Reading Comprehension and the Hyperlexic Child

Photo Credit: The Wikipedia Latin Dictionary
Photo Credit: The Wikipedia Latin Dictionary

Some children start reading before they are able to hold a conversation. In a sense, they start to read before they can even talk. How is that possible? Reading can be broken down into two separate processes: (1) decoding the written symbols into words pronounced by the vocal apparatus and (2) making out the meaning of the discourse through an interpretation of the content in view of the context.

Children with dyslexia have trouble with the the first process. Children with hyperlexia have trouble with the second. In the most extreme cases, a hyperlexic child can read any text, of whatever level of difficulty, with perfect fluency but no comprehension.

This hub will deal with the essence of hyperlexia, and will discuss strategies to improve reading comprehension when the problem isn't reading -- it's comprehension.

The word hyperlexia is a bit of a misnomer, because it seems to imply that the problem is that the child reads too well. If a child is hyperactive, therapists might want to reduce the level of activity. If a child suffers from hyperthermia, you might want to reduce his fever. But if a child suffers from hyperlexia, you do not want his ability to read to be diminished. One can never read too well!

In hyperlexia, a child's fluency in reading stands in stark contrast to the inability to understand. If the ability to read and to understand were balanced, then we would have a normal developmental pattern. If the child understands better than he can read, then the child is dyslexic. If a child reads better than he understands, he is termed hyperlexic. It is not that any particular degree of fluency in reading is undesirable. It is the way fluency contrasts with comprehension that makes it hyperlexia. Some educators may reason that one way to arrive at a normal developmental pattern is to downplay reading ability. However, it would not be in the child's best interest to try to solve this problem by reducing the ability to read. A better strategy would be to improve comprehension.

Improving Comprehension versus learning to define words

Most parents and educators agree that the pedagogical goal with a hyperlexic child should be to improve comprehension. But there are diverging opinions about how this should be done. One particularly naïve take on the problem is that hyperlexic children should memorize definitions of written words so that if they have trouble understanding what they read, they will always have a definition of each word in mind.

For example, if we are studying a list of four letter English words of Anglo-Saxon origin, the child might be asked to memorize these two definitions:

  • deck -- 1) the floor of a ship or boat; 2) a raised patio attached to a house 3) a pack of playing cards.
  • luck -- chance, accident or fortune.

One problem with this method is that it assumes that a child who doesn't know the meaning of each word being defined will be able to understand it by means of other words that are no less difficult.

Consider this: if a native speaker of English does not understand the concept of "luck", or what the word luck refers to, is he more likely to understand "chance", "accident" or "fortune"? It so happens that "chance" "accident" and "fortune" are of latinate origin, and that "chance" is the French word for luck, but unless the hyperlexic child speaks French, or some other latinate language, how could this possibly help?

Imagine yourself trying to learn a foreign language by memorizing for each new word a definition of that word which is written entirely in the foreign language you are trying to master. For purposes of this mental exercise, choose a language that uses an alphabet you are already familiar with but that is not related to any language you know. For instance, if you are a monolingual speaker of English, don't choose Farsi, because it is written in a different alphabet, but is in fact Indo-European. Don't choose French, German or Spanish, because you're going to be able to recognize some cognates. Instead, choose something like Turkish or Tagalog.

Here is a definition in Turkish of the Turkish word bahtiser:

bahtiser (afi.) ka. - talihli, şanslı, iyi yazgılı. işleri başından beri iyi giden.


Having read the definition, do you now know what bahtiser means? Well, if you don't, then how is a hyperlexic child who doesn't know what it means to be lucky supposed to learn the meaning of luck from the definition "chance, accident or fortune"?

The Meaning of Words in Context

When fieldworkers trek through the jungle to discover a new people whose language nobody knows but themselves, they can't refer to a dictionary, and they can't ask the natives to translate. So what do they do?They pick up an object. They show it to the native people. They point at it. They establish a shared point of reference. And then they gesture, indicating that they don't know what to call it. The natives understand the question, even though it wasn't phrased in language. They will tell the fieldworker what to call the thing they're all looking at.

The meaning of language is learned through its association with the extralinguistic context. You can't use language to teach language, at least not at the elementary stages.

