Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Intense Fascination with Letters in Children with Hyperlexia & How it Looks in the Early Years

When I reflect back on J's toddlerhood, I must admit it's all a blur. A big old blur of letters, singing the ABCs, and reading the same books over and over. He would sit for hours playing, organizing, and rearranging his different letter toys, while naming those letters out loud in the sweetest little toddler voice. Dubba-dubba (what he would call the letter W initially) was always my favorite to hear him say. That and his pirate-esque letter R sound.

Those days seem so long ago, yet I am thankful to relive those early moments of his letter fascination through videos.

A few months ago I began to wonder what other parents' experiences were like during the toddler years. In particular, I was curious to hear how and when they first noticed their child's intense fascination with letters. The responses were so interesting!

So to really capture what hyperlexia looks like in the early years, I asked other parents in my hyperlexia support group to share their experiences. I asked them a variety of questions and their answers, along with mine, are below. It is my hope that by sharing these experiences that you can see that the appearance of hyperlexia varies.

The intense fascination with letters in hyperlexia & how it looks in the early years from And Next Comes L

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The Early Years of Hyperlexia: How & When the Fascination with Letters Appears

It's really difficult to explain just how intense this fascination with letters in hyperlexic children can be, especially if you are not there firsthand to experience it. 

However, I have come across quite a few parents who wonder if their child really does have hyperlexia because they're not sure if their child's fascination with letters is intense enough. Here's the thing, though, hyperlexia seems to present itself differently for different kids, much like autism does. 

When did you first notice your child's interest in letters?

When I reflect back, I can recall J's intense interest in books around the age of five months. He sat up independently unusually early at only 4 1/2 months old. It was around that time that he would spend hours upon hours sitting and quietly flipping through books of all sizes, including chapter books that I was reading. He flipped the pages so carefully too! However, it wasn't until he was about 18-19 months old that his interest in letters became fully apparent to us.

Here's what other parents shared:

  • Amy: "1 year old"
  • Olive: "16 months of age"
  • Sarah: "Alex was 18 months when he grew incredibly fascinated with foam letters we had on a mat. He continued to show us the letters and started to say letters. He also loved reading Dr. Seuss’s ABCs and his first pointing was at the letters in the book. "
  • Kara: "At around 2 years old, my son started carrying a letter W magnet with him everywhere he went. He also loved matching our letter magnets to an alphabet poster."
  • Danielle: "I think I noticed a difference from other children when my son before the age of two could identify the entire alphabet, knew all of his shapes, could count to twenty, spelled his name, knew his colors and could identify all animals. He always had an intense fascination with books, puzzles and would sit for hours on end (if I let him looking at them). This was at 16 months."
  • Kirra: "My son Rylen was about two when I realised he was unusually fascinated with words on receipts, books and especially the credits on movies he would stand there after the movie finished and just watch the credits roll down, he showed more interest in them than in the movie itself!"
  • Tonya: "When he was one he was so focused on the number 7. By 18 mo he would have us count to him and sing ABC's."
  • Kristy: "Around 6 months"
  • Lacey: "My son was 18-months-old. We had a set of bathtub foam letters that we'd been playing with for a few months. He would lift up a letter to stick to the wall and we would tell him what it was. We were playing our letters game like always when he picked up the "O" and said "ooooo". He was still non-verbal, so we laughed and chalked it up to a coincidence. Then he picked up the "T". "Tay" he said. I don't know if our eyes could have gotten any wider. We tried "O" again. Then "T" again. We got adventurous and grabbed a "B" and were rewarded with a clear "B"."
  • Annette: "By 18 months he loved to sing the alphabet. He sometimes would do the alphabet in letter order, and sometimes he would make the sound of each letter in alphabetical order. It was obvious to us that he learned the alphabet quickly, but it became more obvious that letters were an “interest” (and not just something he was learning) closer to about 2 to 2 ½."
  • Roslyn: "One day, when Zane was 18 months old and knew the sounds of the letters, we were walking through a vacant parking lot and he insisted on stopping, crouching down, and sounding out the letters "no parking" on the curb at the edge of the lot."
  • Dhivya: "I noticed only 6 months back. He is almost 3 and a half now. He knew his numbers and letters a year or so back."
What toys or books were your child's favorites when you first noticed their interest in letters?

Goodness, the book that was most loved in our house during this time period was Dr. Seuss' ABCs. The poor book was falling apart from so much reading. Although not sure why I still read from the book since I could recite that entire book off by heart with my eyes closed!

The toy though that really showed us my son's interest was an old set of plastic letters and numbers that my mother-in-law had picked up at a garage sale. J absolutely adored them! He would line them up, sleep with them, carry them everywhere, and basically spend hours just playing with them. Some of my fondest memories of him as a toddler involve this set of letters.

He also adored foam alphabet mats where he could pop out the letters to play with them and during bathtime, foam letters were a must for him.

Here's what other parents shared:

  • Olive: "Baby Alphabet Book and foam letters. He never likes to play with normal toys."
  • Sarah: "Foam mat letters, Dr. Seuss’s ABCs, magnet letters with a white board, letters on blocks that he would line up in order, chalk letters everywhere outside."
  • Tonya: "No books...he loved flash cards!"
  • Kristy: "Leapfrog fridge phonics"
  • Lacey: "My son's favorite toys around that time were marble runs, blocks, and my phone/tablet where he would watch videos with numbers and letters. He loved, and still loves, Llama Llama Red Pajamas."
  • Annette: "He loved the Dr. Seuss's ABC: An Amazing Alphabet Book! and Star Wars ABC (He read it so much, he could do the Star Wars ABC by heart!)."
What age did your child begin reading?

It was just before J's second birthday that I discovered that not only could he read a handful of words, but he could spell them too! It wasn't long after that that he was reading his first book entirely by himself.

Here's what other parents shared:

  • Amy: "Age 2"
  • Olive: "1y9m - he could read printed words (e.g. shop names, product labels) and count to 100. By almost age 3 he could read childrens books (sentences) - all self-taught."
  • Sarah: "Somewhere between 2-2 ½ was when I noticed he was reading."
  • Kara: "At 2.5, he first spelled his name with our letter magnets. He also spelled "dog" and "cat" with the magnets and put them next to a toy dog and cat. He still wasn't speaking at that point, so we were completely blown away!"
  • Tonya: "He can read simple 3 letter words...he will be 3"
  • Kristy: "3"
  • Lacey: "I suspect he could read the word "Go" as early as two-years, but he didn't clearly demonstrate he could read until about 2.5. He read "orange" on the television screen while we were watching a YouTube video of a marble run in Germany."
  • Annette: "2 1/2"
  • Roslyn: "Words at Two yrs, books by 3yrs"

A Closer Look at Hyperlexia in the Early Years

As you can see, there are some commonalities between all of these different hyperlexic kids. The interest in letters seems to develop sometime around the 18 month mark while the reading and spelling starts to become more apparent around ages 2 1/2 to 3. Obviously, I'm not running a scientific study here so that's just what I have gathered from my informal survey...just as a disclaimer! For a closer look at how hyperlexia looks in the early years, I encourage you to check out these 30+ photos that capture the fascinating minds of kids with hyperlexia.
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