Thursday, September 23, 2021

Signs of Hyperlexia in Toddlers & Babies

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Curious what hyperlexia in toddlers looks like? Here are some of the early traits you might notice when your child is a baby or toddler.

When people hear or see the word hyperlexia for the first time, they inevitably have lots of questions. I mean it makes sense. Here's this word that you've never heard of before that somehow perfectly describes your child. Or should I say describes your child to a T? Letter puns and cliches for the win. You know I had to say it though, right?

Anyway, one of the most common topics I get asked about is hyperlexia in toddlers. Particularly what hyperlexia can look like when the child isn't reading quite yet. 

Remember, the early reading ability is the hallmark characteristic here and the key trait that distinguishes hyperlexia from autism. So that trait does have to be present in order to be considered hyperlexic.

However, there are plenty of other signs or traits that you might notice before your toddler starts reading that could indicate that they're hyperlexic. And that's what we'll be covering here.

Hyperlexia in toddlers & babies

Hyperlexia in Toddlers & Babies: Some of the Early Signs You Might Notice

Like I said, there are lots of hyperlexic traits that you might notice in the toddler or baby years. However, keep in mind that you might notice only a few of these signs or, on the flip side, you might notice them all. Just remember that your child doesn't need to check all of these boxes, so to speak. Instead, this list is meant to give you an idea of what you might expect to find during the toddler years.

1. Enjoys books and looks closely and carefully at them

Hyperlexic kids often pay more attention to the text than they do the pictures. They're also unlikely to mouth or chew on books like most babies do. My son even flipped through paperback books carefully, page by page, around 5 or 6 months of age, without ripping pages. He was so gentle with the pages and that wouldn't be the case with most babies. My guess is that he was studying the page numbers because that would be so him.

2. Long attention span for reading

Most toddlers would wander off to do their typical toddlerly things after a page or two of reading a book. However, when you have a hyperlexic toddler or baby, you can often read through a huge stack of books in one sitting.

3. First words might be letters, numbers, or shapes

Yes really, their first words might indeed be letters, numbers, or shapes. And, honestly, the large majority of a hyperlexic toddlers' vocabulary might continue to be letter or number related.

4. Intense fascination with letters, numbers, and print materials

You'll soon be immersed in 24/7 alphabet play if you have a hyperlexic toddler. Playing with letters all day brings them so much joy! They can happily fill their day reading ABC books, playing with letter toys, turning non-letter toys into letters, and so much more.

This stage can be quite intense for many families. And it might feel like your child won't play with anything other than letters. But it's important to remember that there's nothing wrong with that. I know you might even feel like things would be easier if you discouraged the letter play, but please don't do this. Even if other health professionals say to. Find yourself a new therapist if that's the case because it's clear that they don't truly understand hyperlexia if they're giving you this advice in the first place.

What you should do - instead of taking away their letters (again, please don't do this!) - is use their interests as a jumping off point to teach new skills. I promise that your child will eventually move on to new interests eventually.

5. Loves visual stimulation, especially if letters or words are involved

Seriously, if you put anything written in front of a hyperlexic child, they'll be all over it. There's a reason why something as simple as turning on closed captioning works so well. Remember, using the written word is the key to helping these kids with their language skills and even connecting with them.

6. Recites and/or identifies the alphabet early

Beginning to identify letters around 18 to 24 months is one of the big important hyperlexia milestones. This sign is also one of the first things many parents start to notice. Hyperlexic kids also pick up on other visual patterns early too, which leads me to the next point...

7. Counts early

And I'm not just talking about counting to ten here...Many hyperlexic kids are good with math and numbers too (it's called hypernumeracy) and can count to large numbers. They might even start skip counting early, something that other little kids might not do until quite a few years later.

8. Prefers alphabet toys

While most toddlers want to drive toy cars around or build towers with blocks, hyperlexic ones prefer alphabet toys. You'll also notice that they will build letters out of anything that isn't a letter like crayons, blocks, or LEGO Duplo. 

They'll likely also point out letters that they see around them, even in unusual or unexpected places (e.g., table legs that look like the letter H, a curled up piece of spaghetti that looks like the letter P, and so on).

9. Echolalic speech

Hyperlexia comes with a lot of language learning differences. For instance, as toddlers, they might have only a few words or even some spontaneous speech, but likely their speech will be very echolalic in nature. It's not surprising though given their gestalt processing of language. Anyway, they'll often repeat phrases from books or movies or even repeat back what you just said to them. 

10. Strong auditory memory and can easily memorize melodies or songs

You might notice your hyperlexic toddler humming tunes that they've only heard once or twice before. Or they might start singing the lyrics to a song that they just heard on the radio. These kids tend to pick up on musical patterns very quickly, much like they do with other patterns.

It's also not uncommon for parents to discover that their hyperlexic kids have perfect pitch. However, even if they don't have perfect pitch, you might notice a strong inclination towards music with your hyperlexic toddler. 

11. Need for sameness

This need for sameness might present as reading the same book over and over (Dr. Seuss' ABCs for us). Or watching the same movie over and over (the movie Bolt for us). It could also mean the same routines, the same foods, or the same clothes. Hyperlexic kids just love routines and predictability.

12. Begins to read without explicit instruction (precocious reading skills)

While most hyperlexic kids' advanced reading skills are apparent before age 5, some may start as young as 2. For instance, my son started just before his second birthday. But there are reports of some starting to read as young as 18 months or even around their first birthday! It's pretty incredible.

In the toddler years specifically, this reading ability might refer to reading a handful of words here or there. Or it can also refer to a toddler who is reading entire books on their own. Obviously, there will be a wide variety of abilities here. However, their reading skills will always be far above what is expected for their age. And considering most toddlers don't read, any type of reading is going to be above what's expected at this age. So keep that in mind.

Hyperlexia in toddlers & babies: a list of early signs

Other Helpful Resources About Hyperlexia You'll Love

Hyperlexia in Toddlers: What's Next When You Think Your Child is Hyperlexia

How to Diagnose Developmental Hyperlexia in Young Children

Important Hyperlexia Milestones for Language Skills & Reading Skills

Hyperlexia in toddlers & babies: early signs you might notice

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