Friday, January 10, 2020

The Best Hyperlexia Therapy Options: A Guide for Parents

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Taking a closer look at hyperlexia therapy options.

I was recently asked about hyperlexia therapy options, specifically what the best therapies are for a hyperlexic child.

And it's a question that has come up quiet frequently over the years.

Now, obviously, every hyperlexic child is unique and will have different strengths and weaknesses.

However, there are common traits of hyperlexia, namely issues with speech, sensory integration, comprehension, and self-regulation. And it is those commonalities, as well as scientific research, that I base my recommendations on.

Below you will find suggestions of what to look for when picking therapies, plus five recommended therapies and programs to address some of the common concerns of hyperlexic kids. I hope you find this guide helpful!

Hyperlexia therapy and programs to consider for your hyperlexic child

What to Look For When Considering Therapies for Hyperlexic Kids

There are lots of things to consider when it comes to picking the "right" (and I use that term loosely) therapy for hyperlexic children. To start, you'll want to work your way through this list of 19 questions to ask when deciding on therapies.

But, in short, you'll want to look for therapies that:

  • Respect your child and their interests
  • Take a strength-based approach
You'll also want to look for therapists who have a good understanding of the hyperlexic learning style or, at the very least, are willing to learn more about hyperlexia if it's a term that's new to them (which it likely could be).

Hyperlexic kids learn differently and the therapeutic approach should reflect that.

"If hyperlexia is part of the language learning sequence of autistic children, attempting to replace it by typical instruction is likely to not succeed." - Ostrolenk et al., 2017,  Hyperlexia: Systematic review, neurocognitive modelling, and outcome

Just to drill the point home about therapies needing to be strength-based and respectful of the child's interests, here are some great quotes from hyperlexia experts and researchers.

"A sound treatment program using the child's strengths and interests to help with areas of weakness is vital to success." - Treffert et al., Hyperlexia Manual: A Guide to Children Who Read Early

"Findings support a strength-based view of preferred interests with the majority of participants articulating that their areas of interest were positive, beneficial, and should be encouraged." - Koenig & Williams, 2017, Characterization and utilization of preferred interests: A survey of adults on the autism spectrum

"Autistic children should be exposed to materials of interest." - Mottron, 2017, Should we change targets and methods of early intervention in autism, in favor of a strengths-based education?

Therapies that are Helpful for Kids Diagnosed with Hyperlexia

When it comes to therapies for hyperlexia, there's really only two types you should consider. You really don't need anything beyond these two.

1. Speech and Language Therapy

Hyperlexia is essentially a language learning difference or disability. So it makes sense that speech and language therapy would be a good fit.

For instance, many hyperlexic kids have issues with things such as pronoun reversals, articulation errors, and difficulties answering WH questions and speech therapy can help with all of these things and more.

2. Occupational Therapy

Hyperlexic children can also benefit tremendously from occupational therapy (OT).

OT can help with fine motor skills, sensory integration, self-regulation, impulse control, motor planning, and the list goes on and on. If you have a hyperlexic child yourself, which I'm presuming you do if you're reading this, then you know that your child might have some difficulties or issues in some of these areas. So you might want to consider OT for working on these skills.

Useful Programs for Working on Comprehension Skills

One of the biggest areas of concern with hyperlexic kids is comprehension. Even if it seems like your child is comprehending things at the moment, just wait until about grade three or four when the texts get more difficult and require more inferencing. Now obviously the texts only get more difficult from that point on too.

Thankfully, there are a variety of programs that can be useful for targeting comprehension skills. They can be used as part of your homeschooling curriculum, to supplement at home, and/or even used at school.

1. Visualizing and Verbalizing for Language Comprehension and Thinking

If you hang out in any of the hyperlexia support groups, then you've likely seen questions regarding Lindamood-Bell or Visualizing and Verbalizing. This program is the most popular choice for working on comprehension and it is the program we have been using at home.

It is expensive, but we have found the program 100% worth it (and we only use it on a casual basis due to time constraints). You can actually read my full detailed review of the program here.

2. Story Grammar and Story Mapping

This approach to working on comprehension is common in schools, with special education teachers or resource teachers, and even some speech and language therapists. I don't know too much about the specifics of it, to be honest, but I do know that my son uses, or has used, these approaches at school. He has found them helpful.

Want to learn more about how effective story grammar is? You can read this research paper to learn more.

3. Scaffolding and the Scaffolding Interrogatives Method (SIM)

I don't know much about how to do scaffolding, but the research is there to support its use with hyperlexic learners. You can learn more by reading the following research papers:

What About ABA?

If you have been reading this post, wondering whether or not ABA should be considered for hyperlexic kids, then this section is for you.

The short answer is no, ABA should not be used for hyperlexia.

That's not just my opinion. I fully expect some parents - maybe even yourself - to get defensive and combative after reading that, but the research supports the above statement.

A good starting point is to read through Ostolenk et al.'s (2017) lengthy review of the hyperlexia literature (found here). The authors clearly outline why ABA shouldn't be used for hyperlexia, describing how Lovaas, the father or ABA, "claimed that repetitive behaviours and interests such as hyperlexia had to be suppressed in favor of more socially acceptable behaviours, because they hindered learning appropriate activities, such as playing and communication."

But Lovaas is wrong.

After all, remember all those quotes from earlier about using your child's interests as it's the key to success with hyperlexic learners?

In Ostrolenk et al.'s review, the authors go on to say that:

"Strong interests, such as that observed with hyperlexic children and written material, may be considered as opportunities for development, as opposed to unwanted behaviors." - Ostrolenk et al., 2017, Hyperlexia: Systematic review, neurocognitive modelling, and outcome

That's right. Your hyperlexic child's interests should be used to develop other skills, not suppressed. A topic I've already written about in more detail here.

Mottron (2017) agrees with taking a strengths-based approach, pointing out that ABA should be abandoned:

"The normocentric, step-by-step, prerequisite approach of classical ABA to the prosthetic construction of language should be abandoned." - Mottron, 2017, Should we change targets and methods of early intervention in autism, in favor of a strengths-based education?

Furthermore, ABA has been linked to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with autistics, who were exposed to ABA, being 86% more likely to meet the PTSD criteria than those not exposed to ABA (Kupferstein, 2018). That's a shocking statistic!

There's much more that could be said on this particular topic so I do encourage you to do your own research. In the meantime, however, I'll leave you with this quote:

"There is currently no scientific, ethical, or societal justification for EIBI [early intensive behavioral intervention]" - Mottron, 2017, Should we change targets and methods of early intervention in autism, in favor of a strengths-based education?

Other Resources You'll Love

19 Questions to Ask When Picking Therapies for Your Child

Hyperlexia Research & Journal Articles

Please Don't Discourage Your Hyperlexic Child's Letter Play

Hyperlexia therapy options: what are the best therapies and programs for kids diagnosed with hyperlexia?