Each of us went through this process when we acquired our first language. We were alone inside our own skulls, and we were surrounded by very big people who controlled everything, while we controlled nothing. We had no clue as to what they were saying, but they were talking all the time. It was our job to pierce the veil and discover the secret to the mysterious sounds that they were making and how those sounds related to what they were doing, what they thought and what they wanted.

How did we do it? How did we decipher the meaning of language? We looked to extralinguistic cues. We studied the facial expressions of the people around us. We listened to the pattern of the sounds they made. We learned to distinguish same from different, both in the external world, and in the formal system of language. We associated same external stimulus with same linguistic label. And as we learned to predict the behavior of others, we also learned to make sense of what they said. The trick to language comprehension is mind-reading. If you can understand what somebody else is thinking, then you can learn to understand what he says.

Language comprehension usually precedes the production of language. But in a hyperlexic child, comprehension is delayed, and sometimes production by far outpaces comprehension. The result is echolalia, the rote repetition of phrases, and the production of complicated and sometimes linguistically perfect forms, without any relation to their meaning.

Hyperlexic children are actually rather good at language. They pick out formal regularities amazingly well. They understand perfectly well how language works, as an abstract system of contrasts -- often better than the average person. What they don't understand is what people use it for! They have a people problem.

In order to help a hyperlexic child, you have to first put yourself in his shoes and find out what he experiences. In many cases, the problem is not with the mechanics of language, or even with the meaning of individual words. The problem is paying attention to the context.

Shifting Reference and Perpective

Because it's much harder to learn language without access to the contextual cues, many hyperlexic children experience delays in acquiring language. However, once they do learn to speak, they often speak surprisingly well. Many idiosynracies in their speech are directly attributable to problems with joint attention, perspective taking and reference that changes with context.They are not so much language problems, as problems of seeing the other person's point of view.

For instance, some hyperlexic children, (though by no means all), have difficulty learning to use first and second person correctly. If the caretaker says: "You want a sandwich?" The child may reply: "Yes, you want a sandwich," referring to himself as "you". The problem is not that the child doesn't understand what the caretaker means by "you". The caretaker uses "you" to refer to the child. The child doesn't see why "you" should mean something else when he is speaking. He doesn't understand that it's a matter of perspective taking -- that "you" means something different depending on who is speaking.

A hyperlexic child who does not have this problem with pronouns might manifest it in other ways. He might have difficulty understanding that words such as "mother" and "father" are relational and not absolute, and therefore the meaning of "Mommy" might depend on who is speaking.

The word "home" may be unproblematic to a child, when speaking to his parents, but he may be puzzled to hear other people use it in reference to a place where he does not live.

By the same token, a child may be perfectly familiar with the word "luck" as it refers to his own affairs, and may use it correctly as in: "Isn't it lucky that I found this penny?" This does not mean that he understands the concept of luck as it applies to other people. He might not see, for instance, that same event might be unlucky for the person who lost the penny.

This inability to switch perspectives has far reaching implications for reading comprehension, because a very big part of deciphering a text involves drawing inferences from cues about the context.

Drawing Inferences

There is a kind of boot-strapping going on when we read a text, or listen to someone else speaking. We draw inferences about the person's circumstances from what he says, and then we use this inferred context in order to interpret other things that he says. For instance, take the following sentence from Tales of the Sea:

"'But I want to go home to England!" I exclaimed."

Ask a reader who is not hyperlexic, where does the narrator come from? The reader will answer: England. Ask a hyperlexic, and even though he knows every one of the words in this sentence and can use them properly in reference to himself, he may have no idea what the answer is. How did the normal reader know? He drew an inference from the juxtaposition of the word "home" with the words "to England."

Now, consider the following exchange:

"How much are the d--n sheep gonna cost?"

"You're outta luck. The price has gone up!" (From Wedding by the Sea).

If you ask the average reader whether the person who inquired about the price of sheep wants to buy sheep or sell sheep, the answer you'll get is: "He wants to buy them." But the hyperlexic child might not be able to draw this inference, even though he knows all the words in the passage and can use them properly as applied to his own life.

How does the average reader know? He can put himself in the shoes of a buyer or a seller, and he realizes that when the price goes up, this is lucky for the seller, but not for the buyer.

If we want to help a hyperlexic child to understand the meaning of "luck" as it appears in the average reading passage, we need to teach him more about people and what motivates them. It's a social problem, not a reading problem. If we manage to resolve it, the child will benefit in all areas of life, not just reading.

