Wednesday, January 09, 2019

What is Hyperlexia?

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All about the hyperlexia diagnosis. Below you will learn: What is hyperlexia? What are the signs of hyperlexia? What are the proposed hyperlexia types?

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 of 2014. 

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? Learn more about the hyperlexia diagnosis and the three proposed hyperlexia types

What is Hyperlexia? The Hyperlexia Diagnosis Defined

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

Simply put, hyperlexia is the self-taught ability to read before the age of five that's paired with difficulties in understanding and using verbal language, as well as difficulties in social interactions.

It is important to note that hyperlexia is currently not a stand-alone diagnosis. Instead, it is considered a practical label. You can read more about the specifics of the hyperlexia diagnosis here.

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  and using verbal language
  • Significant difficulties with social interactions
There are plenty of additional signs of hyperlexia, as you can see in the image below, many of which overlap with other diagnoses such as autism.


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 Proposed Types of Hyperlexia

Three types of hyperlexia have been proposed by Dr. Treffert.

  • Hyperlexia Type I is the bright, neurotypical children who learn to read early. 
  • Hyperlexia Type II refers to the children with autism who seem to have hyperlexia as "a splinter skill." That's where my son falls. 
  • Hyperlexia 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.

Now personally, I do not put a lot of weight on subcategorizing hyperlexia. To me, my son is hyperlexic and that's all that matters. The types of strategies that I implement for him would not be dependent on him being one type of hyperlexia or the other.

I know, however, that many parents find the classification helpful, which is why I have chosen to include the information here for you.


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

What is hyperlexia? Learn more about the hyperlexia diagnosis and the three proposed hyperlexia types


  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. Dyan, This article is pure nonsense. Hyperlexia is very human, and can arise naturally or be deliberately induced. You need to stop quoting pop sci magazine articles, and start reading real research papers. My child is a survivor of quasi-autism, from severe neglect and emotional abuse by his mother. He needed to wait until he was almost seven for any chance in life. His chance came when the experts and the Courts finally relented and placed him in my custody. All the experts and Courts only did so because they believed he was so disabled, there was no hope he would ever learn any language whatsoever, or have any chance for a normal human life. My son and I however knew better. He began wanting to progress and wanting to keep working with me. Following research studies from Columbia, we desperately embarked together on never-ending reading, always together, for hours upon hours every day. Deliberately inducing hyperlexia in the child, we worked to force feed words and phrases and rhythms and the music of language, knowing true cognition and real language would need to follow ever so long after. All his doctors and teachers scoffed with derision, and kept waiting for us to give up. But we never did, and in the end we proved all the experts wrong. And my son showed everyone, and fought off all attempts to move him to special ed, and all attempts to push him back grades, and finally fought off all attempts to force him to stay in the regressive IPP program. Within 4 years, my son became the only child in Alberta history who ever "graduated" from an autism IPP. He finished grade 5 without supports, alongside all his friends and peers, and never having lost a grade. And in our miracle, induced hyperlexia was a necessary and valuable tool; but *always* as a practical rehabilitation therapy, and *never* as a quack-science diagnostic. Please read real research!

    3. Your story is an inspiration. It is truly amazing when a child who has such deficits is able to overcome them through hard work and dedicatioon. You are amazing for helping your son to overcome his difficulties, and for that I applaud you. The one comment I have to share is that I don't agree with the idea that you "induced hyperlexia." hyperlexia isn't just the ability to read having been taught how to read, or to be proficient with the written word after having spent hours and hours a day working on the skill. Hyperlexia, by definition, is a disorder or syndrome. It is a preoccupation with letters and numbers with the ability to teach oneself to read before the age of 5, and is often accompanied by delays or deficits in functional language or social skills. You cannot "induce" a disorder. I'm not taking away from the incredible feat of helping your son to overcome MAJOR hurdles to be able to finish 5th grade without supports, having started school with severe deficits. You are amazing. I'm just suggesting that your critique of this article is a bit unfounded. Before commenting, I tried to locate research on induced hyperlexia, and was not able to find a single piece on it. If you would be kind to share your research, perhaps we could all benefit.


  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!

  4. I have “air written” as long as I can remember. And when I learned to type as a teen, I began “air typing” because it was faster than “air writing.” The things I usually write or type are words I hear or see that are interesting to say or write or words I want to remember. Sometimes I will write or type a word many times until I feel I can’t improve upon the way I wrote or typed it. However, most of the time I’m not even aware that I’m doing it because it’s so ingrained in who I am. With that said, I do not have hyperlexia. I started reading at 5, and while I loooove to read, I don’t have any of the signs of it. All three of my children we’re self taught readers well before 5. My oldest was reading The Little House on the Prairie books at 3 and both my sons were reading Magic Tree House books by 3. But none of them are autistic or “air write/type.” They just love reading. All academics comes easy to them. In case you’re curious, I found your blog while searching for a name for my “air writing.” The act of doing it is keeping me awake tonight and for the first time ever I thought to google it.