Recently I came across a website, www.csld.org, that discussed hyperlexia. Included are response to frequently asked questions. Phyllis Kupperman, the author, has given permission to reproduce these.
Is a child who is not yet reading, but is very interested in letters, considered hyperlexic’?
Strictly speaking, these children are not hyperlexic because they are not reading. Some children who do not read at 2 or 3 years old may still develop reading decoding or sight-reading at 4 and 5 years old and may then be diagnosed with hyperlexia. Some children who are strong visual learners, though not readers may still benefit from the intervention techniques developed for children with hyperlexia.
Do children with hyperlexia understand
what they are reading?
They understand what they read about as well as they understand language in general. Many children with hyperlexia have difficulty processing what people say to them. They may have a difficult time using language for thinking and reasoning. They also usually understand concrete language better than abstractions or inferences. Reading supports language learning because it makes the language visual. Therefore, language learning improves, and reading comprehension also improves.
What causes hyperlexia in children?
The presence of hyperlexia within the context of another developmental disorder reflects a difference in the neurological organization of the brain. While a cause is not yet known, research in genetics and functional MRI studies may provide some information in the future.
Isn’t hyperlexia just a savant skill or a “splinter skill”?
A savant (like having photographic memory, playing music perfectly after hearing it just once, or doing complex mathematical calculations in one’s head) or splinter skill is an isolated ability that appears within individuals with developmental disabilities. Generally, these skills have no relationship to other aspects of the individual’s functioning. Hyperlexia is not an isolated skill, but a tool which can be used to develop language, to modify behavior and to help the individual make sense of the world.
Does the presence of hyperlexia mean that the children are” higher functioning”?
In working with a large number of children with hyperlexia, we have seen a spectrum of outcomes. Some children, though they may be excellent readers, may exhibit severe and persistent symptoms of autism. Other children have great difficulties
developing verbal expressive language, though their written expressive language
may exceed their verbal abilities. Some children may do well academically, but
may have difficulties socially. It is hard to predict what a child with hyperlexia will be like as a young adult; however, we do know that using writing to supplement their learning leads to better progress.
Do children with hyperlexia get better?
Children with hyperlexia do improve in language and social skills. Some individuals improve to the point that they are able to go to college or live independently, although some will need special education and supervised living arrangements throughout their lives.
Hyperlexic kids read precociously early but have poor comprehension skills. If you ask them to picture a frog, what they picture is F-R-O-G. They are all about the letters, having almost the opposite problem from that of dyslexics. If hyperlexic kids want to comprehend, which most dyslexics do just find, they need to become all about the pictures.
Gratefully, hyperlexic kids can often be helped by teaching them to visualize what they are reading. Most of us having a dynamic picture in mind as we read. If you aren’t too sure, think about the last time you saw a movie based on a book you have read. If you have ever said to yourself, “Oh, that’s just how I pictured that scene,” or “Noooo! That’s not how I pictured him at all,” then you are creating little movies while you read.
The reading intervention we are considering for Zach helps kids create pictures of what they are reading, and then helps them string those pictures together into an internal movie. I’m going to two days of training to learn how to do it, but it’s not until the end of the month. In the meantime, we have the ever-creative Wendy. She came up with the idea to have the boys use clay to make the scenes for a book they had written with her a couple of months ago.
This past Saturday, we printed the book, sculpted the scenes, and the boys and I took pictures of them. We did a few voiceovers on iMovie and, voila, we’ve got a digital book of sorts.
Enjoy the show: Two Hungry Species on YouTube
(If you notice Mommy’s voice on a couple of pages, it’s because it was dinner time when I decided to try to finish this project. My two hungry species revolted at the end, and they headed to the kitchen to kill someone’s babies if that’s what it took.)
Hyperlexia: My journey to understanding the condition.
Most parents whose children have a learning challenge look at me with a blank stare when I mention the term Hyperlexia. The same seems to be true with the professionals working in the learning disability field.