Inferring the meaning of a word

Even determining which of several possible meanings of a known word is intended depends on the context. A child may have memorized the three definitions of "deck" that were listed in an earlier section above, but how does he know which one applies in a particular reading passage? If he doesn't understand the context, he won't know which definition to choose.

"But during the most violent shocks of the Typhoon, the man at the Pequod's jaw-bone tiller had several times been reelingly hurled to the deck..." (from Moby Dick).

Ask an average reader this question:

In the passage above, which of the following definitions is most accurate for the word "deck":

  1. The floor of a ship or boat.
  2. A raised patio attached to a house.
  3. A pack of playing cards.

Most readers, even if they are unfamiliar with Moby Dick would choose (1). They would do so based on the meaning of "tiller". They would do so with the understanding that the text is supposed to be semantically coherent and to paint a consistent picture. They know this because they instinctively understand the Gricean maxims that speakers are not to provide unnecessary information to convey their message. If there was a tiller and a deck and a typhoon, there's a good chance this is a sea-faring tale. Of course, it doesn't have to be. The tiller could be an agricultural device. The deck could be a patio. And the typhoon could be striking land. The inferences could be wrong. But here's where, on a mutliple choice test, the typical child has another advantage. He knows that it really doesn't matter what the original author wanted to say. It's the person who wrote the test he has to worry about, And the person who wrote the test probably wanted the test-taker to rely on a maritime inference.

In multiple choice questions such as the one above, the hyperlexic child is doubly at a disadvantage. Not only can he not infer the context from the passage, he also knows nothing about the motives of the person who wrote the test. He actually believes that he's to answer what he thinks, because he doesn't understand the rules of the game. What he himself believes is not important. The game is to guess what the person who wrote the test thought the answer was.

TheGambler by Kenny Rogers

Working on Language in Context

If memorizing definitions is not a good way to help a hyperlexic child with reading comprehension, what would be a better way? To improve performance, we need to consider the reason for the hyperlexia.

In his early developmental history, the hyperlexic child is not as alert to social cues as the average child. His gaze following, his ability to establish joint attention and his interpretation of posture, tone of voice, facial expression and other non-verbal cues lag behind his contemporaries. He's not a good psychologist, and he spends most of his time learning about abstract concepts. He has good memory for spatial as well as auditory patterns, and like a little scientist, he sets about investigating his world, and in the process discovers a lot of linguistic patterns, including the relationship between written language and the spoken word.

By the time the average hyperlexic arrives in first grade, he has been reading fluently for nearly three years, but he has only had about two years of conversational practice, because he started speaking late. This means he is ahead of his contemporaries in decoding written text and recognizing the relationship between written and spoken words. But he is years behind in drawing social inferences.

To help him, we need to give him practice in recognizing social cues and engaging in spontaneous conversations. One way to help with mind reading is to give lots of practice and to offer situations where the normal cues are exaggerated, so he has less trouble recognizing them. As the child's mind-reading and perspective taking improve, the cues can become more subtle.

What does this mean in practical terms? Well, for instance, if you want to make sure the child understands the words "deck" and "luck", one way to do it is to take him out on the deck, bring out a deck of cards, and play a game of chance such as, for instance, poker. Every time you get a lucky hand, you can exclaim: "I'm in luck", smiling broadly and displaying other signs of great glee. As the child's poker playing improves, you can relax and stop exaggerating your emotional reactions. Given enough practice, the child will learn to pick up on more sublte, involuntary cues. This will be a great benefit for him in almost every aspect of life, including, but not limited to, reading comprehension.

The Subjective Elements of Language

One of the greatest difficulties in understanding a word such as "luck" is not so much that it's abstract, but rather that it's subjective. Whether something that happens is lucky or not depends entirely on where you are standing and who you are.

The problem with modern pedagogical methods is that they fail to take into consideration how subjective most language use really is. In order to teach a child how to read for comprehension, you have to teach him first how to read minds. Perspective taking may come naturally to many, but it's a skill that can be taught.

Many hyperlexic children are good at chess, because it draws on their analytical skills. But to improve reading comprehension, poker is the game they should be playing.



