Reading, GPA and hyperlexia

One of the traits associated with autism is a tendency to take things that other people say literally, which leads to much confusion, embarrassment and humiliation. Hence most of my teachers thought me a dunce for not deducing their implicit but unspoken communication, although at least not all of them thought me wilfully disobedient for not making eye contact (something I discussed with my mother who assured me that it was normal to not make eye contact properly until you had learnt how to do it, as she herself had done as a child) or being unable to have quiet hands during lessons (blogger begins internally screaming).

In the sixth form, my secondary school would bring in former pupils to explain what life was like at university. Much of it was nonsense and only applicable to people studying their course at their university. A lot of it was actively damaging for a young woman who so desperately wanted to find “the place where I belonged” and was promised that university would be some kind of Emerald City (pay no attention to the man behind the curtain).

One other thing stuck with me that needs refuting because it’s not just wrong for possibly-autistic me, it’s wrong for everyone.

“Don’t buy the books,” they said, “the library has them anyway.”

As a first generation student on a very limited budget with no financial support from my parents I gratefully and unthinkingly received this ‘wisdom’.

Only it was yet more nonsense. Because the library didn’t have all the books. In fact even if it did have them, they were probably on loan to someone else. Even these days university libraries are hit and miss, for example, a library may have the ebook but only a license for 5 people to read it at once, and sorry everyone else wants to read it too.

No, the better bit of advice is to read ALL the books. Your GPA will thank you for it. (GPA being your grade point average and hence your marks – US and Australian universities use GPA the way a UK one uses “class”.) Scientific research has consistently shown that the more of your textbook you read, the better your grade. In fact reading beyond merely the required reading is even more beneficial. Now this was a rule I could get behind. When I learnt about this research in the run-up to starting my master’s degree I bought all the required textbooks, all the recommended textbooks, and then used Amazon’s “people who buy this also buy” feature to find and buy even more textbooks. I morphed into Elle Woods studying for her LSAT exams by buying every book on the subject I could get my hands on. (Funnily enough there are pages and pages on the internet written about how the character of Elle displays autistic traits.)

I was an extremely bookish child, who grew up to be a bookish adult who has spent decades earning a living by reading books. Sometimes I even think that some of my best friends are books – they’re always there for me when I need cheering up, or a word of encouragement, they never angrily tell me I’ve done something wrong, or said the wrong thing, or any of the other problems that blight my relationships with living, breathing humans. Reading early, reading at a level far above your chronological age and preferring books over other toys or another failed attempt to interact with other people is considered to be a form of hyperlexia, hyperlexia II, which itself is another trait commonly found in autistic people.

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