Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Intense Fascinations of Hyperlexia & How to Use Them to Help the Hyperlexic Child

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Hyperlexic kids often have intense fascinations, usually with letters. Let's look at how to use these fascinations to help a child with hyperlexia.

As I continue to dive deeper into the ABCs of hyperlexia series, I am amazed and surprised by how many subtle characteristics of hyperlexia other parents can relate to, the characteristics that you likely won't find on a hyperlexia fact sheet. For instance, I recently mentioned how my son J gives a canned response of "I don't know" when answering a WH question in this conversation skills post and it turns out it might be kind of common with these kids. Many parents in my support group told me that their hyperlexic children do it too! How interesting!

I remember when I first blogged about my son's hyperlexia that a huge hyperlexia advocate, Dr. Treffert, reached out to me and told me how valuable it was to listen to parents of hyperlexic children because we are the experts. At the time, I hardly felt like an expert on anything, but I can see what he means. Us parents of hyperlexic children have a wealth of information to share about what day-to-day life with hyperlexia looks like. So in preparation for this post, I reached out to fellow hyperlexic parents to find out more about what their kids are fasincated by.

It's no secret that kids with hyperlexia have an intense fascination with letters, numbers, logos, maps, or visual patterns. 

But what do those fascinations look like in daily life? 

And what do those fascinations turn into? 

And what other things do these kids become fascinated with?

Kids with hyperlexia have intense fascinations with letters, numbers, maps, logos, and more! Find out how to use these fascinations to help the hyperlexic child learn new skills

The Intense Fascinations of Kids with Hyperlexia

I think for most parents of hyperlexic children the first thing they notice is the intense fascination with letters. These kids look for them everywhere, point them out everywhere, play with alphabet toys constantly, and turn practically every object possible into a letter. 

Here are some examples of how this fascination with letters plays out in day-to-day life:

  • Looking at license plates and reading and/or tracing the letters and numbers on the plates
  • Watching all of the credits at the end of a movie
  • Enjoying movie credits more so than the actual movie itself
  • Playing with alphabet magnets constantly and arranging them into alphabetical order or writing words
  • Singing ABCs both forwards and backwards
  • Preferring to watch TV and movies with the closed captions or subtitles turned on
  • Reading signs around the neighborhood and/or tracing the letters on the signs if within reach
  • Making letters out of any material possible such as crayons, cars, rocks, sticks, etc.
  • Fonts - J loves to write in fun fonts, trace his fingers over fancy lettering, and even taught himself cursive handwriting in less than 20 minutes last summer.
  • Learning other languages (most often self-taught) - Russian is a popular language of choice among hyperlexics!
Numbers quickly became the next fascination for my son with hyperlexia, but he also has hypernumeracy so obviously his fascination is really intense. And trust me, it is some days, but definitely not as intense as it was when he was about three years old!

Here's how this intense fascination with numbers can look in these kids:

  • Calendar and important dates, such as holidays and birthdays - In fact, J usually reminds me of birthdays so I don't ever miss them!
  • Time and clocks, including learning to tell the time at an early age
  • Temperature and thermostats
  • Calculators - We never left the house for years without a calculator or two in our hands!
  • Page numbers and table of contents - J never asks about the title of book. He always wants to know how many chapters and how many pages the book has!
  • Speed signs
  • Nutrition labels - J loves looking at how many grams or calories food provides.
  • Scores and timers at sporting events
  • Large numbers like zillions, trillions, and all the way up to a googol
  • Counting to large numbers over and over
  • Counting backwards
  • Skip counting, forwards and backwards, at an early age
  • Money
  • Watching movies or TV with timers showing - J used to refer to movies that he wanted to watch by their total length in hours, minutes, and seconds versus saying the title of the movie.
  • Roman numerals
  • Dot-to-dots
  • Tally marks
Another fascination common in kids with hyperlexia is with maps and geography. These kids love to learn about countries, capitals, and more! I suspect my younger brother could be hyperlexic and in addition to him reading at a super early age, he knew some of the most ridiculous facts and information about every single country in the world when he was little. Here are some of the topics that kids with hyperlexia often get fascinated with:

  • States/provinces and capitals
  • World capitals
  • Studying and reading atlases
Kids with hyperlexia also love to doodle. Like all the time. I've shared some of our favorite doodling materials before, but J's favorites have always been drawing with chalk, drawing on his Magna-Doodle, and doodling non-stop on paper. And actually, letting these kids doodle is a wonderful strategy to implement at home and/or in the classroom.

