Hyperlexia: Definition & Symptoms

Instructor: Gaines Arnold
Some children have the amazing ability to be able to read when they are very young. This lesson looks at a condition called hyperlexia, what it is, how it is identified and how it impacts those who have it.

Early Spelling and Reading

When Tristan was two years old, he amazed his parents by spelling out the word hippopotamus with his wooden blocks. They looked around the apartment to see where he could have copied the word from and even asked him where he had seen it. Tristan didn't seem to understand their questions. However, he continued to spell words that should have been beyond the ability of a toddler to spell. Then, when he was four, Tristan just started reading. Of course, his parents read little picture books to him, but he could pick up any magazine and start reading without any prompting. Tristan's parents thought they had a genius in the family.

When his IQ was tested, Tristan's score was above average for his age group, but not by much. Then, one day, Tristan's ability was explained. A therapist asked him to explain what he had been reading and he just looked at her. He had no idea. His parents had taken him to a speech therapist because he was behind others his speaking ability was behind others his age. The therapist told Tristan's parents the she believed he had hyperlexia.

What Is Hyperlexia?

Hyperlexia is an advanced ability to decode letters and numbers which leads to the ability to read at a young age. In the general case, there are three components of hyperlexia:

  • Early ability to read - sometimes called precocious reading
  • Delayed use of verbal language
  • Difficulty interacting socially

The child who has hyperlexia is likely recognized by the fact that he or she can read material that is far beyond the ability of other young children. However, this does not correspond to the ability to understand what they read or a correlation to the spoken word. The fact that the child has delays in verbal language may also be a factor in their lack of social acuity.

How Does Hyperlexia Present Itself?

Although some disagreement exists among researchers, children with this diagnosis typically fall into one of three categories.

  • Neurotypical: These children can read complex material at a very early age and have all of the other symptoms associated with hyperlexia, but they have no other deficits.
  • With autism: These children are early readers who, when testing is done, fall somewhere in the autism spectrum. This only accounts for a very small percentage of children who exhibit hyperlexia.
  • With autistic traits: Sometimes a child will demonstrate autistic traits when they are young (rocking, hypersensitivity, etc.), but these traits disappear as they get older.

Further research is needed to determine if these are the only categories within which hyperlexic children fall. Some researchers believe that hyperlexia can also be accompanied by either greater difficulties with language (which can become a language disorder) or a learning disorder.

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