Thursday, January 10, 2019

How to Explain Hyperlexia to Others

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What is hyperlexia and how can you explain what hyperlexia is to others?

It's one thing to be able to advocate for your child with hyperlexia when no one has heard of the diagnosis, but I find it is even trickier to explain hyperlexia to other parents. And trust me, other parents do take notice of your child's hyperlexia.

But before I discuss how to explain hyperlexia to others, I want to tell you three recent stories.

Let me backtrack to the fall of 2015, when I was talking with J's teacher. She was telling me that J had been writing in another language during school. He's in French Immersion so for him to write in another language other than French or English would be worth noting. Well, that and he's in grade one. The teacher wasn't 100% sure what language he was writing in, but it appeared to be similar to Italian or Spanish. Regardless, I told her it wasn't unusual for him to write in other languages or sometimes even in his own invented languages. Meanwhile, a mom of one of J's classmates overheard the conversation and eventually shared it with her husband. Later that week, the husband approached me and asked me, "Can J speak or write in other languages?"

To which I responded that it was a bit more complicated than that. So I mentioned that J had hyperlexia and hypernumeracy, explaining that J had a precocious self-taught ability to read and started reading before he turned two. The husband than asked, "So he's gifted? He can help me predict lottery numbers or something?"

Then a few weeks or a month later, the grandmother of one of J's classmates asked me similar questions out of the blue. She said that she had "noticed J's superior reading ability" and asked, "Is J gifted?"

Again, I explained that he had hyperlexia and hypernumeracy by using the precocious self-taught ability to read definition, only to be cut short with stories from the grandmother about how her daughter was gifted too. The grandmother never let me finish adequately explaining hyperlexia, which frustrated me.

Finally, sometime during the early part of the school year, I had another conversation with a father of one of J's classmates. I mentioned that J started reading before age two and that he had hyperlexia. The father then went on about how he knew lots of kids who were really early readers, including himself. But here's the thing: 

Hyperlexia is more than just early reading.

These conversations left me a bit frustrated because obviously, I wasn't explaining hyperlexia adequately enough to them. So how am I to explain hyperlexia in a way that will help others understand what hyperlexia truly is?

And judging by discussions in some of the hyperlexia support groups, other parents encounter similar issues.

What is hyperlexia? Tips on how to explain the hyperlexia "diagnosis" to others

How to Explain the Hyperlexia "Diagnosis" to Others

I've learned from my mistakes from previous conversations and now I know to try to explain hyperlexia in a particular way. Whenever I discuss my children, it is always in as positive a manner as possible. Sure, J has challenges and quirks and K is stubborn as they come, but my kids are also witty, kind, and fun to be with. So I keep that in mind while explaining hyperlexia. I always highlight J's superior ability to decode the written word and his self-taught ability to read at an early age because it is the cornerstone to understanding what hyperlexia is.

But I also like to touch on these key points that separate hyperlexia from giftedness and/or early reading:

  • Language delays
  • Difficulties with comprehension and WH questions
  • Awkward social skills
  • Intense fascination with letters, numbers, logos, or maps
So if I were to sum up my explanation in one sentence, I would usually say something along these lines: hyperlexia is a precocious self-taught ability to read at an early age that's accompanied by difficulties in speech and comprehension.

Obviously, I also like to mention J's hypernumeracy when explaining hyperlexia saying that he is extremely good at math and give an example of what he's currently working on in terms of math. Most people find this part extremely fascinating! Who wouldn't?!

So when people ask, "Is he gifted?"

I respond with, "Well, it's kind of complicated...." and then launch into a discussion about hyperlexia. I get a bit passionate about it if you get me going! 

But overall, yes, I do think he is gifted when it comes to math and decoding written words. He has a remarkable ability that frankly blows my mind most days.

And my response to those people who say something along the lines of "Oh, I was an early reader! I didn't know it was called hyperlexia!" is usually this: "Well, hyperlexia is more than just reading at an early age as these kids struggle with comprehension, expressive speech, and social skills. Early readers don't necessarily have these speech and language difficulties. Also, hyperlexia is usually diagnosed alongside autism."

I hope my explanations are adequate, I really do, but at the same time, I must admit that I find it odd that people ask questions like, "Is your child gifted?" But I will have to save that topic for another post...

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What is hyperlexia? Tips on how to explain the hyperlexia "diagnosis" to others