The march of the dinosaurs…
Like many children on the Autism spectrum, our son been very into one thing for years. Some children on the Autism spectrum are into trains or baseball cards or manual typewriters. Our son is into dinosaurs.
Dinosaurs are a common love for children, which is one of the reasons we did not immediately suspect Autism when he was younger and ravenously consumed all things dinosaur.
Dinosaur timeline he developed for his 9th birthday party.
Even as he got older and remained into dinosaurs, we simply thought he would be a paleontologist. It wasn’t until his diagnosis that we realized that his intense focus was probably part of his Autism, and as the years have progressed and he has maintained this core love, it becomes clearer.
It is not, however, impossible to get him away from dinosaurs – over the years he has expanded his interests to things like Angry Birds and Minecraft. Currently he loves a video game called Subnautica, which takes place in a beautiful underwater world.
Part of his love for Angry Birds was the connection between birds and dinosaurs. In Minecraft, he could create dinosaurs or a Jurassic Park replica. In Subnautica, the seas are populated with dinosaur-era-looking sea creatures.
It has been possible to add to his interests and information, getting him to expand outward from dinosaurs to other areas.
Think of leading him from dinosaurs to another related area of interest, and then to another, like concentric circles:
He was easily able to go from dinosaurs to other extinct animals – mammoths and mastedons, saber toothed cats and dire wolves, etc.
As there are many interesting dinosaurs and extinct animals that lived in the sea, it was relatively easy to move to living sea life, especially whales and other sea mammals.
And, since the theory is that dinosaurs evolved into birds, he developed a related interest in birds.
Finally, as he developed more sophisticated levels of knowledge, we used that to promote a better understanding of what scientists do, and occasionally related that to people and life lessons in general.
Sometimes it sounded like this:
“Mom, I think that birds are re-evolving into dinosaurs.”
“Really, dear? What is your evidence?”
“I saw a bird with a small body and really large wings, like an archaeopteryx. I think that means that birds are going to become dinosaurs again.”
“Well, a good scientist develops a hypothesis and then finds evidence to prove or disprove the theory. You will need to be able to see that bird again and show others that bird. Plus, even if you are wrong, that is a good thing because scientists learn when they are wrong as well as when they are right. Actually, not just scientists like to be wrong. Everybody learns from being wrong.”
I think building on my child’s interests to introduce him to concepts and ideas that he might not have intuitively embraced is closely linked to the concept of letting children on the Autism spectrum lead the way in communication and interactions.
Patient, gentle and creative approaches, looking into the child’s world for the means of connecting the child with the “normal” world while still allowing the child to live in the child’s world takes time and an open mind.
But it is so worth it.
And yes, he may still grow up to be a paleontologist!
Building in Circles is also a video on YouTube – check it out!