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What Is Hyperlexia?

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Updated September 14, 2009

Definition: Hyperlexia is a condition characterized by the precocious ability to read single words, coupled with extreme difficulties in verbal communication. In other words, a very young child may be hyperlexic if he can already read individual words but has a terrible time understanding or speaking to you.

While hyperlexia is not the same thing as autism, it has symptoms in common with autism. As a result, it is usually associated with some type of pervasive developmental disorder.

Is hyperlexia a good thing (a "superability") or a bad thing (a "disability")? There is no absolute answer to the question, but according to one review of research:

    We interpret the literature as supporting the view that hyperlexia is a superability demonstrated by a very specific group of individuals with developmental disorders (defined through unexpected single-word reading in the context of otherwise suppressed intellectual functioning) rather than as a disability exhibited by a portion of the general population.
What this suggests is that hyperlexia may be viewed as a special ability -- but at the same time, it's almost certainly a sign that your child has some sort of pervasive developmental disorder (autism, Asperger syndrome, PDD-NOS, etc.).

Resources:

EL Grigorenko et al. "Annotation: Hyperlexia: disability or superability?" J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2003 Nov;44(8):1079-91.

TM Newman et al. "Hyperlexia in children with autism spectrum disorders." J Autism Dev Disord. 200

Pronunciation: hi-pehr-lek-see-ah
Examples:
A three year old who can spell "elephant" but can't talk may be diagnosable with hyperlexia.

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