(c) 2009 Aya Katz

Comments 49 comments

Mardi profile image

Mardi 7 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

This is a wonderful hub and one I am sending to my reading teacher friends. I worked a lot with kids with Asperger's and they were very often hyperlexic, which I see is in your list of reading below. Too often people (Ok, I mean parents)are impressed with fluency in reading as opposed to comprehension.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Mardi, thanks! Fluency in reading is nothing to scoff at, since other children may have serious problems in this area, but comprehension is very important, too, and a child is best served by promoting both abilities.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

Enjoyed reading all of this and while some of it was familiar to me, you brought it all together in a very understandable way. One of my frustrations with how reading is taught here in the U.S. is that it's based on teaching without understanding the differences in how children learn. One method clearly doesn't work for all children and most parents are ill equipped to understand why their child doesn't learn as expected.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, Jerilee! One of the most frustrating things for me is that teachers don't get to know students well enough to be able to tap into their strengths and help them to overcome their weaknesses. I feel it's partly a fault of the system, and partly a matter of not making time to put yourself in the child's place and see how things look from his perspective.


nhkatz profile image

nhkatz 7 years ago from Bloomington, Indiana

Aya,

Have you considered the possibility that you are wrong about chess?

Yesterday was the first meeting of the Pinnacle School chess club. (The Pinnacle School is a school for children

with processing disorders and has both dyslexics and hyperlexics.) I am volunteering at the chess club and I had the opportunity to play with a very interesting child who I

think is 9 or 10. I believe he is dyslexic.

My opponent is a pretty competent chess player when compared

to Sword or to Dagon. He develops all his pieces, at least

tries to post them near the center and attacks using more

than one piece. But his attacks have only one target. Similarly, he detects attacks against him and attempts to block the attacks. But he doesn't appreciate that an attack

against the defending piece is also an attack on the original target. (This would be looking two moves ahead. It

is the tactical motif "remove the defender.") I used this

to win both games I played against him.

At the club meetings, students are encouraged to talk during their games, especially against grown ups. At one point, in one of our games, my opponent had a mate threat.

He started talking really stupidly in hopes of trying to

distract me. Of course, I saw the mate threat and parried

it. He breathed a disappointed sigh and said, "You saw what

I was trying to do didn't you?" At one point, we were discussing the prospects of a certain position, and I said

that I had attacking prospects but was not sure how they would turn out. He said, "It depends on whether I see the

attack or not." I insisted, "it depends on the objective qualities of the position." At some point, I mentioned that

I play chess online. He said, "I think it's really hard

to play chess online because I can't see my opponent's face

so I can't tell if he knows what I'm going to do."

This kid plays chess as if it were poker. (Which is quite

remarkable when you consider that chess is a game of

perfect information.)


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Nets, that's really interesting! I did wonder if some people might be able to play chess as if it were poker. I know that there is a psychological element to chess, too, because even though it is a game of perfect information, humans have imperfect and limited processing abilities. If two humans are at about the same level in chess, then reading body language and facial expressions might help.

However, wouldn't you agree that trying to play chess with an opponent whose analytical abilities are superior to your own by reading non-verbal cues is an ineffective strategy?

I think that for a hyperlexic child, poker would be a better game to learn about drawing inferences from non-verbal cues than chess. In chess, a hyperlexic can make progress by ignoring the psychology of his opponent. But poker, although it requires a rudimentary understanding of card values and hierarchies of different hands, is primarily about drawing inferences about your opponent's hand through non-verbal and other social cues.

It does not surprise me that a dyslexic plays chess as if it were poker. I would also expect a hyperlexic to start out playing poker as if it were chess!


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India

Never heard about hyperlexia Aya - well, I do know now - and how! Thanks for a very informative and illuminating hub!


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Shalini, thanks!


nhkatz profile image

nhkatz 7 years ago from Bloomington, Indiana

Aya,

My opponent's strategy was ineffective against me. It seems to work o.k. with his classmates.

The hyperlexic children I know have a lot of trouble with chess. It is a problem with theory of mind. They don't understand that their opponent is trying to make the strongest possible move against them.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Nets, the preliminary problem of understanding that each side to any game is trying to win is a question of theory of mind and applies equally to chess and poker. If a hyperlexic is at the stage when he doesn't understand that his opponent is trying to win, then maybe it doesn't matter what the game is.

However, if that problem has been surmounted, then I think poker encourages mind-reading whereas chess encourages analysis.

