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How Dinosaurs Help With My Autism

Updated: Jan 8

The Importance of Inclusion

By Betty Vinson

Learning Specialist & Director of the Desmond Family Success Center

At Christopher Columbus High School, diversity extends beyond cultural and ethnic differences; it encompasses the rich academic differences among our students which sets our school apart from others.

Our student body represents a diverse group of learners with different abilities, including individuals with autism, ADHD, and various learning disabilities. Embracing this academic diversity is not merely a point of pride but a fundamental aspect of our educational philosophy.  St. Marcellin Champagnat said, “If you want to teach young people, first you must love them all - and love them all equally."  We believe that the richness of our community lies in the recognition and celebration of the unique talents and challenges our students bring. By fostering an inclusive environment that caters to diverse learning needs, we strive to create an atmosphere where every student can share their ideas and grow as individuals. 

How Dinosaurs Help With My Autism

by Juan-Pablo Pina

Note: What goes here solely applies to me, not other people. Do not take this as a generalization of autism but rather the voice of a single person on the spectrum :)

I love dinosaurs. Plain and simple. I watch movies, read books, draw pictures, and write about dinosaurs. However, I am also autistic. 

By now, you’ve probably heard somebody call something they see stupid “autistic” (although some have started using the word “acoustic”). But using it that way is, er, imprecise? It’s complicated. However, I have noticed that, for some odd reason, dinosaurs are always the most calming thing in the world for me. And I’ve been wanting to voice my opinion on that. So I will venture to ask that you read this, an account from somebody who’s on the spectrum, and see how the terrible lizards manage to help me with one of the biggest challenges of life.

Two Worlds, One Mind

Isla Nublar, an island near Costa Rica, is where both Jurassic Park and Jurassic World were built, the latter of which became very successful before things went awry (and that’s putting it mildly). And sometimes, that’s how life feels.

It’s like I’m stuck on a remote island where all the monstrous beasts are out and hunting me down. You can think of these monsters/dinosaurs as “representations” of certain things like anxieties, emotions, and responsibilities. Some have huge heads with teeth like scimitars while others are swift as the wind and have huge talons like an eagle’s. The world is a scary place, and in my head it becomes even scarier. However, just as there are carnivores with claws like daggers and teeth like swords, there are benevolent things that balance them out (note that in nature, carnivores are far more chill than herbivores so this is a very simple representation. Don’t believe me? Just look at what hippos or even ducks can do).

Here, the good things sort of pop up as things that make me happy. And while for “normal” people they may show up as what they are in real life, for me they appear as things that just make me feel good or amaze me. Dinosaurs and other strange beasts with long necks or horns, huge waterfalls, and even things as simple as vast jungles of light rain showers. The things that the aforementioned items represent include friends, family, music, writing, or going for a run. They balance out the savage nature of my mental Isla Nublar. But the heightened terror that comes with abnormally keen senses and confusing communication is always there, oftentimes outnumbering the good. That’s where the dinosaurs come in (I know we’ve already been talking about them but just stick with me).

66 Million Shades Of Awesome

Dinosaurs. Are. Awesome. You’re not convincing me otherwise. They’re weird? Sweet! They’re scary? Great! They’re for kids? Well, I guess I’m just an overgrown kid then! I’ve been obsessed with animals all my life (while y’all were watching stuff like Adventure Time, I was watching Planet Earth). And when I started getting into prehistory, it was like finding this whole other animal kingdom that was just waiting to be explored. Not just dinosaurs, but beasts like giant hornless rhinos and millipedes the size of cars.

You know the character Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory? You know how he’s hyper-fixated on physics and is also kind of awkward in a nerd way? Yeah, that’s a good summary of what I’ve got. It’s this hyper fixation that has allowed me to memorize animals like Patagotitan mayorum and a bunch of facts like how the bite of a T. rex is 27 times more powerful than the pressure at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. But what I find so fascinating about the creatures and events of deep time is the mystery of it all.

There are so many things that we know, which is already astounding considering how infuriatingly frustrating the fossil record is. And then there are so many things we know we don’t know about, like the causes of mass extinctions. And then there’s the stuff that we don’t even know that we don’t know about. That’s what I love about it. It leaves so much room for imagination that the past becomes a playground for the mind where science and creativity merge together in a way that’s just so insert chef’s kiss. And when I get to write about prehistoric animals, I don’t have to worry about things that are so overly confusing like politics or religion. I get to envision simple words that are also infinitely complex in all the best ways and none of the bad. But how do dinosaurs help me deal with the challenges raised by being autistic?

Jurassic Park In A Jar

Hopefully, you understood that reference. If not, go back to the beginning of the first section. Now that we’ve covered why I find prehistoric life so fascinating, it’s time to reveal how it came into my life. There are many ways, but I’ll give you my favorite examples.

One of the most prominent would have to be Grade 8. I vividly remember how much of a living hell that was, constantly knowing that rumors and insults were just waiting to ensnare me like a beartrap. I was living in constant fear and constant anxiety. My heightened senses allowed me to hear every giggle and murmur even when I wanted to block it all out. I could almost feel their gazes like stinging needles, their laughs like daggers shoved into my ears. It was so horrible that, as of writing this, I am still traumatized by all of it. However, this is where dinosaurs come in.

I vividly remember that it was around that time that things in the dinosaur world were going great. There was the new season of Primal, an animated show on Adultswim that uses no language yet manages to tell a heart-wrenching and awesome story. There was the new season of Prehistoric Planet, a big-budget docuseries that focused on life at the end of the age of the dinosaurs. And I had just picked up multiple books like Dinosaurs of the Flaming Cliffs and one about elephant behavior called Elephant Don. I remember I would put on my headphones, look up whatever music I wanted (primarily heavy metal like Metallica’s The Unforgiven or For Whom the Bell Tolls), turn to the page I left off on, and just zoned the hell out. I would blast the music while I practically devoured page after page, my mind filled with images of fossils jutting out of red desert cliffs and animals like hadrosaurs (duck-billed dinosaurs) wandering through canyons in the Cretaceous. 

Around that time, I can confidently say that my brain had become like Jurassic Park in a jar. Not like in section one (although that analogy still applies), but rather a huge zoo or display of the past’s most wondrous beasts while huge information signs told me every fact I knew. Dinosaurs became my way to escape, a way to leave this loud and cruel world behind and enter a simple and primeval world of tropical forests and bizarre animals. I was sucked up by their mysteries, the things that we didn’t know and the things that we don’t even know that we don’t know about! I wrote a science fiction story about Cretaceous daikaiju (basically giant monsters like Godzilla) and I even wrote a whole anthology. Note that I did this as a teenager who was also autistic and was in Grade 8. Hell, I even made an end-of-the-year video about dinosaurs! I was (and still am) obsessed with a world beyond our imagination that disappeared 66 million years ago, a span of time so vast that trying to imagine it is a brain-crushing task.

But, in the end, I feel as though these beasts from an ancient age help me cope with my autism. At the same time, I would like to think that my autism is like a telescope that allows me to see into the primordial abyss of time, a way for my brain to get creative but also revert to a primeval and simple form. And if you think that makes me “acoustic”, then so be it! 

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