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Hyperlexia and it's diagnosis

What is hyperlexia?

Hyperlexia is a syndrome that is characterized by a child's precocious ability to read (far above what would be expected at their age), significant difficulty in understanding and using verbal language (or a profound nonverbal learning disability) and significant problems during social interactions.

What do we know about it's diagnosis? 

Although hyperlexia may be the key symptom in describing the learning difference in a child, it is not a stand-alone diagnosis. Rather, it exists on a continuum with other disorders, such as autism spectrum disorders, language disorders and nonverbal learning disabilities. Children with hyperlexia may also exhibit other conditions, such as sensory integration dysfunction, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, motor dyspraxia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and/or seizure disorder.

We have often been asked why we identify children with hyperlexia if they have other diagnoses or conditions. The most important reason is that these children learn primarily through reading, so the therapeutic and educational programs that we devise for them must take their reading skills into account. The reading skills of these children are their strength, and we use this strength to develop their weaker skills.

Children with hyperlexia are delightful, interesting and challenging. They have taught us about learning, language and life. We have found that there are new concerns at each stage of development, and our work with these children is never done. The children we worked with in the early days were a capable group. Most of them did well academically, thanks to a lot of hard work by their parents; however, their social skills remained an issue and needed continued intervention. As we treated many more children over the years, we realized that there is a spectrum of outcomes depending on the severity of the cognitive, language learning and/or social disorder associated with the hyperlexia.

Identification of hyperlexia is most important when children are young, because early intervention increases children's chances for success, and since reading is a powerful tool for learning language and social skills, Once a child begins to understand verbal language, written language call be gradually decreased and used only in certain situations when something new or confusing is introduced. Although symptoms tend to decrease over time, the characteristic learning style remains through adulthood.

What is observed in a child with hyperlexia?

Hyperlexia is a syndrome observed in children who have the following characteristics:

  • Precocious ability to read words-far above what would be expected at the chronological age-or an intense fascination with numbers or letters.

  • Significant difficulty understanding verbal language.

  • Abnormal social skills; difficulty socializing and interacting appropriately with people.

What have we learned?

After identifying, working with and following several hundred children with hyperlexia over the past 21 years, we have learned the following:

  • Children with hyperlexia have a difficult time processing what is said to them, but they are lucky because their language learning can be supported by written language. Once a child begins to understand verbal language, written language can be used less frequently, such as when something new or confusing is introduced.

  • English is a difficult and confusing language. Wh-questions (who, what, where, when and wh.v) need to be specifically taught using written and verbal prompts and scripts. Ask the question and give the answer. Teach how to create a narrative or tell a story. Frame experiences or behavioral patterns using written words.

  • Rote learning is okay. Routine is good. Computers, videos and books are great teaching tools, since they are predictable.

  • Although rote leal1ling is good, a child with hyperlexia also needs to be taught about the flexibility of routine and language.

  • Incorporate what each child is interested in into lessons (for example, maps, dinosaurs, cars, plumbing, cartoon characters).

  • Punishment does not work. What does work is setting up a positive reinforcement system that will support the behavior you desire to teach.

  • Children with hyperlexia have benefited from a variety of educational settings and therapeutic approaches as long as their reading abilities are recognized and used to help them learn. Educational programs need to be adapted to fit their language leal1ling differences.

  • Each year is different. Parents and professionals need to evaluate programs and interventions based on the child's needs that year.

  • Medications, diets and nutritional supplements are not cures, but they may help particular symptoms, such as anxiety, obsessive/compulsive symptoms and attention deficits.

  • It is important to script coping language for the child in an effort to decrease negative physical behavior.

  • Occupational therapists have lots of good ideas. Consult an occupational therapist trained in sensory integration techniques.

  • Social skills are important and need to be specifically taught and practiced. Boys and girls need different kinds of social language groups until the teen years, at which time trans­gender communication is the issue.

  • Some people will never understand, and that is okay. Appreciate those who make the effort.

  • "Write, write, write, because the child with hyperlexia will read, read, read." Susan Martins Miller

  • "When in doubt, write it out. (If it isn't written, it may not exist.)" Canadian Hyperlexia Association

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Resources

Learn from one parent's experience at a blog written about his child. Click here for a bibliography of articles about Hyperlexia. Reading Too Soon:  How to Understand and Help the Hyperlexic Child By

Hyperlexia Frequently Asked Questions

Is a child who is not yet reading, but is very interested in letters, considered hyperlexic'? Strictly speaking, these children are not hyperlexic because they are not reading. Some children who do no

Hyperlexia

We, the clinical staff at the Center for Speech and Language Disorders, have more than 21 years of experience in identifying children with hyperlexia, as well as providing intervention for these child

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