A dash of hyperlexia?

While hyperlexia is overwhelmingly more common in boys, here is a fictional depiction of a girl from a Japanese animated movie. Her friend is tied up with a garland of flags, and rather than freeing her, this girl is compulsively identifying the nationality of the flags. OK, that is more “autism spectrum” in general, I guess. 

When I was still young, I half-joked that I must have the opposite of dyslexia. Today I know that there is indeed such an opposite. It is called “hyperlexia”, reasonably enough. And it is not considered a good thing.

If you look up hyperlexia on the Net, you will find it described as a rather debilitating disease. Sure, the kids learn to read while they are 2-3 years old, but they don’t understand what they read, and they spend their time performing rituals instead of asking questions or playing with other kids.

I am sure this is right – for some kids.  The ones that are “reported”, so to speak. If your child just learns to read early, and does well in school, has no disturbing tics and generally does not rock the boat, nobody will ever diagnose it in any way. So the reported cases are probably misleading. Not that they are not true, but they represent only those who lack the ability to adjust to the system, and so badly that they and their relatives can’t cover it.

Of course, that is what the name implies. Hyperlexia means “over-reading” or “too much reading”. Well, roughly. Let us not get into lexical detail. But in medical use, “hyper” is not a good thing. I guess there is a reason why Superboy is not called Hyperboy…

As it happens, I seem to only have a mild form of the same syndrome. I am not sure when I learned to read, but it may not have been until the age of 5. I started school at the age of 6, so I know it was well before that, because when I started school, I could read books and newspaper (and did so for pleasure). I could also write on a typewriter, and my spelling and grammar was – from what I am told – more like what other kids have when they finish compulsory schooling, rather than begin it. The content, however, was the utter drivel you would expect of a small boy, or worse. I was certainly not mature for my age.

There was certainly nothing wrong with my reading comprehension, and if I asked less “why, where and when” than other kids, it would be because I had already read why, where and when in the school books of my three older brothers. I was curious in my own way, but I did much time alone (although I was very vocal when I was together with others).

I did not play well with other children, for sure, but there were a couple reasons for this. One, they were idiots. Two, I was small and weak, having had asthma since I was a toddler. (This was before the current asthma epidemic – I did not have any classmates with asthma until high school, I think. And by then I did not have it anymore.) For the duration of my childhood and the next three decades, I was convince that my physical weakness was the reason why I was constantly bullied. And I was, pretty badly too. I was rather frail even when I started school, but during my first three years in school I lost 3 kg (about 6 pounds, I believe) and did not grow at all. This was in no small amount due to my mental state, I believe. School, which I had looked forward to with the highest expectations, turned out to be a nightmare, an ongoing horror with no end in sight.

Knowing those kids – and kids in general – I still suspect that they would have bullied me mercilessly even if I were a saint, simply because they could, since I was small and weak. However, the truth is that I was weird, arrogant, prone to rages despite my weakness, and reveled in humiliating others. So they would probably have ganged up on me and beaten me up even if I were some kind of child titan, simply because I deserved it. But I had no idea of that back then. I had no self-reflection at all. It was far from me. I would not even pretend humility, even if my health depended on it. No humility. Not even in the face of Armageddon. Never humility.

My asthma receded sometime around the age of 10, although I remained smaller and weaker than my classmates for several more years. In high school I gradually began to catch up, and in high school I was no different from average in size, although I still was weaker than others since I had internalized my fear of ever exerting myself. (Exercise would always cause asthma attacks, and indeed still does, although it takes some serious work now.) I also had no physical confidence and was unsure of what I could or could not do, so I remained weak and somewhat clumsy. As an adult I am actually “anti-clumsy” in that I am less likely to collide with people and objects than the average adult, although I may still slip on the ice or stub my toe once in a blue moon.

I had the extremely good luck to go to high school in a place where people still considered academic prowess more important than physical strength. Today, high schoolers are much like children in these matters, and some places it was already like that. But not there. So I had my glory years. I was more or less respected, despite being a bit weird. For example, I did not notice other people’s body language or even facial expression much of the time, and my own facial expressions were exaggerated or disconnected from what I was saying. I have never really understood the need for facial expressions, I guess. After all, books do fine without them.

I have started to use facial expressions later in life though.

So yeah, a dash of hyperlexia, and a dash of being a spoiled brat probably. But it was certainly worth it. Frankly, there is no way those kids I grew up with could have been as good as the books. In truth, they would probably have been a negative influence on my life. Fairly little offense intended, but I don’t think I could possibly been happy living lives like theirs, even lives like they are living now. I was meant for another world, and the bookshelf was my gateway to it.

I guess another word than “hyperlexia” is needed. Perhaps “eulexia”? Good reading? I’m certainly willing to trade a few years of being chased around and bullied for the ability to read well. Even though I have now realized that I may not have had to make that trade in full, as much as I did. But I would probably not have been able to reflect on myself back then, even if I had read about it. Thank the Light that I did read about it later, though.

2 thoughts on “A dash of hyperlexia?

  1. I am laughing at this, because I was pretty much a textbook hyperlexic, however you say it. And I agree, people were just not nearly as interesting as the things I could read. Unless they could tell me MORE MORE MORE about . . . EVERYTHING!!! I drove my parents and teachers nuts, in a good way. And I absorbed everything they told me. I was reading by age three, and had all kinds of weird rituals (although they were mostly inside, like counting things, drawing things, X having to happen before Y in order for things to “feel right” as opposed to outright noticeable OCD), and I was TINY. I was really supposed to be in the grade below mine, except that I had a fit and would not stop having a fit. I went to a private kindergarten the year before public schools started offering kindergarten, and then when they had free kindergarten in public schools they expected me to go AGAIN, simply because I was young and small. I think not! I remember having to LEARN to think like the others if I wanted to fit in, and it was mind-numbing until I LEARNED what a sense of humor was and how to appreciate the ridiculous. From then on it wasn’t as painful. People also tried to bully me, but I would not tolerate it. I was little, but I was mean, and if I didn’t think that the chances were good for me to come out victorious in a situation, I could analyze the situation and tailor threats perfectly toward those who were bad. (Of course, I was NOT bad, ergo everyone with whom I didn’t agree was bad. Usually not a problem, because I usually didn’t notice too much about other people unless they were either quite nice or the opposite. Either of those sort were worth my attention. Also, I was just a happy natured person, in general. I am not stretching the truth too much when I say that I’ve been teaching ever since I began school, because I could “speak adult” and “speak child” and oftentimes would translate for my peers. Again, I agree with you when you say “eulexia”. It’s been much more a good thing than a bad thing for me! What baffles me is that although my children are pretty sharp, I would not label them as hyper-/eulexic. Neither of them are particularly good spellers, and although they enjoy reading, there isn’t the . . . almost literal voracity that I feel when reading. It is just a need to internalize what is in the pages and bring it into my being. Know what I mean? (I suspect you do!)

    Enjoyable post, if you can’t tell!!

    • Literal voracity! I remember starting on the phone book and the post bank’s company registry when I ran out of fact books. (I could not make myself read novels when I was little, because they were not true. But as you can see, I changed somewhat in that regard.)

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