Hyperlexia is a term that struck me when I first came across it. Maybe, because I had never heard of it. So, I decided to explore it further. It turned out to be my light bulb moment because I was working with an amazing little child diagnosed with Autism who would fit in the description of hyperlexia. I could relate the two now. And I finally found the word I was looking for.
This child has an exceptional reading ability. In his grade, he was the only child in class (only ASD in a class of 30 neurotypical children) who could read fluently without any error and much beyond his age. Now if only you would hear him read, you would be astonished too, just like his teachers. The reading is advanced beyond his age but I can’t say the same for comprehension. Comprehension and understanding the text is compromised. And so are the social interactions and understanding & use of verbal language, also traits of Autism. As I dug deeper into the world of hyperlexia, I found it was difficult to diagnose. So what exactly is Hyperlexia? I wondered. Well, so here's what I know:
'Hyper' means over or too much of stated quality and 'Lexia' means language or word. Hyperlexia is precocious, self-taught ability to read words, well above age level and it appears before the age of five. It is also important to know that hyperlexia is not a standalone diagnosis. It is a rare learning disorder that is often associated with Autism. Children with Hyperlexia are fascinated by letters and numbers and will spend more time with books than toys. The child will learn to decode words and sounds and read quickly but is unable to comprehend or understand what they are reading. They are self-taught and the child might do that by repeating words that he sees or hears. They have excellent visual and auditory memory. Most children with hyperlexia show reading skills between the ages of 2 to 5. A child with Hyperlexia will have significant difficulty with social interactions, understanding, and using verbal language.
A hyperlexic child may also have different learning and behavioural difficulties. This condition is very difficult to diagnose. Hyperlexia does not appear on the official diagnosis of psychiatric and psychological diagnostic manuals such as the DSM-V. It is often diagnosed alongside other diagnoses such as Autism. About 5 to 15% of children with autism are estimated to have hyperlexia. And it is important to know that not all hyperlexic children are autistic and not all autistic are hyperlexic. Every child is wired differently and has different learning speed and style. And I believe the best way forward is to understand hyperlexia and develop strategies for the child which will help them succeed.