I don't know if it's parental influence or intrinsic motivation, but Simon does not generally desire toys. Even at 4, while he understands the process of purchasing things, he doesn't really ask for them. Many of his toys are hand-me-downs or used, and he tends to lock in on certain things for awhile and then defers them to standby status.
He really likes vehicles on tracks, but he kind of does the same thing with the variations he has (and there are several). He lines up the included or native vehicles, then adds cars trains or whatever to them, lines them up, and that's his "play." Honestly it was one of the earliest signs of ASD, before he was even 2, when he "parked" cars in size order against the wall. He doesn't have much of a history of imaginative play, which is something that has deeply concerned me.
A funny thing happened though, when we moved to Orlando. As we traded Cedar Point for Walt Disney World, Simon was now exposed to a world of transportation that included trains, buses, boats and of course, the iconic monorail. He eventually figured out who Mickey Mouse was, but it was the transportation that seemed to capture his obsession. Before too long, he was reciting cast members and recorded spiels. Even though he was struggling with language, he was moving toy cars around and talking about them coming to "a 'plete stop."
A friend of mine generously gave us his toy monorail, the thing that's $80 in the gift shops. While probably not an ideal toy for a kid Simon's age, he was completely enamored with it. More importantly, he wanted to accessorize it with a place for people to get out. The Duplo platform was born with some help from us, and it was followed by other things like a "hotel" that was sort of inspired by the Contemporary. Sure, we put him up to it originally, but more spiels came, and he started to tell us about how things were supposed to work.
At about the same time, we were struggling a bit with potty training. The kid wouldn't drop a deuce in the toilet, even though he knew how. He preferred to get a diaper on and go there instead. We happened to be in a gift shop at WDW, when we saw they had die-cast parking lot trams. One of his favorite things is to sit in the back row and talk to the spielers, so one of us came up with the idea that we would incentivize pooping on the potty with the tram. He earned the requisite number of stickers in almost no time flat. It worked like a charm.
Like I said, this isn't a kid with strong desire for "stuff," but his borderline obsession with Disney transportation and our desire to get this done were a good match. We repeated this with autonomous butt wiping, which he needed for school (Disney buses), and in the last few weeks, peeing standing up (a smaller, die-cast monorail). The monorail train was really hard to find, and the kid was crushed when we couldn't find it on Saturday for our first family visit to Magic Kingdom in many weeks. Diana went the distance, and found a number that pointed her to the gift shop at the Swan hotel of all things. She brought it home today, and we kept our end of the bargain.
Simon still does his parking exercise with the transportation vehicles, but I feel like we hit another milestone for imaginative play. He kept the box, and he's parking the new monorail in it as if it were a hotel. He explains it has to stop just so, that way the people can get on. It's a step in the right direction. I understand now that he's wired to think about doors, elevators and the order and alignment of objects, and we can't change that about him. But we also see that we can help him develop the imaginative play in addition to those stereotypical behaviors.
We have a new therapist starting with Simon, and it will be interested to see what she can bring out of him. He seems like he's on the edge of a major and rapid breakthrough on language skills, which is a huge relief. We're definitely dealing with some severe sensory issues (he's pushing his head or chin into us in very painful ways lately), but clearly two sessions of school per day are having a serious impact on his learning.