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.
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.
Causes of hyperlexia in children
The presence of hyperlexia within the context of another developmental disorder reflects a difference in the neurological organization of the brain. While a cause is not yet known, research in genetics and functional MRI studies may provide some information in the future.
Symptoms Associated with Hyperlexia
- 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.)
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.
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.
The Speech Language Pathologist will complete formal and informal language assessments. The assessment will include looking at decoding skills, sight word knowledge, vocabulary knowledge, their ability to respond to answer conversation questions and reading comprehension questions, and other receptive and expressive language skills. An occupational therapists may also complete an assessment specifically
looking at sensory processing skills.
As with all individuals, children with hyperlexia have a wide range of skills. Treatment will be dependent upon the severity of the cognitive, language learning and/or social disorder associated with the hyperlexia. Therapy will involve using the client’s strengths to build weakness. E.g., Using rote skills as foundation to learn new skills. So language learning can be supported by written language and once a child begins to understand verbal language, written language can be used less frequently. Other areas of weakness, like social skills, will be explicitly taught and practiced.
"Write, write, write, because the child with hyperlexia will read, read, read." Susan Martins Miller