Hyperlexia - what defines it?
What really is hyperlexia? Is it always just reading young? Silberberg and Silberberg (1967) were the first people to coin the term. At the moment, the most widely accepted definition is that it is:
– The ability to read young, without being taught.
– A lack of understanding of what is read.
Hyperlexic children are very good at decoding language naturally. It isn’t formally taught. Typically a child will read words before the age of 5 and often as early as 2 or 3 years old.
If a child loves reading very young and also seems to understand everything that they need, is that hyperlexia? In the definition used at the moment it is not. Hyperlexia is reading plus a lack of comprehension. However it is still early days in our understanding. Perhaps children who read early, whether they understand the words or not, have similar decoding skills. Research into reading has always looked at how meaning is attached to symbols. However hyperlexia is reading without the meaning. Perhaps there are different ways of reading that are relatively unexplored.
It can also be associated with a high interest in any symbols. This can include numbers, shapes and logos. In social media for parents of hyperlexic children talk about strikingly similar experiences. The children like exploring logos, shapes, letters in any way such as having alphabet duvet covers or doing logo quizzes.
Does there have to have a developmental delay to have hyperlexia? No.
At the moment the definition is reading well with a lower comprehension, and it does have to also have to be accompanied by speech or other delays. However, hyperlexia does seem strongly associated with a developmental delay. Autism is the most associated neurodevelopmental condition (NDC) with hyperlexia.
Hyperlexia in it’s most widely used definition consists of strong decoding skills accompanied with difficulties in comprehension.
Up to 20.7% of autistic individuals are thought to also have hyperlexia (Grigorenko et al 2002). However a much stricter definition found that 6% of those with autism had hyperlexia (Burd et al 1985).
If we are more aware and encouraging of hyperlexic traits, these can also help with other developmental delays such as fine motor control or speech. Read some suggestions of how here.
See references here. Date created: 31/1/2022 Date to be reviewed: 31/1/2022