All You Need to Know About Hyperlexia
Children who learn to read well ahead of their peers and display a strong fascination with letters and numbers sometimes owe their extraordinary abilities to a syndrome known as hyperlexia. This is considered a possible sign of autism, Asperger’s or Williams-Beuren syndrome.
What is hyperlexia?
Children affected by hyperlexia usually have an IQ of average or slightly above average. They have an exceptional talent for deciphering languages and thus become very early readers. See AbbreviationFinder for abbreviations related to Hyperlexia.
Hyperlexia, from the Greek “hyper” (over) and “lexis” (pronunciation, word), describes a child’s remarkably good ability to read. However, this is accompanied by difficulties in understanding and using spoken language correctly and difficulties with social interactions.
The syndrome was first identified in 1967 by Norman and Margaret Silverberg, who defined it as a precocious reading ability without prior practice, typically occurring before the age of five. They found that affectedchildrenhave a gift for decoding words that far exceeds their reading comprehension. Many experts believe that hyperlexia is an indicator of autism.
Others, such as Darold Schlagt, have identified different types of the syndrome, only some of which are linked to autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. These are neurologically normal children who are very early readers (type 1), autistic children who develop early reading as a gift (type 2), and children who display autistic-like traits that disappear with age (type 3).
The exact causes for the development of hyperlexia are not known. It is believed that the syndrome results from overdevelopment of certain areas of the brain while others remain underdeveloped. If the phenomenon occurs as a result of autism or Asperger’s, possible explanations can be found here. Various triggers of autism are currently being investigated.
First, genetic factors may play a role. Over 100 genes and more than 40 gene loci have already been identified that are involved in the disease. The many possible combinations of genetic abnormalities ensure the great diversity and breadth of the autism spectrum.
Symptoms, Ailments and Signs
In 2004, researchers discovered signs of altered connectivity, i.e. the large-scale flow of information, in the brains of Asperger’s patients. Brain scans showed both areas of increased and decreased activity, as well as less synchronization of the activity patterns of different brain areas. In addition to global under-connectivity, i.e. reduced linkage, local over-connectivity also frequently occurred.
This is understood as the over-specialization of certain brain activities. The peculiarities in the behavior of the patients that occur as a result, for example when grasping connections between feelings, people and things, can also be observed in hyperlexic children. Therefore, dealing with the triggers of autism and Asperger’s can provide information about the causes of hyperlexia syndrome.
Diagnosis & course of disease
Children affected by hyperlexia usually have an IQ of average or slightly above average. They have an exceptional talent for deciphering languages and thus become very early readers. In most cases, they develop normally up to the age of 18 to 24 months, only then do the abnormalities appear more frequently.
If a child is able to spell long words before the age of 2 and read full sentences before the age of 3, they may be affected by the syndrome. Other talents include fast letter and syllable counting and reverse reading. At the same time, noticeable communication difficulties can often be observed in the children.
Many of them only learn to speak through intensive repetition and have difficulties in learning the rules of a language through examples or trial and error. This often entails social problems, which also arise from the fact that hyperlexic children have less interest in playing or communicating with others. They rarely initiate conversations, often they develop special and unusual fears.
The children use echolalia, i.e. repeating sentences and words, to develop their language. They often have a large vocabulary and can name many objects, but cannot use their language skills in the abstract. Spontaneous expressions are missing and the pragmatic use of language is underdeveloped.
Hyperlexic children often have trouble answering where, how, and why questions. It is not uncommon for those affected to be cognitively overwhelmed by parents, educators or teachers, who also expect special skills and achievements from them in areas other than reading. In everyday life they need routines as they encounter difficulties in changing with ritual behavior.
Hyperlexia mainly causes psychological problems that cannot be treated in every case. In many cases, children have special gifts or abilities, so that they learn to read or do arithmetic at a relatively early age. In addition to these positive aspects, there are also limitations in other areas of life, which can make the everyday life of the affected children very difficult.
There can also be communication difficulties, for example, which can lead to teasing or bullying, especially among children. Most children with hyperlexia also have no need to play or talk to other children. They often develop fears of communication and contact with other people. If these fears are not addressed in childhood, they can lead to serious social problems in adulthood.
The treatment itself does not lead to any particular complications and, as a rule, is carried out through various therapies. However, it cannot be predicted whether the therapies will be successful and lead to a positive course of the disease. Not infrequently, the parents also suffer from psychological problems due to hyperlexia.
When should you go to the doctor?