The periodic table is also extremely appealing to kids with hyperlexia. Why wouldn't it be with all of those letters and numbers all over it?!

Another fascination of kids with hyperlexia is space and planets. J absolutely loved learning everything he could about planets and space from about age 5 to 6. He would create constellations and planets out of random objects. He particularly loved labeling how hot or cold each planet is with their temperatures.

I also polled other parents of hyperlexic children in my Facebook support group about their children's intense fascinations and here were a few other topics that came up:

  • Mazes
  • Checklists
  • Flashcards
  • Polygons and shapes in general
  • Building signs
  • Logos
  • Atoms
  • Human body parts
  • Encyclopedia type books
  • Traffic lights
  • Famous people like presidents or composers
  • Fruits and vegetables - Chelsey shared how her son possesses "an encyclopedic memory of each and every one from around the world. He still likes to carry fruit everywhere and will often sneak it in to bed so he can cuddle it throughout the night."
  • Warning signs and stickers - Sandra shared how her hyperlexic child loves "warning signs (wet floor!) and warning stickers, like the ones on the car's sun visor containing the air bag warning."

How to Use These Fascinations to Help Kids with Hyperlexia

Sometimes it seems these kids can get stuck on one topic for a long time and I know how tiresome it can be to hear about the same things over and over again. Trust me, there are days when I cringe a bit when I hear J say, "I have a math question for you!" because I hear it approximately eleven billion times per day.

Or how he lives and breathes all things traffic light related.

But here's the thing...I will never ever try to discourage his fascinations. They are the key to engaging and connecting with him. 

I have already talked about how important obsessions in autism are for that reason.

So how does that translate into everyday life?

Well, here are a few things that I have done using J's fascinations:

  1. To encourage him to eat his lunch at school, I use a lunch box with a chalkboard in it. He can feel free to doodle if he likes, but I use it as a checklist of his lunch. I always write the menu down for him in order of importance. He always eats the food in the order it is presented in the checklist. Then he checks off the item once he finishes eating it.
  2. J goes through periods of time where he is absolutely terrified of bath time. We don't know what triggers it, but I have solved our bath time troubles (at least for now!) by handing him a translucent ruler and telling him to measure the bath water. Once it reaches the desired measurement, then I shut the water off. So we don't have bath time at our house we have 5 inch baths or 3 inch baths.
  3. We used J's love of numbers and winning games to encourage him to try something new such as sitting in a new chair at mealtimes.
  4. I ask my son hard math questions to connect with him and engage him with others when his body and mind become disorganized.
  5. To encourage my son to tell me about his school days, I ask him to list three things he did during the day instead of asking him a WH question. He loves lists so much that he is always motivated by them!
  6. Read books and come up with activities based around their fascinations. For instance, to tap into J's fascination with traffic lights, we do traffic light activities such as this suncatcher craft.
  7. When J started kindergarten, he still struggled with getting dressed by himself. Not because he didn't know how, but because he would not be motivated to do it. So I fixed that issue by timing him. I challenge him to try to put his socks on in less than 15 seconds or his shirt on in less than 30 seconds. Works awesome! And works great for almost anything he resists wanting to try. A point system also works well! I like to give him random points for trying new things and new foods. 
The bottom line is this...use their fascinations to encourage exploration of new topics or to work on new skills.

Use these fascinations and interests to develop social skills or speech or any other area that they may be struggling with.

Use their unique ability to their advantage.

And always embrace their quirkiness. Our kids are incredible!

Other Ideas You'll Love

Kids with hyperlexia have intense fascinations with letters, numbers, maps, logos, and more! Find out how to use these fascinations to help the hyperlexic child learn new skills