Why Do Autistic People Like Trains?
That’s a heck of a question isn’t it? Don’t look at me! I just take the questions that are asked and try to give you the best answer I can based on my experience. This one is asked often enough however, to warrant an article all it’s own. Personally I think this may be a bit of a stereotype, but stereotypes get that way for a reason, so let’s see what we can learn.
Why do autistic people like trains specifically? Autistic people can like trains as a means of transportation for the familiarity of the route since train routes never vary. Additionally, someone with autism may take a deep interest in trains because trains meet many of their sensory needs. They are lined up neatly, have spinning wheels and provide an endless list of details to learn.
In this article we take an in depth look at specific behaviors associated with autism that could lead to an autistic person liking trains, but first let’s look at why this might be a question in the first place.
Could This Be A Stereotype?
Look at many of the things that people with autism, especially autistic children, are stereotyped for. They like to line things up. They like fidget spinners, and watching things go round. One of the stims many people on the spectrum use is spinning. Autistic people are believed to take pleasure in memorizing and talking about facts. Learning train schedules, train numbers, track numbers, the different types of trains, engine size, capacity and all sorts of other information may give their mind the fulfillment it needs to relax and focus on other things.
I use the word stereotype, because while all of these things may hold true for many individuals on the spectrum, they are not true of all autistic people. Just like neurotypical people, everyone with autism is unique. There is no one size fits all for autism. There are a list of behaviors, but no one has to meet all of the requirements. In fact, very few people do meet all of them. There are also different levels of severity so that even two people who exhibit the same behaviors won’t necessarily experience them the same way.
Beyond that, people with autism are just that…they’re people! And just like ALL of the people in this world are each their own unique individual selves, so too are the ones on the autism spectrum. With that in mind, let’s look at how some of the behaviors associated with autism blend with a possible affinity for trains.
Autistic People Can Like Trains For Transportation
People on the autism spectrum might prefer trains as a means of travel. Trains have a schedule and are known for being on time. As we all know, that isn’t always the case, but look at other means of transportation that don’t include driving yourself.
For long distance travels you have planes which are notoriously late. There are also buses, but traveling a long way by bus takes an eternity. For shorter trips you still have buses, but they make way more stops than trains. You also have taxis or other services such as Uber. For these you are required to wait until they get to you with no set schedule. Trains make the most sense for someone who is rigid with their schedule and may not have much patience waiting.
Another reason someone on the spectrum may prefer trains is for the routine. Trains are on tracks. They follow the exact same route every time. Looking out the window, you see the same scenery and go the same speed each time. They only stop at stations instead of hitting or missing stop lights and aren’t affected by traffic. For someone who thrives on routine, trains may offer the best choice.
Autistic People Can Like Trains Because They’re Orderly
One of the signs of autism in early childhood is lining things up. As you know, each person with or without autism is unique so there are no behaviors that match everyone. Still, many children with autism are noted for categorizing and organizing. Trains are that way naturally! You have the big engine in front, the caboose in the rear, and all of the cars in between. Everything is on a track so it’s naturally in a line.
Many people with ASD see themselves as surrounded by chaos. They live in an unpredictable social world. Their literal understanding of the world around them means that some things that make sense to neurotypical people may be totally confusing to them. In order to cut down on this confusion, they want to control their world as much as possible. By lining things up and organizing them, they are creating structure for themselves.
Look at these examples
Take something as simple as traffic. Since we’re talking about trains, we’ll use a transportation analogy. To you, a drive to work is just that; a drive to work. Sometimes traffic is heavy, sometimes it’s light. Some people do the speed limit while others go faster or slower.
Now look at it from an autistic perspective. The speed limit is 55. Why isn’t everyone doing 55? You’re supposed to be a specific distance away from the car in front of you. Why are some people driving so close to other cars? You should turn on your headlights when it rains, but that person doesn’t have their headlights on and it’s raining.
I’m not saying that driving is that hard for people on the spectrum, but I am using that as an analogy for how their structured minds may work in a seemingly unstructured world. Many people on the spectrum have black or white thinking. Gray areas are confusing. Example: You’re not supposed to talk in class, but I have a question. Oh, questions are OK to ask even though you’re not supposed to talk. I get it now! I have a question about why my dog licks his butt. What do you mean I can’t ask THAT question? You said we could ask questions even though we’re not supposed to talk!
