What is Hyperlexia?
“A precocious, self-taught ability to read words which appears before age 5, and/or an intense fascination with letters, numbers, logos…[accompanied by] significant difficulty in understanding and developing oral language.” (Hyperlexia Pamphlet, judyanddavid.com)
Hyperlexia has many characteristics similar to autism and some consider it to be an autism spectrum disorder. Because of its close association with autism, hyperlexia is often misdiagnosed. (autismkey.com)
The key signs of hyperlexia are:
- The precocious, self-taught ability to read words well above their age level, which appears before age 5.
- A significant difficulty understanding verbal language.
- An intense fascination with letters and/or numbers.
- Difficulty answering ‘WH’ questions
- Awkward or unusual social skills
- Difficulty interacting with peers or adults
- Rarely initiates conversations
- An intense need to keep routine (need for sameness)
- Difficulty with transitions
- Memorization of sentence structures without understanding the meaning
- Normal development until 18-24 months then regresses
- Difficulty with abstract concepts and thinks in concrete, literal terms
- Specific or unusual fears
- Listens selectively or appears to be deaf
Examples of a child with hyperlexia (andnextcomesl.com):
- Watching movies in their entirety, including the credits, because the credits are filled with letters.
- Naming the movie that you want to watch by the length of the video playback instead of its title. Yes, that means calling a movie ‘1:26:32’ instead of its proper title. And yes, he was always that precise.
- Walking around the block when you’re just 1.5 years old and looking at license plates. Not just looking, but tracing your fingers along every single letter and number on the license plate. Not just one car either. Every single car you walk past.
- Reading and spelling difficult words at an early age. And doing it correctly.
- Never having a letter reversal stage when learning to write.
- Spelling words correctly, even if you’ve just turned two.
- Learning to spell in another language when you don’t speak another language and haven’t been taught it.
- Never having cute kid-invented spelling when learning to spell and write.
- Flipping through every single page in a book before being able to move on to a new task.
- Flipping through a new book to find out how many pages there are, browse the table of contents, and peruse the index. Then referring to those books by the number of pages instead of its title.
Three types of hyperlexia have been proposed by Dr. Treffert. Type I is the bright, neurotypical children who learn to read early. Type II refers to the children with autism who seem to have hyperlexia as ‘a splinter skill.’ That’s where my son falls. Type III includes children who read early, do not fall on the autism spectrum, and show autistic-like symptoms that they eventually outgrow.
Dyan Robson, andnextcomesl.com
I have worked with a number of children who fall into this category.
Typically, I find a common theme of having a severely hard time coping and dealing with a change in routine or schedule which results in meltdowns. Also, I notice a theme of an extremely high IQ and the ability to read and write, however a very low ability to articulate themselves vocally.
Stay tuned for my next blog, which will speak directly to how to handle and work with a child with hyperlexia, high functioning autism, and sensory processing disorders.