October 12, 2015
My Baby Can Read: Raising a Child with Hyperlexia
by Dyan Robson.
I was quite pregnant with my second child when I discovered that my oldest son could not only read, but that he could spell words correctly. He wasn’t quite two years old yet, but my baby could read. Complex, obscure words, even. It was exciting!
Why wouldn’t he read early, I thought? I read him dozens of books every day since the day he was born. I taught him sign language. It just made sense. However, as he quickly approached age four, and as my youngest began speaking more fluently, the discrepancy between my son’s reading ability and his speech and communication skills became readily apparent. Sure, he could read ridiculously hard words and spell words that he had seen just once. And yes, he could skip count by 12s, add and subtract fractions, and recall bizarre strings of numbers. And yes, he started reading and spelling in French even if we didn’t speak it.
Yet, he couldn’t maintain a conversation. He referred to himself in third person and he mixed up pronouns all the time. He responded inappropriately to most questions, usually by quoting lines from books or movies. It wouldn’t be until shortly after his fifth birthday, that I would learn that he has hyperlexia.
What is hyperlexia?
Hyperlexia is defined as a precocious, self-taught ability to read, spell, and write that appears at an early age, usually before the age of five. It often includes an intense fascination with letters, numbers, patterns, or maps. Children with hyperlexia have significant difficulties with understanding and developing oral language, as well as awkward or unusual social skills.
Children with hyperlexia also have difficulties answering WH questions and rarely initiate conversations. Their speech usually takes the form of echolalia (e.g., my son quoting lines from books or movies) and they are literal thinkers.
Hyperlexia is currently not a diagnosis on its own. It is usually diagnosed alongside other diagnoses such as autism.
Strategies for Working with Hyperlexia
For a child with hyperlexia, it is important to use their best asset (their ability to read) to their advantage.
Some helpful strategies for working with hyperlexia include labeling everything, using checklists, using visual schedules and social stories, and writing down everything possible. Furthermore, you can rephrase WH questions as open-ended statements and practice conversation skills by writing social scripts of things to say in common situations. For example, before my son started Kindergarten, we practiced answering common questions like: (1) What’s your name?, (2) How old are you?, (3) What grade are you in?, etc.
Another important strategy is to provide ample amounts of scrap paper or other materials to write on or with. Alphabet magnets or blocks are a great choice, as are chalk, whiteboards, blank notebooks, or Magna-Doodles. My son personally loves to draw with chalk and to write on his Magna-Doodle. Children with hyperlexia love to read and write. That’s why, when it comes to hyperlexia, the best strategy is simply to write it out.
Resources on Hyperlexia
For more information on hyperlexia, please visit:
- What is Hyperlexia? Pamphlet: http://judyanddavid.com/cha/whatishyperlexia.pdf
- Strategies for Working with Hyperlexia Pamphlet: http://judyanddavid.com/cha/strategies.pdf
- Hyperlexia: Reading Precociousness or Savant Skill? https://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/professional/savant-syndrome/resources/articles/hyperlexia-reading-precociousness-or-savant-skill/
- More Hyperlexia Resources: http://www.andnextcomesl.com/p/hyperlexia-hypernumeracy-resources.html
Bio for Dyan Robson
Married to her high school sweetheart, Dyan Robson is mom to two boys, J and K, who also teaches piano out of her home in Saskatchewan. On her blog And Next Comes L, Dyan shares her story of raising a child with hyperlexia, hypernumeracy and autism, amongst a variety of sensory activities for kids. You can find out more about their story at http://www.andnextcomesL.com