Hyperlexia syndrome has characteristics similar to autism, pervasive developmental disorder, and aspergers. Perhaps hyperlexia may be a separate subgroup of children with Pervasive Developmental Disorder or could it be a separate developmental disorder, of it’s own? These questions remain to be a mystery, as is the autism spectrum in whole.
Hyperlexia is a precocious ability to read words, far beyond what would be expected at an early age and /or a fascination with letters or numbers. These children have barriers in language acquisition and communication. Children with this feature have a simultaneous connection in their social interactions and behavior, they have difficulty socializing and interacting appropriately with people.
Hyperlexia is the a feature skill, of premature reading abilities, which emerges in preschool years. Most children with hyperlexia are diagnosed as pdd or aspergers, it is commonly found in children who are considered high functioning. The feature may also be found in low functioning autistic children but due to the lack of language and communication skills are unable to express their abilities.
Most children with this syndrome read or have pre- reading skills before the age of 5. Some children are reciting the alphabet at a very early age. Others begin as sight readers and later beginning understanding the phonics of a word. Some begin reading only single words, and go on to read sentences, and paragraphs.
Hyperlexia children follow a similar pattern of development. First words developed at 12-18 months, but approximately half of the children lose gained words and do not begin to regain them until after age two. At about age two, language may be acquired through simple processing, beneficial through speech therapy. Early speech and language attempts are mainly echolalic. Language is used in "chunks" and “whole phrases” and even entire dialogues may be used as conversation. There are abnormalities in the form and content of language when they speak. It varies from unemotional, high and low voice pitches, perseveration, pronoun reversals and peculiar use of words or phrases. Comprehending of a single word, exceeds comprehension of sentences. Reading may come naturally, however they may not understand the meaning of what they recite.
Many Hyperlexia children show a big improvement in their language abilities beginning at ages 4 to 5, although difficulties in holding social conversations continue. This pattern of language acquisition is similar to that of many high-functioning autistic children. Difficulties with social language persist in autistic individuals throughout adulthood. Individuals with Asperger's syndrome are reported to have developed good grammatical language skills though they too have difficulty comprehending subtle, abstract language.In the early years, Hyperlexia children exhibit many of the behaviors typically associated with autism: self-stimulating behaviors. Routine, ritualistic behaviors, tantrums, sensitivity to sensory input (noise, taste, touch), general anxiety and specific unusual fears. These behaviors subside substantially as growth in language, generally at age 4 to 5.
These children are generally affectionate with their families and are better able to relate to adults than children. By age 5, they became able to participate in structured interactive games with peers and imaginative play develops. Difficulty in socializing and handling large groups remains problematic through the elementary grades.
Hyperlexia children often succeeded in regular education classrooms with some minor modifications in instruction. This may also be true for high-functioning autistic children, though there may be other factors which would cause autistic behaviors to persist longer in this group. Most of the children with Hyperlexia syndrome generally have normal gross motor development and normal neurological tests, fine motor skills are often delayed.
Many have no family history of disorders, though several families were positive for autism and learning disability in the previous generation. Individuals with Aspergers's Syndrome were described as clumsy and uncoordinated, while autistic individuals are often described as being very well coordinated. Some children with hyperlexia syndrome may be classified as having a Pervasive Developmental Disorder, and while there may be some similarities to children with autism and/or Asperger's syndrome. The differentiating characteristics appear to center around the Hyperlexia children's ability to develop higher level language skills and the children's innate desire to develop social relationships, though they may lack the language skills to do so effectively.
The primary reason for developing a specific diagnostic category for hyperlexia is to assure that hyperlexia is well understood so that appropriate treatment strategies can be developed. In speech language therapy with these children, it is crucial the reading skill be employed as a primary means of developing language. Reading can also be used for behavioral management and for assisting the child in understanding classroom routine.
Due to their pre-reading skills it is not expected that these children exhibit a language disorder and odd behaviors, it is often regarded as a "splinter skill" and is not exploited as a means for learning. It is natural for a teacher to try restating a direction verbally when a child does not respond, but these children need the direction to be written so they have something tangible to look at. This approach has been used with autistic children who read early. The major difference is that autistic children have a reduced ability to utilize the information acquired through reading within meaningful language.
Early signs of hyperlexia
• Learns expressive language in a odd way, echoes or memorizes the a sentence structure unable to understand the meaning. Recites whole phrases and reverse pronouns.
• Rarely initiates conversations
• An intense need to keep routines, difficulty with transitions, ritualistic behavior.
• Sensory / tactile sensitivity.
• Self-stimming behavior such as rocking, spinning, and odd eye movement etc.
• Specific, unusual fears or distress at inappropriate times.
• Normal development until 18-24 months, then regression.
• Strong auditory and visual memory.
• Difficulty understanding questions, such as "what," "where," "who," and "why".
• Think in concrete and literal terms, difficulty with abstract concepts.