Think your little bookworm may have hyperlexia? Turns out, there’s more to it than just hyperlexia and giftedness.
We’re going to dive into what it means to be hyperlexic, including hyperlexia symptoms, the possible link between hyperlexia and autism, and potential hyperlexia treatments.
It can be exciting if your child displays a love of books and remarkable reading and recall skills at a very young age.
It could mean you have a gifted kiddo on your hands.
But that’s not always the case.
Sometimes it points to a rare disorder called hyperlexia.
Here we explain the difference and explore some of the hyperlexia symptoms and signs.
In this article: 📝
- Hyperlexia definition
- Is hyperlexia a disorder?
- Is hyperlexia genetic?
- What are the three types of hyperlexia?
- How do you know if you are hyperlexic?
- How do you deal with hyperlexia?
- Can you outgrow hyperlexia?
- What if my child has hyperlexia?
What is hyperlexia, exactly?
First, let’s break down the word itself: “Hyper” means “beyond” or “high,” and “Lexia” refers to language or reading.
So, hyperlexia means someone who reads or processes language at a higher level or significantly increased speed or quantity than a ‘neurotypical’ person.
For example, a child with hyperlexia can read at far higher levels than those of a similar age, although they won’t always understand what they’re reading.
A hyperlexic child may also have an obsession with letters and numbers ‒ not so much their meaning, but what words are made of.
Usually, the term ‘hyperlexia’ is applied to children between the ages of 2 and 4.
Hyperlexia and giftedness
Hyperlexia is not the same as being “gifted”, although it can be difficult to spot the difference.
A gifted child can display comprehension beyond their reading abilities, and will often only need more nurturing and encouragement to hone their skills.
A child with hyperlexia, meanwhile, will likely have below-average speaking skills and will require additional help and attention to learn how to communicate better.
It’s, in part, due to the hyperlexic fascination with words and how they’re made, rather than what they mean and the emotional processing of language.
Does hyperlexic mean autism?
Hyperlexia is associated with autism, but being hyperlexic isn’t itself enough to diagnose autism.
While a 2017 clinical review found that 84% of children with hyperlexia are on the autism spectrum, remember that every child is different.
It is possible to have hyperlexia without being autistic.
How common is hyperlexia?
Hyperlexia is fairly rare, although it’s not actually known how many people have it.
However, this study suggested that between 6% and 14% of children with autism also have hyperlexia.
But we’re not sure how many people who aren’t on the autism spectrum have hyperlexia.
For comparison, it’s thought that 15-20% of the US population suffers from dyslexia, a disorder characterized by difficulty with reading and spelling.
Is hyperlexia a savant skill?
Potentially, yes, hyperlexia could be a splinter skill in savant syndrome in children with autism.
Essentially, some children with autism have hyperlexia, but not every person with hyperlexia necessarily has autism.
Is hyperlexia a disorder?
It depends ‒ there are three different levels of hyperlexia, ranging from Hyperlexia I to Hyperlexia III, with different symptoms associated with each of them.
While Hyperlexia I isn’t classed as a disorder and doesn’t have a diagnosis ‘checklist’, Hyperlexia II and Hyperlexia III are classed as disorders, with diagnostic symptoms.
What level of autism is hyperlexia?
While hyperlexia can be linked to some cases of autism, being diagnosed with hyperlexia or even having a penchant for books doesn’t necessarily mean that your child has autism.
So hyperlexia isn’t a ‘level’ of autism ‒ there can sometimes be a link, but not always, and it can affect people with ASD Levels 1, 2, 3, or no ASD level at all.
Is hyperlexia common in autism?
No, hyperlexia isn’t all that common among people with autism.
In fact, only around 6% ‒ 14% of children with autism also have hyperlexia.
Can you be hyperlexic and not autistic?
Yes, children and adults can be hyperlexic and not be on the autism spectrum.
While there aren’t any figures available, not every person with hyperlexia has autism.
Is hyperlexia genetic?
Interestingly, there may be a genetic factor to hyperlexia.
While there’s only been one study done on familial links to hyperlexia and language development (and only with 12 hyperlexic children), the results did suggest a potential genetic or familial link.
