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Why Hyperlexia is Both a Gift and a Challenge

There are different types of hyperlexia, and they are often related to autism. Hyperlexia is a fascinating phenomenon – it’s when a child starts reading at an early age, sometimes even before they’ve learned to speak. While this can be impressive and amazing, it also comes with challenges that make hyperlexia both a gift and a challenge for kids and their parents alike. In this post, we will be talking about hyperlexia and the general reading milestones we need to look out for!


In this article we will discuss:


Hyperlexia

What is Hyperlexia and How is Hyperlexia Related to Autism?


Hyperlexia is a neurological disorder that is characterized by an obsession with letters and numbers. This can often be accompanied by early reading skills that develop as infants. However, hyperlexia is not always indicative of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – though it is often considered a “splinter skill” of ASD.

While there is no known cure for hyperlexia, there are various therapies available that can help children cope with the challenges that come along with it. And, because hyperlexia is often accompanied by other splinter skills, therapists can often use these unique abilities as a tool for therapy.


There are Three Types of Hyperlexia.


First, Hyperlexia I is when a child has difficulty understanding spoken language but can read at a much higher level than their peers.


Second, Hyperlexia II is when a child has normal spoken language skills but reads at a much higher level than their peers.


Third, Hyperlexia III is when a child has difficulty understanding spoken language, and they read at the same level as their peers.


Hyperlexia is both a gift and a challenge.

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What Causes Hyperlexia is unknown, but might be nerve fibers


The cause of hyperlexia is unknown. However, it is believed to be linked to an overabundance of nerve fibers in certain areas of the brain. This overabundance of nerve fibers makes it easier for hyperlexic kids to process written words than spoken words.


Symptoms Start To Appear Early, but Diagnosis May Not


Symptoms of hyperlexia can start to appear as early as 6 months old. However, they are often not diagnosed until a child is between the ages of 3-and 5 years old.



What Are The Symptoms Of Hyperlexia?

There are a variety of symptoms that are associated with hyperlexia. These symptoms can vary in severity from child to child. Some common symptoms include:

  1. An obsession with letters and numbers such as counting and alphabetizing.

  2. Early reading skills (often developing before the age of 3) such as being able to read words but not being able to understand their meaning.

  3. Difficulty understanding spoke language such as following directions or answering questions.


What are the Challenges that Come with Hyperlexia?


Though hyperlexia can be an impressive skill, it often comes with challenges that can make life difficult for kids and their parents. Some of the challenges associated with hyperlexia include:

  1. Difficulty understanding figurative language (such as idioms or metaphors)

  2. Difficulty carrying on a conversation when not talking about a favorite subject

  3. Anxiety or depression due to feeling different from their peers


Average Reading Milestones Can Help You Watch for Signs


The normal reading milestones by age for children are typically grouped into four distinct stages: pre-reading, emergent, early, and fluency.


The pre-reading stage


This usually occurs from birth to when a child is about six months old. During this time, babies begin to learn how to associate sounds with symbols. They may also start recognizing familiar objects or faces through sight alone.


The emergent stage


From approximately six months to two years, children begin to develop an understanding of language and begin learning how words sound and relate to each other. This is also the stage where children typically learn their first few letters and phonics sounds.


The early-stage (2-5 years)


This is when most children begin learning how to read and write. Children at this stage typically learn letter sounds, how to blend sounds together, and their first sight words.

The fluency stage (6-10 years)


This is the final stage of reading development, where children begin to become more fluent readers. They can read with speed and accuracy without having to focus too much on individual words or letters.


It is important to know these reading milestones as a parent so that you can be sure to keep an eye out for any red flags or difficulties with reading. And if your child shows signs of hyperlexia, there are many resources available that can help them cope with the challenges that come along with it. And, because hyperlexia is often accompanied by other splinter skills, therapists can often use these unique abilities as a tool for therapy and treatment!


Is Hyperlexia a Sign of Autism?


While hyperlexia is often seen in children with autism, the two conditions are not the same. Autism is a developmental disorder that affects a child’s social, communication, and behavioral skills. Hyperlexia is a reading disability that is characterized by an early ability to read.