How this looks in real life
It sounds funny, but this is how the autistic mind works! You’re kiddo is in a classroom at school. Why is one light brighter than the other? Why does the ceiling make a ticking sound when the heat turns on? I can’t stand that ticking sound! Why is that kid over there picking his nose and hiding his phone while he reads it? Picking your nose is wrong. I should tell the teacher so she can give him a tissue.
An autistic person has black and white thinking, but lives in a very gray world. This is why things like structure, routine and limited sensory input can be so important to them. More to the point of this article, that is why many people with autism get reassurance from lining things up. If they like trains for this reason, it totally makes sense. Looking at trains offers them that.
Someone With ASD Might Like To Memorize Train Facts
A lot of people on the autism spectrum take solace in memorizing and reciting facts. Think of it as their “happy place”. By running facts through their mind, they are able to shut out the parts of the world that bother them.
Is the noise too loud? Focus on the sounds a train makes. Are the lights too bright? Think about what the train engine headlights look like. Are you having difficulties processing everything going on around you? Think about the train schedules, and the nice orderly list you read last night.
Trains offer a wide range of factual data and information to explore. Beyond the obvious things like schedules and track numbers, there are technical details, distances and historical changes of locomotives over the years.
Neurotypical people may think it’s weird that someone with autism might learn so many facts. You may even look at the autistic person as an even bigger weirdo when they constantly share all of these facts with you, reciting obscure data that no one cares about on a subject that has absolutely nothing to do with your day to day life.
Think about this. If you have an interest in something, you tend to take the time to learn more about it. How much more interested in a topic would you be if it gave you the added benefit of peace of mind? If focusing on something allowed you to take on the toughest challenges in life, wouldn’t you learn all you could?
These intense interests and the memorizing and reciting of facts may not give someone with autism the ability to take on life’s toughest challenges, but it could certainly help them make it through a conversation. It might make an unbearable day at work or school, where every single minute is a struggle, easier to handle. Perhaps it could make what might be an impossible trip to the Dr. possible.
Don’t Forget Thomas The Train®!
I am bringing this up strictly as my own personal hypothesis. Thomas The Train® is a pretty popular dude! A lot of kids are introduced to this character early in life when they are just becoming intellectually aware. Many people with autism can be several years behind their neurotypical counterparts as it relates to maturity. As I often point out, this is not true of all people with autism, but certainly some.
If they were introduced to Thomas The Train® and enjoyed the program, that’s going to have an impact. At a young impressionable age, a favorite character may well have a strong influence on things you like as you get older. A kiddo who grew up watching this show, could certainly be seen as having an affinity for trains as they grow older.
Of course I’m not saying that all autistic kids who watch Thomas The Train® will grow up loving trains. Nor am I saying that all autistic people who have a keen interest in trains watched that show at some point in their life. What I am saying though is that it doesn’t take a big stretch of the imagination to see there could be a possible correlation for some autistic people who love trains.
Whenever I seek to explain a trait, a symptom, a stereotype or anything else regarding people with autism, I like to show the behaviors that make up the diagnosis itself. I try to help you look at things through the eyes of an autistic person. With that in mind, I made a slight adjustment to the question for this article. The question I answered was this: If a person with autism has an affinity, a deep interest, or possibly an obsession with trains, why would that be? Read this article on our site if you would like a deeper understanding of various behaviors associated with an autism diagnosis.
You can’t assume that everyone with autism likes trains or that everyone who likes trains has autism. We asked, why do autistic people like trains. The truth is, many people like trains and not all of them have autism. Some people with autism have intense interests in topics, but many don’t. For the people on the spectrum who do have intense interests, those interests vary from person to person. For some it may be trains while for others it can be something completely different, My son for example, has a passion for reptiles. He loves snakes and lizards, and can tell you things about them that you would never even think to ask.
Someone with autism may or may not like trains. Someone with autism may or may not develop a non-typical deep interest in a specific topic or variety of topics. Each person on the spectrum is unique and different in all ways except one. They have each been diagnosed with autism.
Because of this, you can gain a deeper understanding of why someone diagnosed with autism does some of the things they do. By looking at the behaviors associated with an autism diagnosis, you may not fully understand the person, but you can at least gain some appreciation for why they may do certain things. You can change your own perspective and look at things through their eyes. It doesn’t have to completely make sense to you, but you need to understand and accept that it does make sense to them.