Families with histories of language processing disorders ‒ typically in male family members ‒ potentially had a higher chance of having a child with hyperlexia.
However, it’s not known whether this is a genetic link or more to do with how the children are raised ‒ after all, if a parent struggles with processing words or language, it makes sense that their child might, too.
That being said, more studies need to be done about the genetics of hyperlexia ‒ one study done on 12 children isn’t really enough for us to make a reasonable conclusion.
What are the three types of hyperlexia?
At the time of writing, there are three different types of hyperlexia ‒ although more research needs to be done, so this may change as the science develops.
Hyperlexia I is, generally speaking, not linked to any neurodivergent tendencies ‒ it’s basically a fancy word for a child that learns to read early.
Some children with Hyperlexia I can read and write early along with being able to understand and process the words.
So a lot of children with Hyperlexia I don’t have any autistic symptoms, although some children with autism may have Hyperlexia I.
The next level of hyperlexia is Hyperlexia II ‒ along with learning to read and possibly rewrite early, a child with Hyperlexia II may also have a bit of an obsession with letters and numbers.
A child with Hyperlexia II may be able to easily recall different numbers or letters ‒ like license plates and addresses.
Some children with Hyperlexia II may also have autism, so it may be accompanied by common signs of autism in children, like sensitivity to overstimulation.
Hyperlexia II can often be a lifelong condition.
Finally, Hyperlexia III is like a combination of Hyperlexia I and II.
Basically, a child with Hyperlexia III will be able to read and (maybe) write early, and recall letters and numbers, but may not be able to translate those skills to communicate.
However, most children with Hyperlexia III can ‘grow out of it’, unlike Hyperlexia II.
How do you know if you are hyperlexic?
Most kids with hyperlexia will have the following traits:
- A love of books: Hyperlexic children tend to find books (and anything with words and letters, from labels to license plates) more interesting than playing with their toys or games. In addition to a fascination with words and letters, some are also drawn to numbers.
- A fast learner: This early ability to read often comes with little-to-no teaching. In many cases of hyperlexia, they’ll teach themselves to read by repeating the words they hear or see, displaying a remarkable memory in the process.
- Low comprehension: Despite being able to read at a very young age, hyperlexic children exhibit lower than normal levels of understanding in other tasks. This can be seen in other tasks, where they find puzzles and complicated toys difficult and frustrating.
- Developmental or behavioral issues: Kids with hyperlexia can struggle with speech or communication skills, and they may also show signs of behavioral problems.
What are signs of hyperlexia?
Unfortunately, there’s no single test to diagnose hyperlexia.
If your child is displaying most or all of the above signs, it’s a good idea to speak with your pediatrician.
They can refer you to a specialist for a concrete diagnosis ‒ although, for Hyperlexia I, there is no specific diagnosis.
And the sooner your child is diagnosed, the faster their specific learning needs can be met.
It’s nothing to worry about ‒ it’s more about tweaking the way your little one learns to best suit them.
How do you deal with hyperlexia?
How do you deal with hyperlexia? Are there any hyperlexia treatments?
As with other learning disorders or neurodivergent traits, hyperlexia treatments are tailored to each child’s needs.
Some may need help for just a few years, while others will benefit from longer-term treatment plans.
A hyperlexic child could spend time with a speech therapist, practice communication exercises, and learn how to understand what they’re reading.
Once they start school, they may also need extra support when it comes to more challenging reading comprehension.
Can you outgrow hyperlexia?
Sometimes, yes, children can outgrow hyperlexia ‒ either with time or with more individual learning techniques, hyperlexia can be managed and, sometimes, outgrown.
It also depends on what type of hyperlexia your child is diagnosed with, a some types of hyperlexia can be outgrown, while others are a special skill to live with.
What if my child has hyperlexia?
Got a precocious reader on your hands?
Remember that it’s not always a sign of hyperlexia.
Every child is different, and they all have their own way of learning.
If you spot the hyperlexia symptoms, asking for a referral to a specialist is the best course of action.
That way, you can be sure your child will get the support they need.
And if you need support through your hyperlexia diagnosis, the mamas of Peanut will always have your back.
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