Tuesday, May 04, 2021

How to Diagnose Hyperlexia in Young Children

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Wondering how to diagnose hyperlexia? Below you'll learn all about what an assessment for developmental hyperlexia might look like.

Some of the most frequently asked questions about hyperlexia revolve around the "diagnosis." Parents are curious how to get their child's hyperlexia recognized and identified, wondering if it's even worth pursuing an official "diagnosis." Or they might just want to know what to expect during an evaluation.

So let's talk about how to diagnose hyperlexia and how most hyperlexia cases are assessed. Please note that the primary focus here will be on the process involved in identifying hyperlexia in young school children, preschoolers, and toddlers.

As much as I would love to provide information on recognizing hyperlexia in adults, I unfortunately do not have that knowledge or information. But I assume that seeking a diagnosis of hyperlexia in adulthood would also consider a lot of these same factors. Regardless, self-diagnosis is totally valid too so don't forget about that as an option.

Identifying the hyperlexic child: how to diagnose hyperlexia

Important Notes about the Hyperlexia Diagnosis

Now before we get to how hyperlexia is identified, it's important to reiterate a few things about hyperlexia. I'm not going to get into into anything about hyperlexia type I, hyperlexia ii, or hyperlexia iii here. Not a fan of Treffert's subtypes anyway. 

So, first things first, hyperlexia isn't a standalone diagnosis. Instead, it's something often given alongside another diagnosis (usually autism). As a side note, I'll often put the word diagnosis in quotes here on the blog to emphasize that it's not a standalone diagnosis.

Second, as I kind of already alluded to, hyperlexia is most commonly identified in autistic children. However, hyperlexia can also be identified alongside other diagnoses besides autism such as ADHD or a language disorder. So yes, it's possible to be hyperlexic and not autistic.

Third, you might see hyperlexia referred to as hyperlexia syndrome. Some specialists might use this terminology. However, I personally don't use this terminology as it's medically pathologizing. Kind of like how I never attach the word disorder to autism or use the word symptoms in relation to hyperlexia or autism. Remember, hyperlexia is a neurotype. 

Fourth, many professionals are unfamiliar with hyperlexia. They might dismiss it as just a splinter skill of autism (which is wrong!) or have no clue it even exists (which sucks!). You might even encounter someone who dismisses your concerns entirely, telling you that hyperlexia isn't real (huge eye roll here from me). It's super frustrating, I know!

So if you are wanting to have your child identified as hyperlexic, you need to look for someone who's familiar with hyperlexia. Or, at the very least, has lots of experience with identifying autism. You can read more about who can identify hyperlexia here.

Finally, there is a lot of debate about hyperlexia. Specifically, how to define it, whether it should be considered a reading disability or not, whether it should be a term reserved for those diagnosed with autism and/or a significant language disorder, and so on. No wonder you might encounter so many issues like the ones mentioned above, right?

As a result, there isn't one standardized test or evaluation that checks for hyperlexia at this time. Instead, most hyperlexic children are identified during an autism evaluation, which was the case for us. Unsurprising really, given the strong link between hyperlexia and autism. 

How to Diagnose Hyperlexia in Toddlers, Preschoolers, or Young School Age Children

Generally, assessing a child for hyperlexia usually involves looking at a couple of different things. They'll look for precocious reading skills, which is the hallmark trait of hyperlexia. After all, hyperlexia is defined by advanced reading skills relative to what's expected for their age.

They'll also look for language learning differences and a few other common hyperlexic traits. They're going to be keeping their eyes open for any of these other characteristic language challenges that hyperlexic kids often need extra support with.

Remember, there's no one standardized test or evaluation form that will help clinicians identify hyperlexia. I mean that would be handy though, right? Instead, they will do a variety of assessments, observations, and interviews to help them make this "diagnosis." Here's what you can expect as part of an assessment for hyperlexia:

  • Play-based assessment and observation (they'll look at things such as behaviors, social skills, communication, and a variety of other things)
  • Speech and language assessment for both receptive and expressive language skills
  • Assessment of visual memory and learning of other visual patterns skills
  • Literacy assessment (they'll look at reading skills, decoding, spelling, comprehension, and/or other literacy skills)
There are a variety of tests that may be used to perform these assessments. However, the specific names of these tests are totally outside my scope of knowledge. So I encourage you to check out the following resources to learn more:

  • Which assessments are used for hyperlexia? from HSR Psychology - Please note that I'm not affiliated, familiar with, or endorse this practice. But they do provide a list of common assessments that they use and lots of great information about those tests. By the way, they are based in the UK so they might use something different than they do here in Canada or in the US.
  • Hyperlexia from Kupperman, Bligh, & Barouski (1998) - This article provides a really good overview of what things are looked at when identifying hyperlexia. Due to the age of the article, some of the language is dated and some of the tests that they mention might not be valid any more. However, I still think the bulk of the article is rather informative.
  • What is Hyperlexia? PDF from the Canadian Hyperlexia Association (now defunct) - This PDF covers how to identify hyperlexia, what things they look for, and mentions some additional methods of assessment. It does include a few test names, but they may or may not be used any more.
You probably already notice advanced reading skills in your child and are wondering what the next steps should be. There's a reason you're here reading this after all. But hopefully you now have a better answer to the question of how to diagnose hyperlexia and what's all involved.

Identifying the hyperlexic child: how to diagnose hyperlexia

Other Hyperlexia Resources You'll Love

10+ Diagnoses a Hyperlexic Child Might Have (Besides Autism)

Is Hyperlexia a Form of Autism?

Understanding the Hyperlexia Diagnosis

Identifying the hyperlexic child: how to diagnose hyperlexia

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