I have mentioned a few times before that Aidan has hyperlexia and every time I get asked ‘what’s that?’. To be honest, I had never heard of it either until our speech therapist mentioned it. Have you heard of dyslexia? Well it looks like hyperlexia it is the neurological opposite of that. Instead of struggling with words and letters, hyperlexic kids are drawn to them and often lean on visual text in order to learn and communicate.
The Centre for Speech and Language disorders describes Hyperlexia as
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.
It is where a child has an attraction to letters, written text and numbers (hypernumeracy). They often learn to read without being taught and can read far beyond expected for their age. However, their strengths lie in the reading and not in the understanding. Kids with hyperlexia can often read far beyond their understanding – so while they may be able to read you the entire Harry Potter series by age 5 they may not actually understand anything they are saying.
They often also struggle in the area of conversational language. For Aidan this was a massive hurdle. While he has over 200 words which he can use correctly, to him their only function is to label an object. For example, you can ask him ‘what’s that?’ and he will tell you ‘apple’ but he won’t come to me and say ‘apple’ when he wants one. The connection to use words as a form of communication just wasn’t there for him. (When I say he has over 200 words – they are words he can say, read and spell. If Aidan can say a word then he can read it and spell it because he actually learns to read most words before he will learn how to verbalise them.)
Like with all disorders there are often ‘flags’ or signs that are an indicator that a child may have it. The same stands for hyperlexia and some of those flags are:
- Precocious reading ability compared to peers
- Difficulty understanding and using verbal language
- Difficulty processing what has been said verbally
- Difficulty answering wh-questions (who,what, where, when, and why)
- Strong memory skills
- Catch on to rote learning
- Concrete thinkers
- Visual learners
- Challenges dealing with transitions or changes in routines
- Struggling with social skills (initiating conversations, maintaining conversations, taking-turns etc.)
Like with everything these are just indicators and do not necessarily mean your child does or doesn’t have hyperlexia.
I found this video on Youtube very helpful in explaining hyperlexia too, showing some of the amazing abilities some of these kids have. (Now it’s from the 80’s/90’s but don’t let that distract you.)
So, there you have it – a quick idea of what hyperlexia is. It is a relatively new disorder, first named in 1967 so there isn’t a lot of information out there about it just yet but hopefully I will be able to share anything I do find along the way.