A Mind of My Own
Posted by Gail | Filed under Autism
Chapter Twelve — I Just Don’t Understand (Part 2)
One of the first terms I had to come to grips with was “hyperlexia.” Malcolm was hyperlexic. He had the ability to identify individual sounds while reading and then to manipulate those sounds in his head so he could read almost anything. However, even as he read everything that came into view, he had trouble understanding the meaning of what he read. That early predisposition to decoding is called hyperlexia.
Now, here’s where some confusion came in. While the early pre-disposition to reading, fascination with letters and numbers, and focus on written language is called hyperlexia, so too is was a diagnosis I found for children who present with many of the characteristics of Asperger’s but with some unique differences. So I’ll refer to that as Hyperlexia (capital “H”).
Malcolm’s language acquisition problem wasn’t typical of Asperger’s, but was typical of Hyperlexia, which I discovered when I read the book “Reading Too Soon.” That book described Malcolm to a T. I was so relieved. I wasn’t alone. But then I ran into a wall. While I was saying Hyperlexia to The Girls, they were hearing hyperlexia, the predisposition to decoding. Ultimately, I gave up and settled with their diagnosis: Asperger’s Syndrome. Since it is believed they are all on the Autism spectrum anyway, it seemed like I was splitting hairs and I was way too busy for that.
Watching your two-year-old read anything can convince you that he’s pretty smart. But this pre-disposition and obsession with reading is almost a savant skill. Malcolm, when he started to speak, didn’t express himself with changes in intonation. His language was flat. And he used echolalia to parrot back to me what I had said to him.
“Malcolm, do you want a drink?”
“Want a drink.”
“Malcolm, where are your shoes?”
“Where are your shoes.”
Malcolm’s dad would quote the movie Rain Man to me, “I buy my underwear at K-Mart,” in that flat voice Dustin Hoffman used, and I would hit him. It made me furious because I felt it diminished my child. I had no sense of humour about this whatsoever. Over time, my sense of humour has come back, but I’m still a tiger of a mother.
Part of the flat intonation, I’m convinced, is the fact that most of his language acquisition came from reading. But words on a page have no intonation. They’re flat. Static. And so was Malcolm’s speech when he finally did start talking.