Is liking trains a red flag for autism?

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n4mwd
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14 Mar 2009, 4:43 am

I have heard people talk about their asperger kids and in a very high percentage of times, they comment that their boy is infatuated with trains. Is there any correlation?



Marcia
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14 Mar 2009, 6:37 am

The UK's National Autistic Society were involved in a study which does show that children with Asperger's tend to be more obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine, and for longer, than the "average" child.

http://www.nas.org.uk/nas/jsp/polopoly.jsp?d=368&a=2683



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14 Mar 2009, 6:40 am

I also think that special interests should be nurtured, instead of discouraged.


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b9
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14 Mar 2009, 7:08 am

n4mwd wrote:
I have heard people talk about their asperger kids and in a very high percentage of times, they comment that their boy is infatuated with trains. Is there any correlation?

i was interested in trains and their couplage mechanisms and their power plants. i was more interested in the design of the timetables for trains, and the routes they followed.

but that interest was swamped by my interest in planes. specifically airliners made by boeing or mcdonald douglas or lockheed.
i was about 5 when i found a book about airliners, and i learned all their configurations. that included the seating configuration possibilities for 747's and dc10's and 707's and L110's. i learned about rolls royce engines and general electric engines and pratt and whitney engines. i like the pratt and whitney ones the best.
i used to get my dad to take me to the airport when i was little so i could see and hear these things for real and i quickly recognized the sounds of all their engines.

i loved the sound of the engines because i could imagine the mechanics inside the engine in a way that i understood the sound it was making.

my favourite plane engine sound was a vickers VC-10.
like this one
Image

it rocked the ground as it took off in a sharp nose up climb, and continued to pelt the asphalt with seizmic shudders after it was high up in the air.

so to cut a never ending story short, i will say that i recognize the sound of all planes that fly overhead without having to look at them, and i also can tell most cars by their engine sounds.



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14 Mar 2009, 7:16 am

I know a woman who has a 4 year old who just got over Thomas. She had bought him every Thomas there was and he had a full collection he would organize. But he's an NT.

But, I agree that special interests should be encouraged. It's our way to cope with an overwhelming world. We need that skill. It reduces meltdowns to let them pursue it.


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14 Mar 2009, 7:18 am

This is an interesting topic, because I also have a bit of a fascination with trains and train schedules. I live near a VIA Rail station, and I often hear the train pulling into/out of the station. I love listening to the sound of the engines, whether they're in motion or just idling. Plus, there's the sound of the announcer over the PA listing off the destinations. There's just something relaxing about it. As for the schedules, I like to peruse them as well, checking out each individual stop along the route and when the trains are supposed to arrive/depart. I suspect that I enjoy it for the same reason I get totally fascinated by any kind of map. My grandparents, who lived in Mexico, had a map of the country hanging on a wall in their house, and I could have stared at that thing for hours.



n4mwd
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14 Mar 2009, 7:20 am

b9 wrote:
... swamped by my interest in planes. ... i will say that i recognize the sound of all planes that fly overhead without having to look at them, and i also can tell most cars by their engine sounds.


Sounds like you plan to be an aircraft mechanic. I like planes too, but little ones.

Image

Its the world's smallest twin engine aircraft and seats one pilot. Its called the cricri. I have AS too, but I have more of an obsession with computers. Too bad there aren't any jobs in that field.



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14 Mar 2009, 12:22 pm

Having an obsession with trains is not unusual with boys, especially toddlers, on the spectrum. One of the symptoms or red flags of autism in toddlers is lining up toys and nothing more instead of playing with them as intended. Well, trains, by there very nature, are designed to to be coupled in a long string of cars. So you might expect that a boy on the spectrum that likes to line up toys would naturally gravitate to trains.

In later years, trains are a natural topic for a special interest. There are so many things one can latch on to, and immerse themselves for years: time tables, rail maps, engine design, categorizing the infinite variety of rail cars, history of railroad companies, model railroading, etc. There are plenty of books and DVDs to buy; there are even a few publishers that are solely dedicated to trains.

If you are worried that someone you know might be on the spectrum because they are obsessed with trains, the only way you can tell is by how the boy plays with the trains - is there any imaginative play? is there any sharing of the experience? - or if they are older, is the obsession too narrow and excludes other interests and relationships?

As an aside, being on the spectrum and having a train obsession is not such a bad thing. Liking trains is a socially acceptable activity for all ages and you can leverage the interest to expand their world. My 5 yr old HFA son is a train addict so we are teaching him to read and basic math using Thomas toys. I also play with him and his trains and I am teaching how to expand his play in to more imaginative scenarios. I, as well as my other son (NT) and my father (NT), are big rail fans so it's nice that we all have a common interest that we can share. [BTW, my wife doesn't share the interest so she thinks we are all weird]



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14 Mar 2009, 1:07 pm

Pretty much all toddlers - girls, boys, NT's, AS - love trains. I think the difference would be in length and intensity of interest, not the simple fact that it exists. And plenty of NT's stay interested long past their young years. There is a reason Harry Potter goes off to Hogwarts on a train - there is romance to it that most people can appreciate. When AS kids take it on as a special interest, however, it all goes up to a whole new level, and I think that difference isn't always going to be obvious to most of us.


