Steppingstones

Describe a challenge you have faced in your life and how you turned it into something positive.

Hyperlexia. This is a term that very few people have heard of, but it is a term that I have become intimately acquainted with. Though it is shrouded in mystery, I have grown to know it frighteningly well, better than anything on this earth. I know it as I know every part of myself – because hyperlexia is a part of myself.Hyperlexia, by definition, is a communications disorder in which a young child appears to learn his or her native language as if it were a second language. The child copies large chunks of phrases heard, but he or she does not understand their meaning and does not learn to use them for him or herself. In addition, these children have significant problems with social development and may miss social cues and conventions that many take for granted. Because of this, hyperlexic children are often labeled as “weird,” “nerdy,” or “aloof.” Generally, hyperlexic children also suffer from miscellaneous physical problems, such as sensory integration dysfunction, allergies (usually to antibiotics, wheat protein, and/or milk protein), or low muscle tone. With speech, occupational, and/or physical therapy, however, these symptoms may improve to the point that only a trained eye could identify the child as “abnormal.”Though therapy may cause the most obvious hyperlexic traits to fade almost completely, there will always be slight differences in thinking, acting, and feeling in the hyperlexic. Such is my case. Although I received speech therapy from a very young age (and was declared “cured” by the beginning of the third grade), I possess traits and face challenges unique to the hyperlexic even today. For instance, I must consciously study the body language and facial expressions of my friends and colleagues in order to discern what is and what is not appropriate to say or do on that occasion. Additionally, I must temper my train of thought in order to make sure that whatever I want to say is not thought to be “random” in the context of the present discussion. (Since my thoughts tend to move quickly, I may take several “jumps” with my brain – for instance, from Beethoven to deafness to frustration to anger to psychological problems – and mention something about another musician who had psychological problems, such as Mozart. The others who were discussing Beethoven would look at me strangely and ask where I was coming from.) I also have some trouble concentrating (which certainly does not help my cause in relation to the random comments!). Because I still possess these traits (and likely will for the rest of my life) the rigors of school life present some interesting challenges for me, although an outside observer would probably not notice these easily.Although I have had to overcome the challenges presented by these characteristics of hyperlexia, I have also been blessed with some strengths with which I can better face my challenges and help others do the same. Many teen and adult hyperlexics have a curious aptitude for foreign languages (possibly because of the experience of learning English as an almost foreign language), and I have found that my fascination and talent in the Spanish language has helped me in several ways. Most notably, I have formed and strengthened many friendships with classmates whom I’ve tutored, either in class or online through instant messaging. Through this tutoring I have also been forced to figure out how to communicate more effectively so that my friends can understand the concepts that I am attempting to teach. Additionally, I use my experiences to encourage people through my other strength – written communication. In fact, just over a year ago I founded an online support group for teenagers with hyperlexia and related disorders, the only one of its kind on the Internet. The friends I have made through that group help me to better understand myself; in turn, I share my experiences with them so that they may better face their own challenges. Finally, like many hyperlexics, I have a measure of musical talent, which I have taken advantage of in my journey through hyperlexia (playing the piano is an effective therapy for fine motor coordination issues common to hyperlexics). My multiple sessions at a prestigious music camp have not only matured me as a musician, but they have helped me to grow socially as well. I hope to continue using these strengths throughout my future so that I can help and support other hyperlexics.Though some hyperlexics grow frustrated in school and choose not to follow the path of a college education, I believe it is a necessity and am thus choosing to attend college. In fact, my goal is to earn a doctoral degree in music composition, so that I can teach composition and theory to students who are in high school and below who usually don’t have the opportunity to take such classes before college. One of my dreams – which may or may not come to fruition – is to mentor a young, hyperlexic composer like myself, both in and out of the group class setting. I know these goals will take many years of extra schooling, extra money, and of course extra challenges – but I know that my dreams are worth it. I invite you to embark on this climb with me and to share in the joy of realizing my dream – helping other children like myself.

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