I think we all have our favorite strategies of dealing with any problem. The dyslexic has a predisposition for social learning and social solutions to problems. The hyperlexic has a predisposition to look for ways to analyze the situation while disregarding the people.

Most problems in life are amenable to each of these strategies, but in varying degrees.


archdaw profile image

archdaw 7 years ago from Brooklyn

Aya, as you know I am one of your biggest fans, because you helped me through a difficult situation. I decided to read one of your hubs so that I could see into the person behind the comments. I feel like I am Junior High school next to your college.

I have often heard of some of these things, but you bring it to a level that a person like myself can understand. I will definitely implement some of these things with my six year old daughter. Well maybe not poker LOL.


Helen Cater profile image

Helen Cater 7 years ago from UK

Very interesting topic and has given help to lots af families out there no doubt. Thumbs up!!!


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

I'd not heard of hyperlexia before, but immediately I began to read this hub, the sense of the word became clear. I was an early reader, and I well remember puzzling over the meaning of what I was reading. Luckily for me, my understanding eventually caught up with my reading age, but I can imagine how difficult it must be for a child who lingers in the non-comprehension stage.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Archdaw, thanks! That is high praise indeed. If this is of help with your six year old, that will be even better! BTW, poker can be played for chocolate or fruit vouchers, and as long as it's kept in a family or educational environment, it need not have any disreputable connotations.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Helen Cater, thanks!


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Amanda Severn, nice to see you again. I like the way you related this to your own early learning experiences. I think the closer our experience is to that of a hyperlexic child, even though we may not in fact ever have been truly hyperlexic, the easier it is for us to understand the problem and try to help. That's why hyperlexic children should be matched with hyperlexic-friendly educators. Some teachers simply have trouble imagining the hyperlexic's dilemma, if they have never experienced anything remotely similar in their own lives.


chester fynn 7 years ago

i have a friend who looks jurk


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Chester, thanks for your comment. I'm having a bit of trouble understanding it, though. Could you provide a context?


Mitch King profile image

Mitch King 7 years ago from Wilsoville, OR, USA

I have to admit that I have never heard of hyperlexia. A very interesting topic though about another challenging condition.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Mitch, thanks! A lot of people haven't heard of hyperlexia, but it is not as uncommon as you might think.


Suren 7 years ago

Wonderful ! I help children with hyperlexia and your information on the net is very useful. I am keen in assessing a child with Hyperlexia. Would you help me in this regard? Presently I a girl of age 14 and a boy of age 13 and both I suspect to be hyperlexics. Both of them have severe pronunciation problems but kay in reading but struggles to understand even simple passages.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Suren, thanks for your comment. I would be happy to help if I can, but there is not much that can be done online. Do you teach these children privately or at a school? Have they been assessed by a specialist?

You mention pronunciation difficulties. What is the nature of these difficulties? Do they have trouble with particular consonants or vowels, or do they leave out or repeat syllables? Or do they just seem to have an idiosyncratic accent? Are these children related? Do both have the same problems?

Acquiring an accent like everybody around us is a social thing. Most people acquire the accent of their native language from the people around them, and then it becomes fixed for life. Exceptionally social people (and predominantly women) can change their native accent even as adults to suit their social environment. Exceptionally non-social people (mostly hyperlexics) sometimes don't take the trouble to perfect the finer points of the local accent, even when they are children, because it doesn't seem to matter for communication.

However, actual speech impediments -- the inability to pronounce certain sounds for physical reasons -- are not related to hyperlexia.


doug abrahms 6 years ago

Your description really hit home on my hyperlexic child. Despite being able to read a newspaper before age 3, whad to work long and hard on pronouns. He also struggles to put himself in other's shoes.

My child is now 13 and we are hitting another rough patch in school. Can you direct me to any information about improving studying abilities for a hyperlexic kid who's heading into high school? Most information seems to be focused on schooling in the early years.

Thanks,

doug.abrahms@gmail.com


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Doug Abrahms, thanks for your comment. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any resources specifically geared to improving study skills in hyperlexics in middle school and above. You might try the website of the American Hyperlexia Association:

http://www.hyperlexia.org/

Many parents and educators assume that hyperlexia is something a child will grow out of. However, it doesn't always happen exactly as predicted, and it never hurts to try to find more resources.


kimh039 profile image

kimh039 6 years ago

I came here via a link from another hub, Aya, to learn about hyperlexia, and found yet another exceptional hub by Aya Katz.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

KimH039, thanks!


