afterlife and Living (which is not about autism but about having important conversations with those we love).

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