Many parents are often overly conscious of their child’s behavior — when one thing seems odd, some parents jump to conclusions like “my child must have autism.” Many children might seem “obsessed” with behaviors such as organizing and stacking objects, which is a normal behavior for toddlers and children.
When children organize, sort, stack, or line up their toys and other objects, they are actually learning about their environment. This behavior is a way for them to see the similarities and differences in the objects. It is an important cognitive task that also involves gross and fine motor skills.
Children might line up and organize objects into categories and sub-categories, which shows their developing ability to group things. For example, all dolls might be placed in one area, but the Barbies are placed in one row separate from another row of other dolls. Children might even begin to display higher cognitive thinking, such as the dilemma to place an orange with the balls because it is also round or to put it with crackers because it is also food.
When the behavior becomes debilitating, causes extreme anxiety, or interferes with other normal activities, it might be a sign of OCD or even autism. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is rare in toddlers. If your child will not leave the house without completing an organizing ritual, or these behaviors also occur with poor sleep, depression, or odd eating habits, OCD might be the cause. Similarly, autism is often associated with ritualistic behaviors. If the organizing behaviors occur along with other concerning behaviors, such as delayed speech and verbal expression, body rocking or other self-stimulating behavior, and poor eye contact, you might want to speak with a medical professional.
While organizing and sorting might seem like OCD behavior to an adult, it is a way for toddlers to process their world and learn about their environment. If you can look at your child’s behavior objectively, you will likely see their organizing is a positive experience for them and is completely normal.
Photo by A. Drauglis Furnituremaker