Sunday, February 27, 2005

Hyperlexia and Science Fiction

Natasha at Pacific Views speaks of her experiences as a hyperlexic:

I've never been anywhere near as hampered in communication as that, but I can very much relate to her descriptions of shifts in her own consciousness after happening into a frameshift that finally let her order her perceptions of the world. I was sort of hyperlexic when I was young, and you can surely still pick up the traces of it, but it ended up being a very good mask for the fact that I often had no idea what was going on around me.

There were a lot of words I knew how to say, but in addition to not understanding nonverbal cues from others very well, my sense of time was messed up in ways I can't quite explain even now. I had an arbitrarily shaky grasp of the order certain events had occurred and where or with whom a given memory was properly connected up until I was a preteen, at which point this gradually began to resolve itself. Things I read would stay clear, and there were times when there was no disorientation at all. Then sometimes it would all just get jumbled up horribly, but based on how people in my family reacted, the inconsistency seemed to give more of an impression of selective and perhaps purposeful inattention.

That's possibly what made my arcane personal rituals so relaxing to me. (Monk is one of the few screen characters that I particularly identify with.) They were something I could focus on, done at my own pace, and they sorted my days into manageable blocks. I still lose track of time very easily, and will probably never be rigorously punctual, but the sense of disorientation is pretty much gone now.

What it seems finally helped me sort out a frame to relate to the world was the science fiction and fantasy books I read obsessively from as soon as I discovered them. Because they're set in an imaginary place for which only the author has a frame of reference, the rules of social structure, organization and strictures on personal interactions have to be explicitly spelled out at some early point. You aren't left guessing what things mean because the author assumes in the beginning that, of course, the reader can't interpret these things in relation to a place no one has ever been.

Obviously, the authors of fiction novels usually build on something in the world of their experience, but the lack of explanation made much of that inaccessible. I didn't know what I was missing out on seeing, and my assumption would be that most people assumed I was just deliberately ignoring signals that were perfectly clear to everyone else. I lived in a world where things happened for no reason that I could see, and you can't build a useful internal model of how things work based on unexplained gibberish.

Through these unintentional parables, the rest of the world slowly began making more sense. I still enjoy fiction, but I no longer cling to it like it's a roadmap through hostile territory.

Good to know that writing science fiction can serve the dual role of hobby and community service.


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