While not all hyperlexic kids have autism, there is a strong link between the two conditions. Research indicates that children with both hyperlexia and autism often test higher for IQ than other kids with either condition alone. However, most of these children also struggle with social skills and communication.

Reading Milestones in children

Does Reading Improve Speech?

As speech pathologists, we see a strong relationship between reading and speech development. Research has shown that children who are exposed to reading at a young age are more likely to have better language skills. This can include both their spoken and written communication ability.


Research shows that there are many benefits to reading aloud to your child, even if they are not showing any signs of hyperlexia. Some of the benefits include:

  1. Improved language skills

  2. Increased vocabulary

  3. Improved listening skills

  4. Improved ability to follow directions

  5. Exposure to different sentence structures


The Gift and Challenge of Hyperlexia


Hyperlexia is a complex condition that presents many challenges for children and their parents. On one hand, it can be seen as a gift due to the early reading ability that many hyperlexic kids develop.


However, this intense focus on words and letters can also present challenges, such as difficulty communicating or connecting with others. Additionally, hyperlexic children often struggle with social skills and anxiety, which makes navigating day-to-day life even more challenging. Overall, hyperlexia is both a gift and a challenge and requires the support of parents and caregivers to help children overcome its challenges.


How is Hyperlexia Diagnosed?


If you suspect that your child may have hyperlexia, the first step is to consult with your pediatrician. They will likely refer you to a developmental pediatrician or a speech-language pathologist, like those at Better Speech, for further evaluation. Some of the tests that may be used to diagnose hyperlexia include:

  1. An eye movement test that tracks the way a child processes words (called an “occipital interparietal tandem alternating cover” test)

  2. A comprehension test to measure your child’s ability to understand spoken language


While there is no known cure for hyperlexia, there are various therapies available. Some of the most common therapies used to treat hyperlexia include:

  1. Speech-language therapy

  2. Occupational therapy (to help children learn coping mechanisms for sensory overload)

  3. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat anxiety and obsessive disorders


Speech Therapy Can Help Your Hyperlexic Kids


Each child is unique and will respond differently to various therapies, so it’s important to work with your child’s therapy team to find the best plan for your child.

Therapy goals can help the child reach their full potential such as:

  1. Coping strategies for sensory overload, if necessary.

  2. Communication advice and other tips to support healthy development.


Overall, speech therapists work closely with children who have hyperlexia and their parents or caregivers to improve their language skills and help them better interact with others. With the right therapy, children with hyperlexia can overcome many of the challenges that come along with this condition and live happy productive lives.‌



Strategies Parents Can Use at Home to Help Their Child With Hyperlexia


There are a variety of strategies that parents can use to help their child cope with hyperlexia. Some of the most common strategies include:

  1. Encouraging your child to read for pleasure. This is very important for children with hyperlexia, as they often become obsessed with words and numbers. Reading for pleasure will help your child to develop a love for reading, without making it seem like “work” or a chore.

  2. Utilizing reading tools and strategies to help your child focus. This can include things like using a bookmark to help your child keep track of their place, or reading in short bursts.

  3. Encouraging socialization. A child with hyperlexia can often struggle with communication, which makes it difficult to develop friendships and social skills. Encouraging your child to participate in group activities, such as sports or clubs, can help them to develop social skills and make friends.

  4. Parenting a child with hyperlexia can be challenging at times. But with the right strategies and support, you can help your child thrive despite their condition.


If you suspect that your child may have hyperlexia, the first step is to consult with your pediatrician. They will likely refer you to a developmental pediatrician or a speech-language pathologist for evaluation.


At Better Speech, we offer online speech therapy services convenient for you and tailored to your child's individual needs. Our services are affordable and effective - get Better Speech now.

 

About the Author

Mikee Larrazabal


I am a Speech-Language Pathologist with 14 years of experience working with children and adults who have communication difficulties. I completed my Bachelor of Science degree in Health Science at Cebu Doctors' University and have been helping people overcome their communication challenges ever since.


I have worked with individuals of different ages, including toddlers, preschoolers, school-aged children, adults and seniors. I'm passionate about speech therapy and take great satisfaction in helping people overcome their communication challenges and improve their lives through better communication skills. In my spare time I like reading books, going hiking in nature and taking care of my dog Locas.

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