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14 Mar 2009, 1:32 pm

SPC - You have brought up such great points! What an interesting point about how trains are usually connected and how that could play into a AS child's interest. Even before my son was 22 months, he would have incredible lines of cars and trains. He would do that for hours. He was more interested in lining up cars and trains and designing patterns than he was with imaginative play. By the time he was two years old, he would take his wooden train track and set it up in pretty impressive configurations for his age. He took those lining up and patterns to a whole other level. I am so glad I got some pictures of him doing that when he was that age. My 19 month old likes to take a car or train (likes them equally well) and just make the sounds. I can't imagine him even having the attention span to line up anything LOL. He doesn't do that for very long.

I don't believe having an interest to trains or something in the transportation field itself is a direct indicator (I think that is healthy), like it has been previously stated I believe it's taking that interest to an additional level, the duration an individual is interested in that particular thing and the intensity. It could also be how the individual plays with that particular interest/item. Good points!

It is important to note that a lot of "NT" younger boys can also be intense with their one specific interest whether it be thomas the train or Wonderpets. I think there are a number of factors that weigh into the "red flags" if that makes sense.



n4mwd
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14 Mar 2009, 4:39 pm

Thanks everyone. :D

I will watch him more closely to see if he is lining things up or just playing with them the way he should. He is 3 years old and still doesn't talk and still wears diapers. He is definitely a concern since autism runs in the family. His older sister has no signs of autism and was relatively fluent in English at 3 and toilet trained at 2.



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14 Mar 2009, 5:47 pm

When I was a kid I did NOT like kid's books on trains, or anything like that and was very emphatic about that. I preferred the real thing, which was partially nurtured by the fact that for a period of time we lived about a mile from one of Burlington Northern's, (formerly Great Northern RR) larger yards on the 'high line'.


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14 Mar 2009, 10:22 pm

n4mwd wrote:
Thanks everyone. :D

I will watch him more closely to see if he is lining things up or just playing with them the way he should. He is 3 years old and still doesn't talk and still wears diapers. He is definitely a concern since autism runs in the family. His older sister has no signs of autism and was relatively fluent in English at 3 and toilet trained at 2.


At that age he should be talking, at least some. You should have him evaluated. It might not be autism but something more benign and needs to be addressed now so that by the time he's in kindergarten, he's comparable to his peers. Consult with your pediatrician and school district. Although he's not school age yet, they might help. In my district, they offer services for children as young as 3 so that by 5, they have a higher likelihood of succeeding in kindergarten.



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14 Mar 2009, 10:27 pm

In adults I think it's more like 'thats' got to be an aspie', you know when you read about guys with their own model trainset. or, in fiction: the gomez addams thing.



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15 Mar 2009, 12:16 am

My daughter was obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine for about 2 years. Drove my wife crazy because she was so eager to play with dolls, but her daughter only wanted to talk about locomotives. Our daughter used to love reading the little folding catalog that came with the Thomas trains. One Christmas her greatest wish was that Santa would bring her a turntable for her train set.

She also loved the details of the NY subway system. At that time the line near our home was slowly changing from old "redbird" cars to new silver Kawasaki cars that seemed fresh and magical. Once we were waiting for the train and as it entered the station she jumped out down screaming with excitement: "IT'S A NEW NUMBER SIX TRAIN IT'S A NEW NUMBER SIX TRAIN IT'S A NEW NUMBER SIX TRAIN ..." As we got out at our destination she happily waved "BYE BYE NEW NUMBER SIX TRAIN" The conductor was leaning out of his window and waved back. As their eyes met she shrank away in horror, she wasn't waving to a person, she was waving to the train!

But she outgrew all that.

I miss Thomas ...



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16 Mar 2009, 1:56 pm

My son loved Thomas the Train. He still plays with them (age 7) but not as much. His interest I think was in the wheels. He would lay on the floor and intently watch the wheels roll, very slowley. He did this with anything with wheels. I think the way he played was more of a red flag than the toy being Thomas. I do think that is a good point about lining things up, and trains do that naturally. He also didn't talk and was nowhere near potty training at 3. He used to line up his cookies and eat them from right to left. He also quoted Thomas the Train while he was playing, word for word, voice inflection and everything was identical. If your child does that when he can talk...repeat lines from movies over and over...I would think that would be a red flag.

My son has now moved from trains to NASCAR. Now it's speed 8O