Is this Normal for a 2-year-old?

Archived Q&A and Reviews

See also: Obsessive & Compulsive Behaviors
This is a stupid question, but I really feel the need to see if any of you have had similar experiences. My 2 year old son seems to be pretty intelligent, but some of the things he does I'm not sure if they are a sign of intelligence, if they are normal, or if they might be a sign of something else. Some of the things he does that I am questioning are:

1. line things up - he is always putting things (cars, books, french fries) in straight lines, end to end. Once he was playing with his french fries and said that a normal sized fry was a truck, a big long fry was a train and a bunch of fries lined up were a BART train. A number of times he has also lined up a set of books that he has which stretched across the dining room. He doesn't seem to be doing this for any reason except to line them up (not to make a bridge or something like that).

2. preference for red - yesterday he was coloring and took all of the reddish colored crayons out of the giant box of crayons. I've also noticed that he ALWAYS picks the red pens and crayons first when ever he is coloring.

3. singing/memorization - he knows so many songs I've lost track of all of the ones he knows. It seems like everyday he is singing along with something new and then singing it alone soon after that. The songs he's singing aren't even cutesy baby songs either, there are a bunch now that are just songs that he's heard on the radio in the car. He has also memorized 3 of his 4 teletubbies videos - I admit he has watched his videos a lot, but is it normal for a 2 year old to almost perfectly recite the lines from the video? He's also memorized Dumbo.

4. language - my son is bilingual and has understood for a long time that if someone doesn't understand what he is saying in one language, that he should just switch to the other language.... I've read everywhere that bilingual children very often are slower to develop their language skills than other monolingual children their age, but he has an incredibly large vocabulary, a lot more than other little boys his age that I've seen.

I'm not sure what I'm asking... maybe just verification that this is normal behavior for a 2 year 2 1/2 month old, but my mind keeps flashing back to Dustin Hoffman in Rainman and how he did such off the wall counting.

Thanks for your help...

Don't worry! As the parent of 2 boys, I can tell you that I've experienced all of the above. Both my kids loved to make long lines at that age. The younger one (now 3.5) still does. My older one once lined up every chair in the house (a lot of work for a 2.5 year old) to make a train. We have the photo to prove it. Both my kids have a preference for yellow - we suspect because their crib had a yellow bumper around it. Having a favorite color seems very normal. My older son used to memorize the books we read to him. At 2+ he could read a book back to us as we turned the pages. The only give-away was that if we stopped turning the pages he could keep right on reading. My younger son has done the same thing, though not as much. As for language, you obviously have a very precocious boy - enjoy it, but don't worry. In my experience, the only drawback to a large vocabulary is you have to pay more attention to what you say in your kid's presence. My older one was similarly precocious, and it quickly became clear that he both listened and understood when people were talking about him in his presence.
Lining things up. My son loved lining things up. He would line up his little animals, he would line up his puzzles after putting them together, he would line up his fishies before eating them. He moved on to rows and then other forms. He is almost nine now and no longer lines up his fishies though he likes his fish sticks served in varying structural forms. All I can say about him now that might be related is that he likes structure in his life. He likes to plan ahead, needs to know what is going to happen - does not like unplanned time (he can make his own plan - as long as it's a plan) and he has a sense of things being orderly. He does great in school although he is definately a unique individual. I wouldn't worry.
>1. line things up - he is always putting things (cars, books, french

Sounds normal to me.

>2. preference for red - yesterday he was coloring and took all of

My son (and now sons) like blue, but my older one declared that when he was 4 he would like red. He's 4 now but still prefers blue in most cases. For a while, any color option was answered, blue, and still is by the younger one.

>3. singing/memorization - he knows so many songs I've lost track of

Cool! :)

>4. language - my son is bilingual and has understood for a long time

My sons have large vocabularies, too, and started out semi-bilingual. One thing about multiple languages with youngsters is to make sure that each person speaks one language with them. They can't differentiate between abstract tags, but can differentiate between concrete ones (the Mommy-language and the Daddy-language). Maybe he doesn't have a basis for picking with strangers?

I suggest An Anthropologist On Mars by Oliver Sacks, in part because it's an interesting book, but also in part because he talks at length about various forms of autism and savantism (sorry, not sure of the word; I just mean unusually precocious talents) mixed and unmixed with normal behavior.

