Sunday, April 12, 2015

What is Hyperlexia?

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What is hyperlexia? 

Well, that is a question that I first asked myself back in November when my son was first diagnosed with it. Since that time, I have been busy trying to learn as much about hyperlexia as I can. When I first wrote about my son's hyperlexia, I didn't feel like I had an adequate grasp on the concept. Sure, I knew what it looked like. But I really did not feel confident in my ability to define it. I'm definitely still learning about hyperlexia and will continue to do so, but as I share more and more photos on Instagram, it has become evident that other people are fascinated by hyperlexia and would like to learn more too.

Most people aren't aware of what hyperlexia is, let alone that there are potentially three types of hyperlexia. Gee, I didn't know myself until November. So I will describe hyperlexia in detail, including the signs of hyperlexia and the proposed three types of hyperlexia. I've included two free printables on hyperlexia as well.

What is hyperlexia? Explanation of hyperlexia, its signs, and the three types of hyperlexia from And Next Comes L

What is Hyperlexia? 

Hyperlexia can be defined as:
"A precocious, self-taught ability to read words which appears before age 5, and/or an intense fascination with letters, numbers, logos...[accompanied with] significant difficulty in understanding and developing oral language." - Source: Hyperlexia Pamphlet on

The Signs of Hyperlexia & Other Special Characteristics

The key signs of hyperlexia are:

  • The precocious, self-taught ability to read words well above their age level, which appears before age 5
  • A significant difficulty understanding verbal language
  • An intense fascination with letters and/or numbers

There are plenty of additional signs, as you can see in the image below.

What are the signs of hyperlexia? from And Next Comes L

By following some of the Facebook groups on hyperlexia (see the resources here for more information), I have discovered that there is one other unique sign that doesn't seem to be listed anywhere. I refer to it as "air writing." My son loves to use his fingers to draw letters and write words in the air, on the table, and even on my leg. It looks like imaginary writing, but when I catch him doing it, I always ask, "What are you writing?" And he always gives me a specific word, number, or math question that he was writing. If you watch closely enough, then you can actually see him writing the shapes of those letters. Perhaps that's why I love this quote so much. It fits with my son's hyperlexia perfectly.

Quote from And Next Comes L

To get a better understanding of what hyperlexia looks like, you can read our personal account here and watch our hyperlexia video.

The 3 Types of Hyperlexia

Three types of hyperlexia have been proposed by Dr. Treffert. Type I is the bright, neurotypical children who learn to read early. Type II refers to the children with autism who seem to have hyperlexia as "a splinter skill." That's where my son falls. Type III includes children who read early, do not fall on the autism spectrum, and show autistic-like symptoms that they eventually outgrow. For further information on the three types of hyperlexia, I suggest reading this thorough article.

When I first began researching hyperlexia, I was surprised to learn about the possibility of three types of hyperlexia. In particular, I became fascinated with the third type. I believe my son truly falls into this category because he has had autistic-like traits that have disappeared (such as flapping). I wonder if the psychologist who diagnosed him is even aware of these three types. Regardless, my son's diagnoses place him as Type II and we, of course, are embracing it as such.

What is hyperlexia? The 3 types of hyperlexia from And Next Comes L

For more information on hyperlexia, please check out these other resources:

And don't forget to check out the hashtag #thisishyperlexia on social media for even more resources!
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  1. What's important about Dr. Treffert's "3 types" paper, I think, is to realize that a lot of kids with autistic traits do just fine, and that hyperlexia, intelligence, and affectionateness are some encouraging signs that they will have an easier road. Whether to call this autism or what, I don't know.

    For what it's worth, I think I seemed sort of like "hyperlexia 1" as a child and my son seemed sort of like "hyperlexia 3" but I'd generally feel that we also meet modern autism criteria and that there were/are social skills issues worth addressing for us.

    I take Dr. Treffert's "3 types" paper with a grain of salt. It's one theory by one person. There's no research in the paper; it's anecdotal impression from kids he's worked with. While that's interesting and I'm glad to read the paper, it's not the same as research that can be reproduced by someone else. Rather than "there are three types of hyperlexia" I would say "one person has theorized that there are three types of hyperlexia." There's no official definition of hyperlexia in the first place, let alone three official types. :-)

    Every paper that uses the term "hyperlexia" has to include the working definition they made up for their research purposes. It isn't like autism which has an official DSM meaning (vague and problematic as that official meaning is, at least it exists).

    I think Dr. Treffert's paper is outside of the current clinical mainstream because he says that autism-like is distinct from autism, and draws bright lines among the types. The more common way to describe autism traits fading is to talk about "optimal outcome" for autism; there are a couple studies that use the phrase "optimal outcome" for kids whose autistic traits fade over time. There are also studies like this one about "Six developmental trajectories characterize children with autism": where some of the trajectories involve fading traits. I think it would also be more common these days to believe that autism shades into typical on a continuum, and that there's no bright line between autism and not-autism.

