What is Hyperlexia in Children?

Do you know what hyperlexia in children is and what disorders it can be associated with? In this article, we'll tell you in detail.
What is Hyperlexia in Children?

Last update: 17 July, 2022

Hyperlexia in children is a reading disorder that has two essential characteristics. On the one hand, children who suffer from it have an early ability to read and on the other hand, they present great problems when it comes to understanding what they read and even using verbal language.

The phenomenon is produced by a precocious ability to decode written words, which isn’t in accordance with their comprehensive capacity. In general, these children are drawn to numbers and letters and have an exquisite memory. But… Are they smarter than others? In this article, we’ll tell you about it. Keep reading!

What do we mean by hyperlexia?

As we’ve said before, hyperlexia is a condition in which children show a reading ability that’s higher than expected for their age. They’re little ones who are fascinated by numbers, letters, or both, and can even decipher a written word at only 2 years old.

However, despite reading at an early age, they have problems understanding what they read, and in general, they also have a hard time achieving an adequate management of oral language. It’s very common for them to speak in a peculiar way and even have difficulties establishing a bond with their peers.

According to autism experts J. Martos-Pérez, R. Ayuda-Pascual, hyperlexia can be defined as follows:

Hyperlexia is a reading disorder. It consists of the ability to read with an age-inappropriate perfection but often with very limited comprehension. They read very well but do not understand what they read”.

nino lee con libro y oso en cama inferior de la litera
Children with hyperlexia are characterized by a higher reading level than their comprehension and even their language and communication skills.

How do these children learn to read so early?

Children with hyperlexia don’t learn to read by the normal route (i.e., learning sounds first, then words, and finally sentences). These little ones read because of their exquisite memory: They retain words, phrases, or even entire conversations through what they perceive from the environment every day. For example, through what they hear from adults, the media, television, advertisements, or books that are read to them.

Therefore, when they read sentences, it’s because they’ve already heard and memorized them or because they’ve divided what they’ve heard to shape their own sentences and expressions.

What are the signs that a child has hyperlexia?

Children with this syndrome also have some characteristic signs such as the following:

  • They can’t avoid reading everything they see.
  • They have a great auditory and visual memory.
  • They have difficulty understanding and comprehending abstract concepts.
  • They have great challenges in the normal development of oral language.
  • They have a hard time socializing with peers.
  • They show a high eagerness to read spontaneously and from an early age.
  • They may have some typical features of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Relationship between hyperlexia in children and ASD

Hyperlexia can occur in isolation, but it can also be accompanied by other developmental disorders, such as autism. To know if it’s a symptom of this disorder, evaluation by a qualified professional is important.

If hyperlexia is accompanied by stereotyped and repetitive behaviors, communication and language challenges, restrictive interests, hyper- or hyposensitivity or socialization difficulties, we may suspect a child with ASD.

Symptoms common to hyperlexia in children and ASD

A child with hyperlexia has difficulty with abstract thinking and may have symptoms common to ASD, even if they meet the criteria for ASD. These common symptoms of the two conditions include the following:

  • Pronoun reversal
  • Strong visual and auditory memory
  • Inflexibility to change routines
  • Intense fears of specific things
  • Echolalia
  • Selective listening
  • Sensory integration disorders
A mother and her daughter with autism.
Early reading, which is accompanied by difficulties in communication, language, and social interaction, could correspond to a symptom of ASD.

About hyperlexia, we can say…

Ultimately, hyperlexia can appear as an isolated problem or as part of another developmental condition, such as a language disorder or ASD. Hence, the importance of requesting a professional evaluation if you suspect that your child has any of these signs.

Keep in mind that the development of literacy follows defined stages, which are closely related to the creation of new neural networks. In turn, these depend on adequate environmental experiences, which are significant when the necessary foundations are in place.

When a child reads early, this doesn’t always indicate that they have a higher intelligence than the rest. So, if your child meets these conditions, the best thing to do is to consult a pediatrician to determine if it’s a case of hyperlexia. The sooner this condition is treated, the better the results will be.

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  • Pérez, J. M., & Pascual, R. A. (2003). Autismo e hiperlexia. Revista de neurología36(1), 57.
  • Sage, D. S. (2012, August). Cuando se lee demasiado bien: el caso de la hiperlexia. In Dislexia: Definición e intervención en hispanohablantes (pp. 63-76). Editorial El Manual Moderno.
  • Restrepo, F. L., & Pérez, C. M. U. (1998). Hiperlexia y autismo. Iatreia, pág-77. En internet: https://revistas.udea.edu.co/index.php/iatreia/article/view/3656