Please remember that I am not a speech pathologist. I am simply a parent of a child with hyperlexia. These are the strategies that we have found to be effective with our child.
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1. Play I Spy Games
To model proper first person pronoun usage, we like to play I spy type games. We play them at home when reading books or while driving in the car or while out shopping. We always phrase it as "I see (insert object). What do you see?" Be sure to point to the object that you are "spying." There are a few of advantages to phrasing it the way that we do:
- It encourages our son to pose questions and continue the conversation.
- It shows that both "you" and "I" can relate to different people.
- It encourages him to look around his environment and choose something.
- It encourages turn taking.
- It introduces and reinforces vocabulary and pairs the visual stimulus with the word.
2. Describe the World Around You
Talk about people running, walking, playing, driving, etc. around you. Model proper pronouns. For example, if I see a person running, then I will point and say, "Look! He is running. Do you see him running?" Additionally, I try to pair boy/girl with he/she. So I could say, "Look at that girl on the swing. She is swinging."
3. Dictate Your Day
Prior to J's diagnosis, if I was feeling hungry, then I would just go to the kitchen and grab a snack. I wouldn't typically announce that I'm feeling hungry or that I want a snack. However, my son needs me to model phrases like "I am feeling hungry." So I use everyday occurrences to teach speech and comprehension to my son with hyperlexia. Instead of just going to the fridge and grabbing an apple, I can announce, "I am hungry. I want an apple for a snack." Or when I'm washing my hands, I will say, "I wash my hands with soap and water." It seems silly and tedious to dictate my entire day, but it makes a huge difference. The benefits of this approach:
- It discusses feelings and emotions and shows what I do when I feel a certain way or what I do or say when I need something.
- It models proper pronoun usage. Most of the time, my son still phrases requests as, "J is hungry" or "J needs a snack," but occasionally, he will use the proper pronoun and say, "I am hungry" simply because I have modeled it for him endlessly.
- It helps teach inference: Mom must be feeling hungry when she opens the fridge and grabs a snack. So if I see her eating an apple, then I can infer that she is hungry.
4. Use Short Sentences
Short clear sentences seem to be the easiest for my son to understand. I like to remind myself of the psychological concept of "7 plus or minus 2," the number of things people can remember in their working memory, when I am phrasing my sentences. So sentences with five to nine words are the best, but I usually stay closer to the lower end of that range. For example, "My feet are cold. I need socks." works better than "I need to get some socks because my feet are cold."
5. Use Speech Scripts
Before J started kindergarten, we practiced asking and answering basic questions every day. Things like, "What is your name?" or "How old are you?" or "When's your birthday?" I initially wrote down the questions and their appropriate answers on a piece of paper. Remember, reading is a hyperlexic child's best asset! The script would look something like this:
"What is your name?"
"My name is Dyan Robson. What's your name?"
Be sure to include a question to help keep the conversation going.
After practicing with the written script, we would practice verbally. We would take turns asking each other the questions. I usually initiated the conversation by shaking J's hand and saying, "Hi. My name is Dyan. What is your name?" He would continue to shake my hand while he answered my questions, but it worked!
The advantages of using speech scripts:
- It's a good way to practice asking and answering "wh" questions.
- It uses their reading ability to their advantage.
- It encourages turn taking.
- It encourages our son to pose a follow up question to keep the conversation going.
The disadvantages of using speech scripts:
- The questions I use in the script won't always be worded exactly the same.
- Sometimes he would read the whole question and answer himself, not realizing that he should ask the question and that someone else would answer it.
6. Practice "Wh" Questions Through Games
The I Spy game I talked about in tip #1 is a great example of this tip. You can also purchase and play this "wh" bingo game. It's a great way to practice asking "wh" questions and then answering them. And my boys love to play it!
You can also practice "WH" questions with these free printables:
7. Correct Speech Errors with Positive Language & Modeling
When I hear my son saying things in third person, I will stop him and remind him of how to properly phrase the sentence. The key is to be concrete and literal, but not negative. For example, if he says, "J wants a turn." I will say, "J, you can say 'I want a turn.'" He will then repeat what I have said. Whatever you do, do not use negative language like, "We don't say this..." or "No that's wrong." If I want him to repeat a specific phrase, then I give him that specific phrase in a positive and simple way. J is a literal thinker so I have to give him exactly the right words to repeat. Like exactly. Correcting speech errors seems tedious, and it is, but it is effective.
8. When in Doubt, Write it Out!
Similar to tip #5, when my son doesn't seem to be comprehending things, then I write it out or literally spell it out. I can repeat the phrase, "Eat your supper" over and over until my head explodes, for example, but if I take a moment to write a checklist with specific instructions like, "Eat 5 meatballs. Drink your smoothie. Eat your peas." then it's much more successful. The same idea applies to new words or experiences. Writing social stories helps to give him the words he needs to understand and explain the world around him and/or describe new experiences. We use these social stories to give him speech phrases we want him to model too!