Ever since I can remember I’ve been great with words. What confused everyone, including myself, is how I’ve read less than 10 books in my entire life. It’s only upon starting my journey with this website that I realised that I am hyperlexic, a splinter skill that means I’m exceptionally gifted (and fascinated by) my native language and how words are structured.
But what is the precocious ability known as Hyperlexia, and how can it be used to enhance the lives of others, as well as those with the condition? Let’s take a closer look.
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Hyperlexia is a term used to describe gifted children who have extremely advanced reading skills. This might be kids who learn to read without being taught or kids who have a strong preference for letters and books with excellent visual memory when it comes to language patterns.
Hyperlexia often comes with a neurodevelopmental disorder such as an ADHD or Autism diagnosis (it’s estimated 84% of people with Hyperlexia are also Autistic), where their natural ability to see language patterns comes with an intense fascination with letters.
The term Hyperlexia was coined in 1967 by Sillberberg and Sillberberg (1967) in a study acknowledging its presence in young children. Many studies have been done since then to expand on their work, and now we know much more about hyperlexia and how to spot it at an early age.
Hyperlexia in children isn’t a disability in the traditional sense; think of the following traits as characteristics, not symptoms. There are four main features that define hyperlexia: Advanced reading skills, learning to read without being taught, a strong preference for letters and books, and an accompanying developmental disorder.
It’s important to make the distinction between cognitive abilities and reading capabilities, such that reading strengths of a Hyperlexic child are far beyond what would be expected based on cognition alone, especially compared to neurotypical children.
Hyperlexia is an extreme mental ability that comes from the combination of having a higher-than-average IQ and achieving early literacy skills at an early age. Despite their high IQ, children who possess such precocious reading skills often struggle to understand what they are reading, but excel in knowing how to decode written words and comprehend. This makes them quite different from other gifted readers whose comprehension skills are typically on par with their decoding abilities.
Hyperlexia and Autism are often intertwined
Many children with hyperlexia also have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), although some have no other developmental delays. In fact, it’s estimated up to 50% of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are Hyperlexic.
A Hyperlexic child may be able to recite the alphabet backward and forward, know the multiplication table or be able to read large sections of text fluently but not understand what they are reading. They may also have difficulty understanding idiomatic expressions or jokes.
Some experts believe that accommodating for the underlying signs of autism improves hyperlexia symptoms in autistic children; others feel that intensive reading intervention is most effective.
There are three main types of hyperlexia as proposed by Darold Treffert. These are:
Hyperlexia I is when a child who has no known developmental disorders learns to read at an unusually young age and far beyond their expected reading ability. It can happen in both typical and non-typical children.
Children with this form of hyperlexia tend to be very intelligent, and many become doctors, lawyers, scientists, engineers, architects, artists, musicians, or writers. This is the most common type of hyperlexia.
Hyperlexia II is related to autism and is often characterized by obsession with numbers, letters, and birthdates. One example of such an obsession is license plates. This type of hyperlexia is less common than Hyperlexia I. In some cases children may require speech therapy if they struggle with other speech and language disorders.
Hyperlexia III is characterized by less intense symptoms that disappear over time. However, many may exhibit a verbal language development slower than the other types of hyperlexia. Children with this type of hyperlexia may make contact easily, but their reading comprehension is still heightened compared to children without it.
There is no one test to diagnose hyperlexia. Rather, a diagnosis is made based on a combination of factors including behavior, language skills, and cognitive abilities. Hyperlexia may be diagnosed if a child demonstrates an above-average ability to read words, but struggles with comprehension and social skills.
Children with hyperlexia will often possess a remarkable ability to memorize, other advanced abilities, and excessive sensory stimulation. It’s also worth noting that a child with hyperlexia may struggle in other language areas such as speech development, despite their exceptional reading abilities. In these cases, language therapy can help merge the two together to improve the child’s weaker areas.
Many hyperlexic children under 7 have a reading age double their own
Hyperlexia doesn’t need treating! However, what should be considered is a systematic review of how skills in hyperlexia can be nurtured and implemented in the individual’s self-development plan via social activities. In the case of children, school activities can be adapted in educational placement in special education classrooms to nurture the child’s gifts and talents.
For example, children with hyperlexia may learn to enjoy playing games that require memorizing lists of items, like crosswords. In turn, by stimulating their unique abilities and learning style, this can alleviate the anxiety that comes with many situations that trigger mental health issues in autistic individuals and people with Hyperlexia.
Hyperlexic skills can also be utilised to emphasise and nurture social skills. Combined with an extroverted personality type, many are charismatic public speakers and speechwriters who can go on to change the world through their likeable persona and high-quality speech writing.
Children with hyperlexia may need support in other areas, such as writing or comprehension
Hyperlexia is, in many ways, the opposite of dyslexic disorder. People with Hyperlexia typically read extremely quickly, making it easy for them to comprehend text. But while they may enjoy reading, they struggle with writing because they don’t know how to spell words correctly. On the other hand, those with dyslexia cannot easily comprehend written language. For example, they may have trouble understanding the meaning of certain words or letters.
However, unlike kids who have hyperlexia, most dyslexic children with mild to moderate dyslexia can read comprehensively and have good communication skills.
Dyslexics are usually diagnosed around age 5 or 6, but many go undiagnosed into adulthood. One estimate says that about 20 percent of Americans have dyslexia.
Hyperlexia is a neurological condition that affects how a person reads, processes information, and communicates. It is not a disease, but rather a part of human nature.
Some people with Hyperlexia are able to live productive lives, while others struggle with social interactions and communication and require a systematic review. The best thing you can do for someone with Hyperlexia is to encourage them to use their gift for the greater good.
After all, it’s the reason I’m a writer!
Keep reading for more inspirational content!
Last Updated on February 1, 2023 by Neurodadversity
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