Hyperlexia, or “I was a ‘precocious’ child”

In an earlier post, I confessed to confusion over how it could be that I’m autistic yet have had such an expansive lexical range from so early—expansive enough to have been able to read Plato’s Symposium and his Apology in elementary school, without understanding everything I was reading, of course, but without much trouble over the words.


Turns out I “suffer from” hyperlexia. I’m glad for the word and the concept, but mystified, truly, by the google results for ‘hyperlexia’: all a bunch of pathologizing nonsense. ‘Symptoms,’ ‘prognosis’ and—most amusingly—’treatment‘. LOL!

I’ve come to know many hyperlexic folks like myself so I can say with some confidence that the only ‘treatment’ we need is our next favorite book, whether or not it comes down to us to write the book we were looking for.

We read well beyond our age (‘precociously’). We might fixate on words and letters. Our minds tend to move in words.

“Help! My child can read too well!!” Said no parent ever.

“Help!! My child is reading beyond her grade level!!!”

I mean this actually exposes the outrage of pathologizing neurodivergence through compartmentalizing different components of an individual’s neuroqueerness.

“Someone medicate my child quick!! They just checked out SEVEN books from the library, and not one of them was even a children’s book!”


It would be laughable if it weren’t for the societal barriers hyperlexic children, like other neurodivergent children, will face for their neuroqueer identity.

Notably the ‘symptoms’ pertain to other aspects of ‘autism’ (mostly communicative differences, which are universally pathologized) and have nothing to do with one’s ‘precocious’ ability to read or their fascination with books, words and letters.


Also the word ‘precocious’ to characterize hyperlexic children fascinates me. It’s present in the diagnostic criteria (precocious reading), but I associate the word with a legendarily excellent scholar, ML West, who (if memory serves) used the word in the foreword of his Oxford commentary on Hesiod’s Works and Days, of himself as an undergrad to characterize his time spent doing the equivalent of wikipedia-dives with physical books in a university library (Oxford? Cambridge? I can’t recall) back before PCs. Precocious, indeed!

Writer Lexical Artist

A few years ago I actually realized I’m not a writer so much as an artist who works in words. That distinction is more powerful than it seems.

A writer could write a plainly worded manual; they are paid for writing. I think with written words. My words, once written, have been written, to my mind at least: the act is perfect tense in the true sense, words that have been written and now are; they exist in and of themselves, and become subject to my critical gaze. The idea they convey likewise exists, is made real, by the officiousness of being in print.


To me, some letters seem to have something like colors, but all of them convey distinct emotions: the letters are individuals. Rs are especially green and I love them best of all. Words dominated by an R are some of my favorite: like ‘gREEn‘ as opposed to ‘words,’ where the R is muffled by the wooden thunk of the D, the staccato of the combined DS, nearly a Z, only a millimeter’s difference of the tongue from the roof of the mouth, oraRe‘ and ‘our as opposed to ‘out’. The word green is the greenest word, very appropriately, although REd is a close second, along with REAd(ing), and tREE is very obviously verdant, but thREE is even more so. Yet neithervery’ nor ‘verdant’ are quite as green to me. Also I tended to collect Greek words that begin with rho (ρ), pronounced with aspiration like the R in ‘reed’ or ‘wrecked,’ and Latin words beginning in R, too.

I’m approximating the synesthesia merely to point out how green a paragraph of printed text can feel. R-syllables aren’t actually green on the page to my eyes, but they have the feeling of green.

(And did you feel it in your bones almost, when you noticed all the r-syllables that weren’t green? Did you pay attention to those apparent mistakes, noting every r-syllable as the line unfolded?)

DenTals feel either like wooD or Tin, unless THey’re changed wiTH an H, THen THey flow THiTHer, like the slight slither of scissors.

G and K (and C when it sounds like K) are harshly ancient sounds, GUTtural like GOOd, COUld or COW.

Vowels vary the emotion of a consonant. An A is like the sun’s pure radiance, for example; but Es are lazy, fillers of space without their own identity; Os are ungainly, a kind of unsophisticated sound.

Bob Ross heaps richly dyed gelatinous goo onto his palette, his canvas as blank as the page before me, while my paint is much thinner, the ink of a simple BIC. But the worlds we depict are encased in and brought to life by pigmented media across a canvas in either case.

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