I would highly recommend that you have your son evaluated by a pediatric neurologist (such as Dr. Brad Berman). We observed some of these behaviors in our son and it turned out that he had developmental problems in speech and language.
I was very similiar at his age about organizing things and pretending they were other things. This would include anything in my room, the entire living room or at the park. Also I had a strong color preference (blue). It was for fun though not obsession. If he does it for fun as a game then probably he is fine regarding the organizing part. The same goes for the color preference. Though it is hard to tell many times what is play to children and what is obsession as they often obsess about a playful activity they are involved in. The vast vocabulary and agility in communication would not be typical for autistic children. Hopefully he is just very very smart.
Re: two year old with unusual behavior. Sounds like you have a very intelligent, creative child. If he were autistic you would be observing quite different behavior; he would be relatively unresponsive to you and any outside influence. Just relax and enjoy, he sounds like a lot of fun.
It sounds like your son has some very special talents, but I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that he is exhibiting autistic behavior; you should definitely consult with your pediatrician about any health concerns. It sounds like your son is very bright. Some of what you describe reminds me of my own son at that age--and he has turned into quite a bright/precocious child. I think you're biggest challenge is to continue nurturing rather than perhaps (eventually) making him feel self-concious. Think of the lining up of objects as one way in which he is understanding his environment and his control over it. He may even prefer that certain things be orderly. I think that this is a trait of a mind that perceiving his environment in a very systematic way (very interesting). His abilities to retain songs and having a large vocabulary I think are other examples of how bright he is. As for the color preference, it is very common for that age (for the longest time my son only wanted green . . . and then around three he quickly moved through a succession of other colors. Now at five he has definite color preferences for different activities.

Congratulations, you're going to have your hands full. But don't be surprised if some of this fades with time--two is a young age for making assessments, but you should definitely talk to your doctor about his talents.

Please be assured that the behavior of your son is completely on target with the developmental stages at his age. I strongly feel that as parents we owe it to our children to read up on their development ahead of time, so we can anticipate what's coming and put it into context. Please read Penelope Leach's From birth to age 5 and you will be able to support and enjoy your child every step of the way.
It is just as if I am readying about my son when he was that age. He used to sit and play forever lining up his things, especially in some kind of order. His favorite was to line up all of his cars all throughout the living room He would rank them in color one time, and in order of size or kind the next. Or he would take all of his farm farm animals and line them up next to each other. My son is almost four now, but still to this day entertains himself by lining up things. He just made a long road by lining up all his books. I just love this part, and actively participate in making long rows of things all through our house.

Memorizing songs and lines in books is a healthy part of their development. My son is bi-lingual as well, and I translate a lot of books. Sometimes I use a different word but my son is very quick to point this out because he knows all the lines. The same with the video's he watches, he knows every sound and line of his favorite videos.

When my son was about 2 1/2, he really understood that some people speak English and some speak the other language. He has no problem switching back and forth. I also read that bilingual children are children are slower in their development, but I found this to be not true in our case, and not in yours either from what you tell me. Now that my son is older, he translates perfectly for me and others. I will tell him something in our language, and he translates it in English for for others. It is amazing how their brains works. I have never experienced a lack in his development due to him having to learn two languages at the same time. I do think his English pronunciation and sentence structure is a little bit more advanced in English since he goes to day care everyday and speaks mostly English.

Your son sound like a healthy two year old. Have fun, this is truly a wonderful age and not at all terrible.

To the parent who is worried about a two-year old who lines things up, colors things red, sings songs, and speaks two languages:

You should realize that from that description, your child sounds totally great. On the other hand, I am not one to judge overly-worrisome parents, being a champion in that arena myself. So, here's an anecdote that might help ease your mind. My mother-in-law loves to tell how my husband used to line all his hundred-plus match box cars up in a row and then advance the whole row, one car length at a time, until they reached the other side of the house (45 minutes later). This was one of his favorite childhood passtimes. Think of the quiet, happy hours they spent. And he turned out to be a really relaxed, extremely intelligent guy. His only resemblance to Dustin Hoffman is a...distinctive nose. Good luck with your kid.

I am a preschool special education teacher and for the past several years I have primarily taught young children who have autistic-like behaviors. Your message set off several red flags in my mind: lining things up, extraordinary memorization abilities (specifically video dialogs), and a very strong preference for one color (red). The fact that your child is so articulate is obviously terrific, but that doesn't mean that these other characteristics are not cause for concern.

HOWEVER, I am not a physician or a diagnostician, just a teacher who sees similar characteristics among many of my students. I strongly urge you to contact your pediatrician about your concerns as soon as possible and/or the Regional Center of the East Bay. They have specialists who do free assessments of young children to determine if there is a developmental delay or disorder of some sort. In my experience, pediatricians often know very little about autistic-like behaviors, and because your child talks, s/he may minimize your concerns, but be persistent and try to get a referral to a specialist who has expertise in this area. Time is really of the essence, and the sooner you can find out if there IS a problem, the sooner you can a) get your child some help or b) have your mind put at ease. I'd be happy to talk further with you if you'd like. amy

I'm not a pediatrician or a psychologist, but I am a father of two with some background in child and abnormal psych, and this is a topic I love, so here's my two cents:

>1. line things up - he is always putting things (cars, books, french >fries) in straight lines, end to end. Pretty normal, though not all kids do it, of course. Some do it a lot. Some do it and have fits when they can't do it exactly the way they want to, or someone moves one a quarter of an inch. Sounds like your son is in the comfortable middle there.

>2. preference for red - yesterday he was coloring and took all of the >reddish colored crayons out of the giant box of crayons.

