Seshat gave me advantages I didn't want at the time, didn't ask for.
[This post is long. There’s a tl;dr summary at the end.]
The kind of blessings that come with a giant curse attached, such is hyperlexia:
You read young, but your language comprehension sucks.
You have a big expressive vocabulary, but most of your language is echolalic.
That kind of blessing and curse, more tightly knit together than the sides of Her papyrus tongue.
I may not have wanted Her thirst for language, Her intense desire to communicate through language, Her determination to reach real language use at all costs.
But that is what I got.
And She, the inventor of written language, stood back and watched. She is standing back watching now. She has done Her part. The rest is on me, to use Her gifts and dodge the obligatory curses for whatever I need to use them for. She is not going to hang around trying to influence my writing. My writing is my writing. She respects that in everyone. A scribe goddess, the inventor of writing, would respect that.
But in my writing, I will praise Her, because without Her, there would be no writing. Not just for me, on my little personal level, but for anyone else.
And writing may pull me into the world of language. But something always pulls me out again. I sometimes wonder about the nature of those ‘curses’. Whether they, in their own way, are protecting me from getting so sucked into language that I lose who I am in the first place — a languageless being taught language, like an Ent if Seshat were an Elf who had woken me up and taught me to speak.
From Wikipedia, a much less legendary source on the subject — just about anything bolded is my own for emphasis:
Hyperlexia was initially identified by Silberberg and Silberberg (1967), who defined it as the precocious ability to read words without prior training in learning to read typically before the age of 5. They indicated that children with hyperlexia have a significantly higher word decoding ability than their reading comprehension levels.
Hyperlexic children are characterized by having average or above average IQs and word-reading ability well above what would be expected given their age. First named and scientifically described in 1967, it can be viewed as a superability in which word recognition ability goes far above expected levels of skill. Some hyperlexics, however, have trouble understanding speech. Some experts believe that most or perhaps all children with hyperlexia lie on the autism spectrum. However, one expert, Darold Treffert, proposes that hyperlexia has subtypes, only some of which overlap with autism. Between 5 and 10 percent of children with autism have been estimated to be hyperlexic.
Hyperlexic children are often fascinated by letters or numbers. They are extremely good at decoding language and thus often become very early readers. Some hyperlexic children learn to spell long words (such as elephant) before they are two years old and learn to read whole sentences before they turn three. AnfMRI study of a single child showed that hyperlexia may be the neurological opposite of dyslexia.
Despite hyperlexic children’s precocious reading ability, they may struggle to communicate. Often, hyperlexic children will have a precocious ability to read but will learn to speak only by rote and heavy repetition, and may also have difficulty learning the rules of language from examples or from trial and error, which may result in social problems. Their language may develop using echolalia, often repeating words and sentences. Often, the child has a large vocabulary and can identify many objects and pictures, but cannot put their language skills to good use. Spontaneous language is lacking and their pragmatic speech is delayed. Hyperlexic children often struggle with Who? What? Where? Why? and How? questions. Between the ages of 4 and 5 years old, many children make great strides in communicating.
The social skills of a child with hyperlexia often lag tremendously. Hyperlexic children often have far less interest in playing with other children than do their peers.
In one paper, Darold Treffert proposes three types of hyperlexia. Specifically:
Type 1: Neurotypical children that are very early readers.
Type 2: Children on the autism spectrum that demonstrate very early reading as a splinter skill.
Type 3: Very early readers who are not on the autism spectrum though there are some “autistic-like” traits and behaviours which gradually fade as the child gets older.
A different paper by Rebecca Williamson Brown, OD proposes only two types of hyperlexia. These are:
Type 1: Hyperlexia marked by an accompanying language disorder.
Type 2: Hyperlexia marked by an accompanying visual spacial motor disorder.
That last struck me very hard, because for me hyperlexia is a language disability. My hyperlexic brother, however, has no language comprehension problems, but a lot of visual-spatial-motor problems. When I read about hyperlexia I feel too much like a textbook case, too much like a stereotype.
It’s easier to imagine Seshat sticking out Her long papyrus-vellum-parchment tongue and licking my eyes, my ears, my mouth, my throat, and especially, especially my hands. It’s easier to imagine that She somehow knew I would have things to communicate, and gave me the means to do it, even if it meant the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life.
Seshat is not incompatible with science. She was quite the scientist Herself. She invented written language, but She was not only associated with scribes. She was also associated with astronomers, astrologers, builders, and surveyors. Goddesses in Her country were not the ‘goddess of’ a particular thing. They were gods who had interests that might make them reduce that way to some people’s minds, but their interests were not the only part of them. They weren’t the patron saints of animals or the gods of wisdom like you might find in Catholicism or the way many people see ancient Greek religion, respectively. They were complicated individuals whose personalities were attached to certain activities, but not limited to them.