Why am I concerned you may ask. I am hyperlexic and I don’t want youngsters (or oldsters, as a matter of fact) to be mis-diagnosed or partially diagnosed as I was twenty years ago. It frequently happens. When the tester or the learning disability specialist isn’t aware of hyperlexia they lump the child or adult into the dyslexic category. Why? Both hyperlexia and dyslexia are conditions that affect reading.
Let’s review. Dyslexia means one has a hard time reading words, sounding them out and probably has a poor vocabulary. On the other hand, hyperlexia describes an individual who has difficulty comprehending what they are reading because the individual is not capable of imaging the words they are reading.
Here’s an example. If someone says: the cat has a pink tail that wiggles, a hyperlexic sees the words but not the images of the cat. Imaging gets much more challenging with complex words.
I was diagnosed as dyslexic twenty-five years ago when in my forties. The testing office said there was nothing that could be done. I began searching. I discovered quite quickly that I had mastered sounding out words, reading words, and knew I had an excellent vocabulary. It made me wonder. Why am I a dyslexic? No one had a response. I decided that the problem was psychological and embarked on several years of inner exploration. And, I was advised to remove refined sugar from my diet. Both the psychological work and the elimination of refined sugar improved my condition some.
In my mid-sixties I attended a lecture given by Nanci Bell of Lindamood-Bell who described the differences between dyslexia and Hyperlexia. I knew immediately that I was Hyperlexic. Yes, comprehension was my problem. Testing at Lindamood-Bell revealed I had Grade Three reading comprehension skills (and I graduated from the Yale University Drama School).
Parents: here are some tricks that we, hyperlexics, use to mask our condition:
- When we are talking with another and we don’t understand what is being said we change the subject, or we ask questions hoping that we will get it.
- We talk in generalities.
- We don’t remember what we see or hear and get the person to describe the scene again.
- We use a word, phrase or sentence hoping we are close to what is being demanded.
- We take a long time to get a word. I find people get impatient waiting for me to say what I know so I will jump in with a phrase praying I am close rather than waiting for the word to come.
Skills a hyperlexic has that makes expressing ourselves difficult for us:
- We are very good at FEELING the whole picture of what is going on in a situation. These feelings can be difficult to verbalize sometimes because:
- We don’t safe in describing what we see.
- There is so much jumbled in our brain and feel we must rush so we make up phrases. e.g. “There are one too many few.” This was a phrase I said to a waitress when a teenager meaning – there are too many of us and too few chairs. This strange way of expressing myself began happening frequently. My parent began calling them Annisms.
Once I discovered the accurate diagnose I took three steps.
- I signed up for the verbalizing and visualizing training at Lindamood-Bell. http://www.lindamoodbell.com. It was very difficult to learn how to image but I moved myself from Grade Three to Grade Nine reading comprehension level.
- I worked with the Masgutova Method to correct my reflexes that were not functioning correctly. http://masgutovamethod.com. An individual’s reflexes are developed while in utero and during the first three years of life. I discovered that twelve of mine were not operating at optimal level (e.g.) I was unable to crawl when lying on the floor – my left side reflexes did not work. I decided to combine my emotional issues with the reflex corrections. It was an arduous process but my reflexes corrected over a year and a half.
- Simultaneously I worked with a friend weekly on reading, utilizing the Lindamood-Bell techniques. It was a painstaking process. Once my reflexes corrected themselves, my emotional behavior balanced itself and I became a more confident as a reader. My friend was truly a saint.
In summary, comprehending what I read is still challenging. I have to be bold asking my friends to give me an image or images to describe a word they used when the meaning isn’t clear to me.
I hope my experience with Hyperlexia gives you some tools as you help your child or yourself with reading or aural comprehension. My wish is that the term Hyperlexia becomes a common phrase in the learning disability lexicon. And, parents, when having your child tested be sure the testing officer is skilled in testing for hyperlexia.
For more information on my experience check out the article I wrote which is posted on this website. http://dyslexiadiscovery.com/dyslexia-hyperlexia-and-beyond.