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Reading Time: 4 minutes

When a father is told he will 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 return to his 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” onesies do you see on newborns? I know a man who bought Legos by the barrel in anticipation of what he would get to build with his son.

It’s part of our bonding experience. We want the best childhood memories—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.

And we want someone to play with!

Growing up, I wasn’t much for sports, so I never even considered investing in a ball glove. My childhood was filled with monster movies and creatures that 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.

My Son, Connor

It started out with the usual bag of multi-colored plastic injection mold dinosaurs. I knew their names and exactly which ones could eat the others. I had dinosaur books that 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 a tyrannosaurus rex, pterodactyls, and saber tooth tigers (I know, I know . . . they’re not dinosaurs, but they still counted for something).

I imagined sharing those things 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.


Confession: these are not plastic dinosaurs from my childhood. These are plastic dinosaurs I carry with me today.

One afternoon, we stopped at the local library on our way home from school. My oldest was picking up a book—probably the latest teen-angst-filled tale of sparkly vampires and brooding shirtless werewolves. I took Gracie 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 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 with shouts and big movements. It’s loud and active and very apparent that something has reached them. Other times, though, the child seems so amazed by a new discovery that all they can do is whisper.

Connor whispered. I barely heard it.


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, which read “Dinosaurs,” and had a picture of a T-Rex’s head.

I still wonder if it was the picture or the word he noticed. He’s often surprised us with his ability to read.

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 had dinosaur pajamas when he was younger (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.

The iPad he uses for communication is filled with dinosaur apps, which feature pictures and animations of every terrible creature you can imagine. One app 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 father-son bonding thing.



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