Under the spell of words

CHRISTOPHER TOMLINSON/The Daily Sentinel—Grand Mesa Middle School student Mason Pearmain, an eighth-grader with Asperger’s syndrome, won the School District 51 Spelling Bee recently. Although he didn’t fare well in statewide competition, Mason said he welcomed the chance to compete. He says he has a nearly photographic memory. “He’s always been my spell-checker,” says his mother.

Mason Pearmain has been a self-
described “spelling genius” for most of his 13 years.

The Grand Mesa Middle School eighth-grader got the chance to show off his skills last month in the School District 51 Spelling Bee. He won the bee by correctly spelling the word “hallucination.”

Pearmain’s win earned him a ticket to the 2013 Denver Post Spelling Bee last weekend. He didn’t get past the written test round because many of the words on his test were not on a study list he had memorized. But he was still thankful for the chance to challenge himself against a statewide audience.

“I like the fact that I can compete. In most other places I can’t compete; well, except maybe music,” he said.

Pearmain, also a budding rock musician, was diagnosed at age 2 with Asperger’s syndrome, which is on the mild end of the autism spectrum. He has a nearly photographic memory (85 percent, by his estimate) and can learn words and their spelling with one glance, according to his mother, Sandi Pearmain.

“He’s always been my spell-checker,” she said. “He could read an entire children’s book before he was three.”

Sandi Pearmain said she was delighted when her son’s school congratulated him for the spelling bee win on the school’s marquee and put a good luck wish for him on the marquee before he went to Denver. The district-level win may change some minds about what is possible for a person with autism, she hopes.

“I think they might have looked at him a little different after that,” she said.

Mason said he felt “like I was on cloud nine” after his district bee win. He will be too old to compete in next year’s spelling bee, so he plans to focus on playing guitar, drums and singing, and may try out for the Central High School baseball team next year.


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