Words Connor Has Said: Dinosaur

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When a father is told he’s going to have a son he realizes this is more than just a responsibility to raise a child–it’s the promise of a companion with whom he will share all his experiences. It’s a chance to go back to his own childhood and relive the things that brought him joy growing up.

How many baseball gloves are bought for children before they can even walk? How many “Lil’ Fishing Buddy” onsies do you see on newborns? I know a man who bought Legos by the barrel in anticipation of the things he would get to build with his son.

It’s part of our bonding experience, I guess. We want the best memories of our childhood–the things we did that made us men and the things we still long to do–we want those to be a part of our son’s world as well.connor_puzzle

I wasn’t much for sports growing up, so I never even considered investing in a ball glove. My childhood was filled with monster movies and creatures that both frightened and amazed me. I had monster posters hanging over my bed to scare away nightmares. I drew pictures of Dracula with long fangs and red eyes. And I had dinosaurs.

It started out with the usual bag of multi-colored plastic injection mold dinosaurs. I knew their names and exactly which ones were capable of eating the others. I had dinosaur books that I was certain were probably on the shelves of every paleontologist worth his salt (never mind that they were coloring books). And I had models–Aurora plastic snap-together dinosaur models that stood in terrifying poses. My room was like a miniature museum filled with tyrannosaurus rex, pterodactyls and sabertooth tigers (I know, I know…they’re not dinosaurs but they still counted for something).

Those were the things I imagined sharing with my son. Watching his eyes light up at the sight of a new dinosaur toy. Sitting close together at our fifteenth showing of Jurassic Park. Watching in amazement as he showed me how a velociraptor would stalk his prey and listening to how loud he could roar.

Connor’s autism took all that away.

One afternoon we stopped at the local library on the way home from school. My oldest was picking up some book–probably the latest teen-angst filled tale of sparkly vampires and brooding shirtless wearwolves. I took Gracie back to the children’s stacks to see what interested her. We looked through Dr. Seuss and the latest Blues Clues books. The whole time Connor simply sat in silence on my lap.

That’s when I heard him. I’ve learned that at times, when an autistic child breaks into our world it happens in shouts and big movement. It’s loud and active and very apparent that something has reached them. Other times, though it seems that the child is so amazed by a new discovery in our world that all they can do is whisper.

Connor whispered. I barely heard it.

“Dino-dah.”

I looked down at the shelf in front of us and there was a dinosaur book. It was one of those cardboard page books for small children with tiny fingers. Connor had seen the spine with the title that simply read, “Dinosaurs” and a picture of a T-Rex’s head.

I still wonder if it was the picture or the word he noticed. He’s an amazing reader.

That was the only time he said it, but it was enough for me. Since that day his life has been filled with dinosaur books and toys. He has dinosaur pajamas (I never even had those!) and we have made trips to the museum to see the remains of the creatures and feel their huge teeth.

And the iPad he uses for communication is filled with dinosaur apps that have pictures and animations of every terrible creature you can imagine. One of the apps has dinosaur flashcards. Connor flips through the pictures and the iPad reads the names of the various beasts to him. Another button bellows their fearsome roars.

Connor pushes the button. The dinosaurs roar and I roar back.

It’s a bonding thing.

 

Words Connor Has Said: I Poop

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We have always been fortunate in that Connor doesn’t have the outbursts and meltdowns like so many other kids with autism. When he was very young he was usually quiet and fairly compliant. At his babysitter’s this earned him the nickname, “The good boy.”

Autism

Damian was “The bad boy.”

Damian was the other boy at the sitter’s. It’s not that he was bad, really, it’s just that he was a boy. He was rambunctious, loud and everything you’d expect a boy to be. Damian played with toy guns, Damian teased girls, Damian pretended he was a superhero and beat up bad guys. Damian did boy stuff.

And he made an impression on Connor. Like many autistic children Connor doesn’t play with other kids, he plays alongside them. There’s no real interaction. However, I think that while he may not interact he does observe other kids. He might even learn from them about how to have fun. Especially boy fun.

I picked up Connor from the sitter and brought him home. It was a nice summer day so I headed out to the porch to sit and read and Connor followed. He ran, jumped, made noise and did everything he could to keep me from reading.

Everything.

As I sat in my chair I heard a small noise behind me. It was Connor. He had passed gas. Then he stepped around to the side of my chair and did it again. This time it was louder. Then, with a cheesy grin on his face, giggling and looking me in the eye, Connor said, “I poop.”

He laughed and said it again. “I poop.”

He hadn’t. It was just gas. Stinky and hilarious gas.

One of the things that has always fascinated me about my son’s autism is how much like any other boy he is. He’s loud, he plays hard. He likes to reach up high and touch things. He loves to climb. Connor does boy stuff.

I for one am very pleased that my son appreciates fart jokes.

Words Connor Has Said: More

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Autism

Most people assume that my son Connor has been non-verbal his whole life–that he’s never spoken. However, early on he was able to speak a little. Part of the tragedy of autism is what it steals from you.

So, to help others understand what we’ve gone through over the years, I want to share with you a few of the words that Connor has said.

Shortly after we began therapy with Connor, shortly after he had lost his speech and retreated into his own little world, I got an actual word out of him.

In speech therapy the goal isn’t just communication but useful communication. The goal is to give them words that will enable them to get their wants across. One of the key words a child needs is the word “more.” It’s useful for “more food,” “more drink,” “more tickles,” “more time on the swings.” So “more” was taught over and over again, pronounced with precision so Connor would know how to use it.

It was early morning–a Saturday morning, in fact. Back then, with young kids, Saturday morning for me meant getting up, turning on the TV and laying out some cereal and a drink. It worked for me growing up, why wouldn’t it work for my kids?

Apple juice was the drink of choice back in those days. We always had a jug of it in the fridge and I had already poured a glass out for him. I had taken my place back on the couch and fallen asleep like any good, attentive father.

“M-m-mmore,” I heard, half asleep. I opened my eyes and there stood my son, holding the jug of apple juice close to his body. His little hands supporting it but unable to take the cap off. I watched his lips, tight together, pushing the word out. “M-m-mmore,” he said.

“More?” I asked him. “You want more?” I knew he wanted more. What I wanted was more communication. I wanted to hear more words. I wanted more….of him…in my world.

I didn’t get more. It was like it took every ounce of strength he had just to get that one word out. He struggled to speak it–fighting his own nature to make his need known to me. I got up, poured another glass and he drank in his silence.

Today I hold him down on his bed and tickle his toes. I grab his belly and listen to him squeal. Then I watch him quickly and easily bump his hands together, saying “more” in sign language. It’s his language. It’s natural for him. And most importantly it’s understood by me. I oblige and tickle some more.