Seshat would not be upset at me for reading Wikipedia to find out why, scientifically speaking, I am hyperlexic, echolalic, hypergraphic, echographic, and have screwed up language comprehension. But She would tell me that’s not the whole story, because She was part of the story, for reasons known fully only to Her. Nobody knows why She hands out blessing-curses to some children and not others. Maybe She hands them out to the ones She thinks will need them. She certainly doesn’t make it easy, I’ve struggled my whole life for adequate, consistent communication. But when I communicate right, I communicate spectacularly right, and I think that is Her work.
Wikipedia tells me that I am a classic hyperlexic, so classic it almost bothers me. I read early, I have pictures of myself sitting reading books before the age of two. My reading comprehension and other language comprehension sucked donkey balls. My speech, when it deigned to appear again after a lapse into grunting, was echolalic and only sporadically communicative. But speech and thought both made a big leap forward between the ages of four and five, and again at seven. I had a big expressive vocabulary and a small receptive vocabulary. And I was autistic, in a big way. Everything about hyperlexia fits me to a T.
Not only that, but the DSM says the same thing. The DSM-IV, at any rate, made a special note that in non-Asperger autistic children who develop speech, it’s common for our receptive language to lag behind expressive language considerably. It is very weird to go through your life hearing how atypical you must be for an autistic person. And then to read up on autism as viewed by professionals, and find out you’re almost too typical for comfort. Like you wish you were a bit less stereotypical.
The same goes for hypergraphia, and its cousin, compulsive creativity. But to focus on hypergraphia. I have a drive to write. It is so intense that I could write lists and I would still write. I would open a book and write the contents of its pages, just to be writing something. Seshat has been licking my fingertips for a long time, leaving invisible glyphs there that I can’t read, but that compel my fingers to type, and type, and type.
And above all, the drive to learn all this despite the curse side of the blessing. The drive to learn to match my thoughts to words, even if it took 20 years to even begin to get it to happen on a regular basis. The drive to use that skill, over and over, for as long as it took to make it useful. I practice turning thoughts into words the same way some autistic people practice the ability to use one finger to independently type the words that, for them, take less effort. For them it’s mostly motor, for me it’s mostly cognitive, but the lifelong, constant work we put into the effort of communicating is the same. And I, who hate words, who wishes I could spend my whole life outside them, find myself working as hard as I can to master them, and I see Seshat’s hand in that as well.
But now I can be grateful.
Now I can see the design behind it all, or enough of the design to see that She was doing me a big favor.
That I may not be living the life that I could have lived, if I had not been hyperlexic.
But that I am living a life where my observations of the world need to be communicated in a way others can understand. And how better to do that than introduce the blessing-curses of hyperlexia and hypergraphia and compulsive creativity, into someone who otherwise would stay far away from language?
It doesn’t matter if you believe in Seshat. It doesn’t matter if I believe in Seshat, in Her papyrus tongue that blessed me and cursed me at the same time, that put invisible glyphs on my body to ensure certain abilities and certain disabilities would be there no matter what. It doesn’t matter if you’d rather trust Wikipedia and science — Seshat was a scientist, after all. Either way… this is who I am.
I am a hyperlexia stereotype. I come closer to being an autism stereotype than I would like, ideally. But I am definitely an absolute hyperlexia stereotype, right from start to finish. And whether the gods saw fit to do this, or genetics saw fit to do this, or the gods tweaked my family’s genetics to do this… I don’t care. I just know I sometimes see Seshat off in the distance, keeping an eye on me, but never too close. Never close enough to interfere. She doesn’t do long-term interference, She just bestows Her gifts and curses and then keeps an eye on the person to see what they’ll do with them.
I hope I make Her proud, even if She didn’t exactly have to break the mold to shape my abilities. I have learned that it’s rude to shun a gift, even if the gift is one that goes against the grain. A gift of all this language, all this drive to language, in a person who hates language, it feels almost like a joke. But there is no joke here. She had Her reasons. I can almost see some of those reasons. Those of us otherwise like me who don’t have this drive to communicate, who don’t have hyperlexia helping them along, are not going to be as able to communicate in ways other people respect. So that is the job of those of us who can — to communicate the things common to all people like us, and to defend the nonstandard communication of people like us who can’t communicate in the ways we do. This is necessary, it is important.
And even if I didn’t want this gift, this blessing, this curse, whatever you’re going to call it… even if I didn’t want it, I needed it. I needed it to become who I am today. I needed it to become a writer, a blogger, someone people pay attention to, despite the depth of my difficulties in other areas. I needed it in order to express my experiences in a way that other people can understand without being ‘like me’ in some significant way.
So thank you, Seshat. I should leave You an offering one of these days. You have changed my life in strange and mysterious ways, but You have changed my life, and I have to be grateful.
tl;dr: This is a post about how I’m very standard for a hyperlexic autistic person, how hyperlexia and hypergraphia have helped me communicate better than I ever would have without them, even despite the difficulties they create. I refer to them as both a blessing and a curse, and blame (and credit) the goddess Seshat for giving them to me. And have finally come around to being grateful, despite the fact that an intense drive to communicate through words still feels weird in my skin, weird as a person who would live outside of language all the time if I had any choice in the matter.