An except from Twirling Naked in the Streets and No-One Noticed…
Consuming Information and Hyperlexia
Before 1994, Asperger’s Syndrome did not exist as a diagnosis in the United States. Autism would not have even been considered if a child was verbal, least of all very verbal, or if a child was not intellectually challenged.
I was verbal, too verbal. I was smart, too smart for my own good.
Baseball stats were not the only bits of data that I consumed and stored. I consumed books. I memorized them, and don’t you dare read the storybook to me and think you will skip over anything. If I had already heard the book, you were in trouble.
My father used to read to me, but many times tried to skip over things thinking I wouldn’t know any better. After all, I couldn’t read—or, could I?
I would promptly point out where he missed along with what page the text appeared on. Long before I entered kindergarten I didn’t need him to read to my any longer. I taught myself to read.
I honestly could not figure out why we were “learning” to read in school. I already knew how to read; therefore, all the kids around me knew also. We were just wasting time.
“We thought we had a little genius on our hands,” my mother said, “but you were just a little bitch.”
What is hyperlexia?
Hyperlexia is an ability to read way above what is expected for the child’s age, and is accompanied by a below average ability to comprehend spoken language. The hyperlexic child usually learns to speak through rote memory and heavy repetition. This child appears (and is) very intelligent, but often fails to comprehend the context of her words, or fails to comprehend their meanings and social implications.
I was not a quiet withdrawn child; in fact, I never shut up—ever. I rattled off my newly learned facts to anyone who would listen, and to those who wouldn’t. The interesting part though is I would only talk to adults. Children had nothing to contribute to the conversation, they thought I was odd. Sometimes they ran from me, or they ran off to play.
Adults on the other hand thought I was brilliant. They laughed at my little speeches, and thought it was cute when I recited lines from TV shows and music lyrics to answer their questions. Well—most of the time.
There were times when my tendency to quote others to convey my feels landed me in a heap of trouble. As “grown-up” as I sounded at almost four years old, I still had my bottle. It was something I was absolutely unwilling to give up. The doctors were not concerned, and actually encouraged my parents to allow me to have it as long as I wanted since I ate next to nothing.
“Milk is food,” Grandma said.
So why would I need to eat anything else. My father didn’t share this view.
When he insisted that I eat the dinner my mother prepared, I, as always, refused. This time he persisted.
“You are going to eat it,” he said.
“Because I said so, now eat it!” I had somehow made him angry, but not as angry as he made me. Maybe he shouldn’t have played so much Billy Joel music around me; he should have seen this coming.
“You cannot tell me what to do. It’s my life!” I said. “Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone!”
I ran up the stairs, clutching my bottle in my hand.
My grandparents lived upstairs. Grandma says milk is food. I don’t need to eat my mother’s food, I have my own.
This time Grandma was on their side. She wanted me to eat. I sniffed the pasta, I sniffed the meatballs, and I sniffed the cheese and then I wretched.
“No! I don’t want your stinky cheese; I don’t need your stinky cheese; I have my bottle. Milk is food.”
That was the last time I saw that bottle, or any other ones. So for the next year I lived on peanut butter.
There were times when my speech and comprehension appeared advanced. It may have appeared to my parents that I was being obstinate and difficult—that I only wanted my way. But the truth is I had no idea the real implications and meanings behind the words I recited from the song, My Life. It just appeared that I applied it correctly at the time.
Since I was already able to read, I often used “scripts” to speak to people. I recited passages from books that seemed appropriate at the time. I sang song lyrics, or in this case, screamed song lyrics at others. I also repeated what I heard adults saying applying to my situations haphazardly. Because I was smart, everyone assumed that the words were my own, my thoughts, and that I knew exactly what I was saying. I am sure I did not.