Monday, August 24, 2020

Hyperlexia: How is Early Reading a Problem?

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Clearing up confusion about hyperlexia and how it's more than just early reading.

I recently commented on a discussion about hyperlexia in a Facebook group where the person was seeking more information about it. They were trying to understand how early reading could possibly be viewed as a problem.

It was a good question.

Well, the early reading itself isn't an issue. 

Either is the intense fascination with letters. 

So what exactly is the problem here then?

See, the thing is, hyperlexia is so much more than early reading. And it's more than just an intense fascination with letters. There are issues that accompany this precocious self-taught reading and that's what I want to touch on here.

Hyperlexia definition and how it is different than early reading

Incomplete Definitions of Hyperlexia Might Be Leading to Confusion

It's quite possible that a lot of the confusion around hyperlexia is that, oftentimes, people are given incomplete definitions about what hyperlexia is in the first place. 

They are led to believe that hyperlexia is just early reading that is self-taught. 

But there's more to it than that.

Hyperlexia is defined as having three main traits or characteristics, one of which is the early ability to read. It's the other two traits or characteristics that really define the issues or problems of hyperlexia. This is what the person in the Facebook group was really trying to discover and learn about. 

The two traits that often get left out of definitions - or overlooked - are the difficulties in acquiring, understanding, and using language and the difficulties with social interactions. 

And that's where the so called problems lie.

So What are the Issues That Accompany Hyperlexia?

Most of the problems that hyperlexic individuals encounter stem from their difficulties with acquiring language. So here is a list of some of the issues that are quite common in hyperlexia:

  • Issues with comprehension
  • Difficulties understanding and answering WH questions
  • Difficulties processing what is said to them (which is why they're often described as selective listeners)
  • Abstract language and inferences are tricky for them to understand
  • Picking up grammar rules doesn't come easy or naturally so they need to be taught specifically
Decoding the written word comes easy to them, but understanding the language around them doesn't. 

So you can see how it might be challenging to carry on a conversation when you find it difficult to answer questions or don't really understand that pronouns like "you" could refer to yourself in certain contexts. 

These issues might play a role in other difficulties that hyperlexic children have, such as why they "rarely initiate social conversation" (source: What is Hyperlexia?) and have difficulties with social skills.

How to Separate Early Reading from Hyperlexia

Lots of kids read early, but not all would be classified as hyperlexic. 

Now that you have a better understanding of the issues that accompany hyperlexia, as well as the more complete definition of the term itself, you can begin to see how you can separate an early reader from a hyperlexic one.

If your early reader doesn't seem to struggle with comprehension or with any of the issues mentioned above, then they're likely just an early reader.

However, if your early reader starts to check any of the boxes for the issues listed above, especially if you also suspect they might be autistic, then there's a really good chance that they are a hyperlexic reader instead of just an early reader.

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A closer look at the definition of hyperlexia and how it differs from early reading, in attempt to answer the question how is early reading a problem?