If a child shows behavioral problems in direct comparison to other children of the same age, these should be discussed with a doctor. If the development of the child has changed or is not age-appropriate, there are often diseases that require treatment or the child needs special support for the existing skills. Medical tests are performed to diagnose possible disorders or level of development. If the person concerned finds it difficult to make connections between people, things and feelings, this is considered unusual. If contexts cannot be recorded, a doctor should be consulted.
If letters and words are learned very early on without the influence of adults, this observation should be pursued further. If long words can be spelled at a very young age, it is advisable to consult a doctor. If there are difficulties in the areas of communication, feelings or physical closeness, a doctor should be consulted. If the rules of the language cannot be grasped despite a lot of practice, a visit to the doctor is advisable. A doctor should take a closer look at the behavior of children who show little interest in social contacts or playing with toys. If parents or carers of the child recognize that patterns to be learned are not accepted by the child, a doctor should be asked for advice as a neutral observer.
Treatment & Therapy
Hyperlexia can be treated if the condition is diagnosed early enough. This requires intensive speech therapy, which should be started in an early phase of child development. This allows the child to acquire better language skills and develop social skills more easily.
If they already have advanced reading skills, these should be used as the primary approach to speech therapy. It is important that experts, parents, educators and teachers work together as a team. Applied Behavior Analysis (“ABA”), which is commonly used in the treatment of autism, may also be beneficial for the associated hyperlexic syndrome.
It is a holistic form of therapy that has also included teaching language skills since the 1980s. The aim of these measures is to develop social and communicative skills. The children’s existing abilities are used as the basis on which the therapy program is built. The parents are included in the treatment, learning attempts and successes are reinforced as directly as possible.
Outlook & Forecast
The ability to learn letters and numbers before other children do is not stopped or treated. It is the result of the child having above-average intelligence and, in most cases, indicates that another disorder is present. For this reason, hyperlexia is not an independent disease that is treated. It is the result of an existing underlying disease that needs to be diagnosed and treated medically. In most cases there is a brain disorder which, despite the above-average ability to deal with numbers and letters, leads to a reduction in opportunities in other areas of life. It is often not possible for the patient to lead an independent life.
The patient’s treatment needs are not focused on the hyperlexia and are therefore not given priority. Rather, support measures take place so that the skills of hyperlexia are used and the patient is not under-challenged in this area, which in turn can trigger new complications.
The prospect of curing or minimizing hyperlexia can be classified as constant for the reasons given. In speech or behavioral therapy, existing cognitive possibilities are promoted and dealing with the ability is trained. This leads to an improvement in the emotional state of most patients and thus to a better sense of well-being.
Since the causes of hyperlexia are still largely unexplored, no preventive measures can be recommended. In connection with autism, theories have repeatedly emerged in recent years that interpret the disease as a possible consequence of vaccine damage. However, these have not yet been proven and, in the case of vaccines containing thiomersal, have even been disproved. So refusing vaccination most likely does not protect against autism and hyperlexia.
In the case of hyperlexia, the follow-up measures are severely limited in most cases. The person concerned is primarily dependent on a quick diagnosis with subsequent treatment so that further symptoms or complications can be prevented. This also prevents the symptoms from getting worse.
The disease does not really need to be treated by a doctor, but the children do need strong support in their lives so that they can exercise their skills properly. Parents must recognize hyperlexia early on and have it examined by a doctor. After that, the children are dependent on special support.
Behavioral therapy may also be necessary in some cases to relieve the symptoms of this disorder. Care and support from one’s own family or from relatives and acquaintances also helps to alleviate or even prevent mental upsets or depression. Parents must be fully and correctly informed about this disease. Contact with other people affected by hyperlexia can also be very useful, as this often leads to an exchange of information.
You can do that yourself
Parents of affected children should primarily organize speech therapy for their child. If the therapeutic treatment is started, language skills can be promoted and social restrictions reduced. The therapy must be supported by the parents at home by reading a lot with the child and doing arithmetic. If the child already has advanced reading skills, reading skills can be specifically improved. The child may be able to start school earlier and fully utilize their mental abilities.
Accompanying this, behavioral therapy is always indicated. Early behavioral training is particularly important for children with hyperlexia associated with autism. Parents or legal guardians should receive training on this and, if necessary, speak to other parents. This allows the optimal treatment for the child to be found.
If, despite everything, the child has difficulties integrating, further therapeutic advice may be useful. The child may need to attend a special needs school or take medication to relieve associated symptoms of the underlying autism disorder. The pediatrician or a child psychologist can decide which measures are to be taken in detail.