Hyperlexia is a term used to describe the natural ability to read in young children, accompanied by a relative lack in comprehension. It is not a universally agreed definition. Children often start to spontaneously read words, numbers and logos from around age two. It has been referred to as early as the 1900s as a savant trait (Parker 1917), and later as a variant of developmental difficulties (Goodman 1972).
The term hyperlexia
Silberberg and Silberberg (1967), were among the first to coin the term hyperlexia. They were concerned that many of these children went ‘under the radar’ at school and later suffered stress and anxiety as a result. The advanced reading skills masked their difficulties in understanding. Hyperlexia in individuals with autism or PDD (pervasive development disorder) varies from 6% (Burd et al, 1985), to 20.7% (Grigorenko et al, 2002). It has been estimated that 1% of children entering school can read early (Clark 1976; Durkin 1966).
Is hyperlexia always part of a neurodevelopmental condition?
In short, we do not know at present. We don’t know if hyperlexia only occurs with other conditions. There is evidence that it is often associated with language and comprehension delays (Zhang & Joshi 2019).
A recent systematic review found that 84% of hyperlexic individuals also had autism (Ostrolenk et al 2017). This was a review of studies of people with other Neurodevelopmental Conditions (or NDCs). Many also had significant speech delays. In the report, 35% of the 82 case studies were described as non-verbal, 41% had some phrase speech and only 20% had fluent language. Individuals with other conditions such as white matter brain injury (Periventricular Leukomalacia) and West Syndrome have also shown precocious decoding ability and speech delay (Cohen et al 1997, Ichiba 1990, Yokochi, 2000).
In conclusion there is evidence that hyperlexia is linked with autism and language delay. Neurotastic, the umbrella organisation for the Alphabet Children site, will undertake a survey of parents in 2022 in order to contribute to the ongoing research in this area.
See references here. Date created: 11/10/2021 Date to be reviewed: 11/10/2022