But words can only begin to get at what I'm finding is a staggeringly complex set of behaviors. Luckily, my husband, Chris, is an avid video blogger and has been chronicling moments of Ben's life for awhile. I'm borrowing this clip from his website so that I can show you, rather than just describe, one of the most amazing aspects of Ben's personality.
Many parents with hyperlexic children will attest to their phenomenal memory and ability to recite stories after hearing them only a few times. If you don't live with this day in and day out, you might assume that these recitations are robotic, Rain Man-type verbal stimming or tuning out, where the brain is simply "firing" independently, without comprehension of meaning. I think the team that evaluated Ben may have seen it this way. Here's how they described it in their assessment report a year ago:
Reuben's love of books is highly self-stimulating and serves to isolate him from the social world.
At the time, this was at least partially accurate. However, what we see every day is that the recitations of stories are, indeed, a kind of play. Sometimes more social - when he enlists us in the drama - and other times more solitary. Either way, I believe that Ben uses narrative, which seems to be hard-wired in his brain, to help him navigate and participate in the world just as it also gives him a way to withdraw from it.
This footage shows Ben taking an evening walk last summer with Chris and reciting the story Owl Moon by Jane Yolen. If you watch and listen carefully, you'll see that he understands the meaning - at a basic level - of the incredibly poetic text and is using the walk to act out the story, but also uses the story to as a way to engage in an evening stroll with his dad.
The clip is a bit long, but Chris chose to leave it mostly unedited just to show Ben's surprising capacity for memorization and sustained focus (he was just three and a half at the time).
Here's Chris' description:
The story, in this case, is one of the most beautifully written and illustrated picture books in our collection, OWL MOON, the 1988 Caldecott Medal winner by Jane Yolen.
It's the story told in the voice of a young girl walking in the snowy woods, the first time she's been allowed to accompany her father on a late night search for owls.
The boy and I have taken this walk many times after dark. On one beautiful evening back in August 2007, I brought my camera along.