    You may see some of the features Dr. Treffert mentions for hyperlexia 3 mentioned elsewhere as "positive signs" in autism. Reading, attention-seeking/affectionate behavior, and intelligence are all signs that a child will have an easier time and that autistic traits will be less disabling. However, I think it's sort of a matter of how you choose to look at it whether this means it isn't autism, or whether it means that it's autism that has been compensated for by strengths, or I'm sure there are other ways to look at it.

    The definition of autism is super problematic in its own right (see for example), so layering hyperlexia types over it gets messy.


    1. I think you raise some very valid points and I will have to change my wording in a few spots in the post because I do agree with you that I should write about the three types being a theory.

      But at the same time, you are implying that anecdotal evidence has no merit. I think having anecdotal evidence such as Dr. Treffert's is a great stepping stone to doing further research on the topic. However, research on hyperlexia is challenging in of itself because of the limitations on finding research participants, especially if researchers are wanting to target a specific age range with hyperlexia. So I do think anecdotes are important to gaining a better understanding of what hyperlexia is, what it looks like, and whether there really are three types. And since Dr. Treffert has experience working with a group of children with hyperlexia, then I trust his professional opinion. My personal experience with hyperlexia is obviously quite limited so I appreciate his insights.

      I will have to look out for this "optimal outcome" phrase. That's the first I have heard of it so I am happy to go and do some research on this topic. Thanks!

      Again, thank you for all of your comments. You have raised some important points. I appreciate the feedback!


  2. Hello to you, i have a 3,6 y son, diagnosed at 2,3 y as in risk of ASD, at that age he was non verbal, lot of meltdows, hand flapping, tip toe walking, sensitive isques (auditiva and tatcile) and a lot of asd carcteristics. A month later he started his first words, few days Before we were schedule for starting our early intervencion programam based on ABA (aplyed behaviors analisys), for my surprise, less than 15 days of his first words he just started to read some words at 2,5 y, them i just realized that he was identifying and obssesed by letters and number many months after that, he couldn't verbalize it but he used to point for me on his iPad a to a letters and number 1 to 100, without talking.

    I emailed his doctors and therapists right away, it was february 2014, but they said that it happened sometimes on the spectrum and i didnt have to worry, that there was nothing else different to do.

    Ok, i just relaxed and wait, in june 2014, i started to worry about it, now he was reading entre sentences, words that he hás no idea or age to know and some foreign words (english, we are brazilians and speak portuguese) he know the entre alphabet in portuguese and english, just playing with his iPad. Than i started to Google it ant hyperlexia come to the screen, very few articles and information, and i discovered that the main information site AHA (american hyperlexic association) no longer exists.

    Well i started to dig it, because my son was improving with the therapy and i could not bellieve that he was on autism spectrum, so, like i did with asd i tried to look for científic papers, not blogs or opinions, i came across D. Traffert paper and emailed him right away, he was just very polite and helpful and told me about his theory by the experience. I found very interesting, felt that my son fita type III, but not enough. Next step was to find information about Phyllis Kupperman, that in the question and experience in HYPERLEXICS therapy, is undoubtedly the world's leading authority on the subject, also emailed her that was even more helpful, and since then have contact with me (july 2014) helping me and even providing some material that allows parents that go to Csld his speech therapy center.

    although I think the Dr Traffort article is one of the most direct and accessible on Hyperlexia, I think everyone should know a researcher who has many articles on the subject and on subtypes has not an opinion but a scientific research, Dr. Noel Kok Hwee Chia, from Singapore, published in 2009 in the Journal of the American Academy of Special Education Professionals a summary of 32 pages of his survey of 53 children which included hyperlexics with and without ASD and dyslexics, is by far the best and most complete research on hyperlexia I read, ranging from the ability to read and understand by age group and to the IQ of each, in addition it does a passage by virtually all existing literature on Hyperlexia, even before this name in 1967 from the Silberberg research. Follow the link when you click the download will work on a PDF file, with 30 pages:

    he added more subtypes on his research, and its not a opinion this is scientific evidence of those in groups with different developmental delay conditions, there are differences in the frames of Hyperlexia and skills, that can be grouped on this subtypes or types that Treffert sugest.

    1. I came across that research from Dr. Noel Kok Hwee Chia recently, but have not had the chance to read his papers yet. I have it on my to do list, so I'm definitely bumping that up further on my list. Thanks for the reminder to read those. And thank you so much for your comments!

  3. Laying in bed and raking through your posts to soak up as much info as I can and AHHHH! My Emmett "air writes" too! Oh I'm so excited!

    1. I'm so glad that you've found your way here!

      Confession: I was reading through your blog and browsing your Instagram all last night. Your Emmett definitely seems to fit the description of hyperlexia. I can only imagine the sense of relief you are feeling at discovering hyperlexia!