Hyperlexia is when a child can read at levels far beyond those expected for their age. “Hyper” means better than, while “lexia” means reading or language. If your very young child has an unusually advanced reading ability, your child may be gifted or may have a disorder called hyperlexia. A child with hyperlexia might figure out how to decode or sound out words very quickly, but not understand or comprehend most of what they’re reading.
Unlike a child who is a gifted reader, a child with hyperlexia will have communication or speaking skills that are below their age level. Some kids even have hyperlexia in more than one language but have below average communication skills.The incidence of hyperlexia has been estimated to be 6.6% of school-aged children with pervasive developmental disorders
There are a few other hyperlexia symptoms you may notice in your children, and a few of these are similar to autism, such as:
• Difficulty interacting with people around, including parents or other close adults.
• Difficulty in answering “Wh-“questions, like “What”, “Who”, “Where”, “Why”, and “when”.
• Echolalia, meaningless repetition of words spoken by a person nearby, usually done by a kid just learning to talk.
• An extreme fascination with maps, letters, numbers, or other visual patterns.
• An extreme need for uniformity and to keep routines or ritualistic behaviours.
• A normal development or growth until around 18-24 months, and then a regression.
• Rarely starting or continuing a conversation.
• Memorization of sentence structure or sentences, without understanding the meaning of those sentences.
• Only thinking in concrete and very literal terms, and difficulty with concepts that are abstract.
• Difficulty coping with transitions due to the intense need for monotony.
• Selective listening skills, and may reach a point that they seem deaf to most people.
• Self-stimulatory behaviour, such as rocking, jumping up and down, hand clapping, or flapping.
• Unsocial or Awkward social skills.
• Strong visual and auditory memory skills.
• Very unusual or specific fears.
• Sensitive sensory capabilities.
• Hyperlexia I:
It happens when children developing without disabilities learn to read early and far above their expected level. Because other children eventually learn to read and catch up, and this condition is temporary.
• Hyperlexia II:
This type of hyperlexia occurs in children with autism. They are often obsessed with numbers and letters, preferring books and magnetic letters over other types of toys. They also frequently remember important numbers such as license plates and birth dates. These children usually have more typical signs of autism such as avoiding eye contact, lacking affection and being sensitive to sensory stimuli.
• Hyperlexia III:
This type is like hyperlexia II, but the symptoms decrease over time and finally disappear. Children with hyperlexia III generally tend to have excellent reading comprehension, but their verbal language development may be behind, and they also have remarkable memories. As compared to children with autism, children with hyperlexia III easily make contact and are outgoing and affectionate.
Hyperlexia and Autism
Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by behavioral problems and difficulty communicating. Sometimes, children with autism may exhibit above-average abilities in one or two specific aspects of learning.
Hyperlexia may be present with autism, and it can be one of the first signs of autism that parents notice. Autism is a clinical diagnosis, meaning that there is no single diagnostic test that confirms or excludes the condition. Common characteristics of autism include:
• Self-stimulatory behavior
• Difficulty transitioning from one activity to another
• Ritualistic behavior
• Sensitivity to sounds, smells, and touch
• Concrete and literal thinking
• Need to keep routines
• Difficulty with abstract concepts
• Selective listening (may appear to be deaf)
• Usually normal development until 18-24 months of age, followed by regression
• Unusual fears
The reasons for hyperlexia in children are still not known though many studies and research have been conducted. Some researchers think that the reason for hyperlexia at a very young age is the result of deliberate or obsessive reading practices.
Hyperlexia I is not a disorder and doesn’t need a diagnosis.
Hyperlexia II is diagnosed by:
• Learning in a rote way, such as by repeating chunks of information
• Ability to read far above what’s expected based on a child’s age
• Obsession with numbers and letters
• Other behavioral problems
Hyperlexia III can be difficult to diagnose because, in addition to early reading, children often show “autistic-like” traits and behaviors. These include:
• Lining/stacking behaviors
• Remarkable ability to memorize
• Intense resistance to change
• Other advanced abilities
• Phobias and fears
• Sensory sensitivity
• Pronoun reversals, such as referring to themselves as he, she, or you or by their own name
However, children with hyperlexia are often affectionate, outgoing, and interactive with their immediate family members. Their autistic-like behaviors decrease over time, and they end up being typical for their age. This needs to be diagnosed by a professional who has expertise in ASD and hyperlexia III.
Treatment plans for hyperlexia and other learning disorders will be tailored to your child’s needs and learning style. No plan is the same. Some children may need help with learning for just a few years. Others need a treatment plan that extends into their adult years or indefinitely.
You’re a big part of your child’s treatment plan. As their parent, you’re the best person to help them communicate how they feel. Parents can often recognize what their child needs to learn new mental, emotional, and social skills.
• The first and most important intervention that hyperlexic children should receive is the language and speech therapy. This therapy should be considered as the base, and all the other therapies revolving around it. Training for developing social skills must also be incorporated into language and speech therapy as a part of the educational program for hyperlexic children.
• Dealing with information that is extra sensory can be difficult for hyperlexic children to comprehend, so to help with the sensory processing deficit in children, sensory integration therapy will be helpful. The children’s early reading abilities can become a tool to communicate with them and teach them other skills.
• Occupational therapy is specialized for each person, but the occupational therapist always works on any areas of difficulty, which may include; Sleeping, Feeding, practising self-care, participating in school activities, participating in social activities, writing and responding to sensory stimulation appropriately.
The first step in the treatment is to make the right diagnosis. When a child presents with hyperlexia, that diagnosis is best made by a multidisciplinary team familiar with Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and the several forms of hyperlexia described above. If the diagnosis involves an ASD consideration, that diagnosis should best be listed as a differential diagnosis until the passage of time reveals the true nature of the “natural history” of the disorder. i.e. whether the hyperlexia fits the hyperlexia 2 or 3 categories.
Such a workup would generally occur at a child developmental or similar clinic and the multi-disciplinary team would ordinarily include a speech and language therapist. The final diagnostic findings would be shared with the school team responsible for the Individual Education Plan (IEP) for appropriate education decisions. And such work up would provide the right foundation for such other interventions.
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