Ditto. When he starts throwing tantrums because there aren't exactly nine reddish crayons, that's the time to start worrying. Or when some meddlesome person decides it's unhealthy for him to like red so much and starts forcing him to use other colors first (as if it would do him any good).

>3. singing/memorization - he knows so many songs I've lost track of >all of the ones he knows. Not normal--better than normal.

>4. language - my son is bilingual and has understood for a long time >that if someone doesn't understand what he is saying in one language, >that he should just switch to the other language.... >he has an incredibly large vocabulary, a lot more than other little >boys his age that I've seen. Another talent. The language-switching is particularly impressive--most two-year-olds I've known can't comprehend that other people may not understand them regardless of language; sensing another's comprehension, or lack thereof, and adapting his speech to suit, is really advanced. The big vocabulary would seem to go along with the talent for memorization. The speech areas in his brain must be top-of-the-line.

Your son sounds very intelligent and seems to be expressing his intelligence and curiosity in the normal weird ways. My son also had the color preference thing though his was yellow. He would gather up all the yellow toys or other things he could find. Also he was absolutelyin love with lemons. On walks he would scream for one and I admit I did steal a few from peoples yards (whose going to miss on when they have a whole tree?). He also was a great talker and memorizer. Anyway I would take it these traits as amazing and fun and be sure to write down the best stories for later.
The good news is that your son may just be incredibly bright and gifted and that would of course be a great blessing. I think our society has created a state of near panic in us parents and we are often rushed to label all kinds of very normal behavior as something other than that.

Having said that, however, you did not mention how your son relates to the individuals in his life, his affect and capacity to bond and his general ease of relatedness. I am by no means a professional in this area, but rather am the adult child of a well-known expert in the field of autism, and recently my father has focussed his psychiatric practice on a specific form of autism called Asperger's Syndrome. We all were so impressed with Andy Warhol's inventiveness, but it is now known that he had Asperger's, and that his famous Campbell Soup cans were no accident (but rather the product of how his mind related to objects). In any event, I don't know when an evaluation might be called for - if of course at all - or at what age a diagnosis can be made, but this came to mind reading your question. Kids with Aspergers, according to my very limited understanding, are highly capable, often highly intelligent, but have issues around relatedness, repetition, and in most cases, appropriate behavior management. Best of luck to you and your family.

My son is the same age as yours, and does some similar things. When he colors, he prefers orange crayons. He lines his french fries in the gutter of his high chair tray, pushes them along, and calls them a train (I think his daddy may have taught him that one, actually.) He hasn't memorized any videos in entirety, but does memorize words and phrases from books and TV, and likes to sing songs, both learned and invented.

Just because you don't see a purpose in your son's lining books or toy cars up doesn't necessarily mean he doesn't have one -- maybe it's just interesting to him to see how long a line he can make. Memorizing an entire video does sound precocious (can he recite the entire video in its absence, or does he sing/talk along with it while it's playing?)

Anyway to me what you described doesn't sound worrisome, though he may be quite advanced in certain areas (music, verbal skills, logic perhaps.) Are there other worrisome things -- is he antisocial, is he nonresponsive to affection, does he use his language to interact with you or does he just repeat things meaninglessly? If you can interact with him and he seems happy, I wouldn't worry . . . but you could always seek professional advice if you're worried that he's maladjusted, unhappy, or unable to function normally.

My son is not quiet 2 (19 months), but he does many of the same things you describe. I read through your posting and thought, gosh that could have been me. Yes, we have the red preference. And a bilingual child who is speaking in long sentences. And he invents his little games that have their own internal logic. And I never thought of his behavior as a sign of anything but intelligence and playfulness. Neither does my pediatrician...
To the person with the boy who lines things up: I didn't read the original letter, but from people's responses it sounds like he may be g gifted. I feel I should pass on the name of a woman who assesses gifted children and is an educational consultant. Her name is Annemarie Roeper and her number is:763-3173. She's a nationally known expert in the field and has been working in it since 1941. We took our daughter to her to be assessed. She doesn't give tests but plays and talks with the children. I've also read a couple of her books. Both of these things have been very helpful in understanding our daughter and in planning her education(she just started kndergarten). Even if you don't want to have him assessed it might help you to read her books and understand what makes these interesting but challenging little creatures tick.
In response to the post about a 2 year old with remarkable memory and color preference -- I've had a little experience in behavioral pediatrics, and based on my knowledge, the differential diagnosis of the behaviors you mention includes:
1. totally normal
2. autistic spectrum
3. gifted
( and problably some other things too.) I just wanted to emphasize that the distinction between these three is not always obvious, and I think it can feel terrible to feel torn between seeing your child as gifted vs seeing your child as developmentally disabled. They aren't necessarily mutually exclusive categories.
Thank you to everyone who responded about my sons behavior. You all really put my mind at ease, but also made me aware that these are things I should keep my eye on, just in case. I appreciate all of the responses!