Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Hyperlexia & Auditory Processing: 5 Strategies that Will Dramatically Help Your Child

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A closer look at hyperlexia and auditory processing and why hyperlexic kids say "I don't know" so much.

Does your hyperlexic child ever respond to questions with a quick "I don't know" and then a few seconds later gives you the correct response?

Well, it's pretty common for hyperlexic kids to have a case of the I don't knows, even if it's in response to a question that they definitely know the answer to. 

But why is that? 

And, more importantly, how can you help?

The answers to these questions have to do with auditory processing and comprehension. So let's take a closer look at hyperlexia and auditory processing and some strategies that will make a big difference.

Hyperlexia & auditory processing: why the hyperlexic child says "I don't know" a lot

Understanding Hyperlexia & the Case of the I Don't Knows

Given the comprehension difficulties that are common in hyperlexia, it's unsurprising that many hyperlexic kids have auditory processing delays as well. Yet it's one of those lesser known characteristics of hyperlexia

However, you probably already know that hyperlexic kids "find it easier to attend to, and grasp language information that they see, better than that which they listen to." (source

There's a reason why it's so important to keep the saying of "when in doubt, write it out" in mind with these kids...

Anyway, since hyperlexic kids have trouble processing and understanding spoken language, they will often respond to verbal requests and questions with "I don't know" or "huh?" as a way to buy themselves time. Time they need to process what was said.

In the book "Drawing a Blank," Emily Iland writes that autistic and hyperlexic children "had a response delay of 11 milliseconds in processing sounds heard in words. While the lag is brief, it means that the [autistic child] may still be processing the first syllable of a word when other students in class have already processed the entire word. Importantly, the delays may cascade, and the [autistic child] may lag further and further behind when trying to capture the message during a longer conversation or lesson."

As Iland points out, they need a bit more time to process what's been said, especially if the verbal request is lengthy or complex.

In this case, your child's quick response of "I don't know" tends to mean "I don't know what you're saying quite yet so let me at least acknowledge that I heard you while I finish processing what you said." So keep that in mind.

Hyperlexia & Auditory Processing: 5 Strategies that Will Dramatically Help Your Child

Now that you understand why your hyperlexic child defaults to using the phrase "I don't know" whenever you make a verbal request, let's talk about what you can do to support them with their auditory processing delays. 

These tips are simple switches that you can make that will dramatically help your hyperlexic child.

1. Make it visual by pairing spoken language with written language

Remember above where I reminded you yet again to write things out? Well, then you probably knew this tip was coming...

Take a minute to write down your request, instructions, or question and point to it while you speak to your child. 

If appropriate, you could even write down some possible answers for them. For instance, if you are asking them what they would like for a snack, then write down a couple of options for them to choose from.

2. Give them time to respond

You now know that hyperlexic kids need more time to process what was said to them, especially if the sentence or request is lengthy. It's best to speak and then pause for a bit. You're going to have to wait patiently and give them time to formulate a response. You can read more about the power of waiting here.

3. Teach them a script to say instead of "I don't know"

To others who encounter your child, they might take your hyperlexic child's default response of "I don't know" to literally mean that they don't know the answer, which isn't always the case. 

So it's important to teach your hyperlexic child some scripts that they could say in place of "I don't know" to show that they need extra time to think about their answer. 

Examples include:

  • Let me think
  • I need a few seconds to answer
  • I'm just processing your question
  • I'm just thinking about what I want to say

4. Shorten and simplify your sentences, requests, and questions when speaking

Earlier I shared of quote that talked about how the auditory processing delays of individual sounds and words can stack on top of each other, making lengthy requests or conversations even harder to comprehend for hyperlexic kids. So a quick and easy fix is to shorten and simplify your sentences, remembering to pause in between each.

For instance, "We're going to the library this afternoon to return the overdue library books and pick up some new ones." can become "We're going to the library today. (pause) We'll return the old books. (pause). Then we'll pick some new books."

5. Speak slower

Given that they need more time to process individual sounds and words, it makes sense just to slow down when you are speaking. 

A list of strategies to use to help hyperlexic kids with their auditory processing delays

Other Hyperlexia Resources You'll Love

5 Lesser Known Characteristics of Hyperlexia

5 Free Hyperlexia PDF Resources That You Should Always Keep Handy

Important Hyperlexia Milestones

Hyperlexia & auditory processing: why the hyperlexic child says "I don't know" a lot and what you can do to help