Autism + Hyperlexia: I learned to read in kindergarten and excelled at maths.

This April, I am posting every day except Sundays, featuring an autism-related topic. I might post more than this, with a non-autism post, depending on what I feel like; I already do this now. Some will be #autchat prompts; others will be my own posts.

Today’s topic is an #autchat (hyperlexia/hypernumeracy).

Some autistic/similar children are hyperlexic (early fixation on letters or reading) and/or hypernumeric (early fixation on numbers or math). You can read about these neurodivergent traits in a scientific journal here (PDF): #AutChat

1. Did you show intense interest in letters or numbers at a young age, or become proficient at reading or math long before your peers?

a, j, q, x, y, z, 2, 8 written on notebook paper in different handwriting styles

Yesss. My favorite letters were z, q, a and y — in that order.

I started reading in kindergarten, and annoyed my parents and teachers about it. If there was a word I didn’t know the meaning of or how to pronounce, I wanted to know it. As time went on, I used context clues to figure out how to say the words I didn’t know, because I started getting yelled at by my parents.

Eventually, I got a children’s dictionary — of all the books in the bookstore, I chose the dictionary — and read the pronunciation guides to help me pronounce it.

I would write copy words out of the dictionary, into a spiral notebook with pencil, for fun. Teachers would often have my peers and I do that for busy work or when the class got too loud, and everyone would groan, but I LOVED it. I’d have rather been copying words out of the dictionary than participating in recess. People bullied me during recess. Words didn’t bully me.

I was obsessed with those learn-to-read books, but once I knew them by heart, they weren’t fun anymore. I grew into the type of person who read two grades above what I was supposed to be reading, which meant I was insatiable and none of the books I wanted to read (and was reading) were on Accelerated Reading Tests (ARTs) at the time. My eighth grade teacher included our ART average in our grades, and even wound up using it for extra credit, and I always voluntarily received a zero for that — but aced everything else in class.

I was also obsessed with numbers, and great with them until my dissociative identity disorder started making itself known. I used to dream of writing/contributing to a maths textbook.

2. How does hyperlexia/hypernumeracy affect you now that you are older?

I’m not as fantastic with numbers anymore. My favorite letters are now j, x, q and z. My favorite numbers are 8 and 4.

Hypernumeracy is not heavily relevant because DID, but I am still extremely visual about numbers. Using pattern recognition, I can quickly count how many like objects without looking specifically at each one. I don’t think this is a common skill or talent, because coworkers have been baffled at my accuracy when I told them there were x items without physically counting every single one in front of them. I thought it was something everyone could do.

I’m not sure if hyperlexia still affects me. I know I love words and am fascinated when I learn there’s a word for that thing I’m feeling or doing or whatever.

3. Does hyperlexia/hypernumeracy make life easier in any ways? Does it make it harder in any ways?

Because I fizzled out instead of keeping up with it, maths is no longer something I’m extraordinarily great at. Also, DID. I completely blame DID because I don’t even have the memories of having learned certain maths to begin with. Every time I try to access that, there’s an impenetrable wall.

As for words…writing for the web is so different and varied that the only place my vocabulary will probably be welcome is in novels.

4. What do you wish others understood about your experience of hyperlexia/hypernumeracy?

I’m not a savant? There’s a lot of pressure to use these skills/abilities for savant-type ish, but all that pressure does is burn me out.

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