Christa Dahlstrom 6 years ago

Great article. You've captured so many aspects of hyperlexia very nicely. My son is hyperlexic (1st grade) and while his comprehension has nearly caught up with his 4th grade reading level, he still struggles with social pragmatics/conversational speech.

Another interesting thing about the way hyperlexia manifests in my son is the way that reading has an immediately calming effect on him and serves as self-regulating behavior. The flip side is that it can also take on a perseverative quality, enabling him to tune out from the world. Getting his attention when he's reading is almost impossible.

I write about our experience with hyperlexia on my blog Hyperlexicon: http://hyperlexicon.blogspot.com/


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Christa, thanks for your comment and for sharing your experiences with your son. The ability to concentrate completely and tune out the world while reading is definitely a part of the story. I will take a look at your blog. It sounds interesting.


PeterCottontail 5 years ago

Aya - Thank you for this article. It is incredibly helpful. My almost 4 year old is hyperlexic. She has mastered the pronouns, and speaks rather well. So well, in fact, that she was completely under the radar until 3 1/2, when by chance we went on vacation with a pediatrician friend of ours, who identified her. It was really tough and confusing for us as parents to learn that the child you thought was gifted actually has a syndrome.

There is a new book coming out next week that you may be interested in, about a boy with hyperlexia - called The Anti-Romantic Child. I have already pre-ordered my copy.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The Ozarks Author

PeterCottontail, thanks for sharing your story about your daughter. It's not either/or. A child can be gifted and have a syndrome. Many gifted people do live with related social deficits.

I will keep an eye out for "The Anti-Romantic Child."


Debbie 4 years ago

Planning to teach autistic mainstreamed 4th grade boy with hyperlexia this summer. Goal is reading comprehension. Fits your article to a T. Please advise methods to teach him to "recognize social cues" I tried a round of poker but it was just the two of us. He was not interested. I am very interested in pursuing your suggestions. Please adivise! Thank you!


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Debbie, I think that finding something your student is interested in is the first step. Are there any games he likes to play? Does he have a special interest? Has he gotten to the point where he understands that the object of most games is to beat your opponent? That in itself can be a major milestone.


Anita 4 years ago

This article is so flimsy and stereotypical. Of course if you can read anything at age 6 you won't comprehend. Some hyperlexics have decent comprehension. It's not cut and dry. I would never consider it a disability. Longitudinal studies show many hyperlexics become very financially successful in


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Anita, looks like you didn't finish your last thoughts.

I think you should re-read the article, as you may not have gotten the gist of it. It's not about an age related inability to comprehend. I agree that if the only problem is that someone reads above age level and does not have the life experience to comprehend everything read, that is not a disability.

That's why "hyperlexia" is a bad name for what I'm describing -- although it is a name that is used by many professional educators and diagnosticians. What I am describing is a social disability whereby a person, of whatever age, is having difficulty drawing inferences from social cues, despite having great analytical skills that enable him or her to read fluently.


Kingsdaughter613 3 years ago

I was reading before I was three. By the time I was in kindergarten I was reading better than some first and second graders. I had excellent reading comprehension, and my vocabulary reflected this. I assumed that I had hyperlexia because I read so early, but this article seems to indicate that I did not. What caused me to read so early then? I was both an early talker and walker. I have a slightly above average IQ. In terms of other subjects (that did not involve reading) I followed the normal curve. This included grammar. I still have difficulty breaking sentences into their component elements. I also had a nonverbal learning disability; I could not read social cues.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 3 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Kingsdaughter, if you had excellent reading comprehension, then it may not have been hyperlexia. But since you say you could not read social cues, it surprises me that you were able to read between the lines in the texts you were reading. Where comprehension usually becomes a problem for hyperlexics is when they are unable to draw ordinary social inferences from a text, due to problems with social cuing. They may know what all the words mean, but they don't draw the ordinary conclusion because they are not able to do the perspective shifting necessary. Were you reading fiction or non-fiction? Did the problem with non-verbal cues persist? Did you never have any trouble with verbal inferences about social issues?


Kingsdaughter613 3 years ago

The funny thing is that I've always been very good at picking up the subtle inferences in books. I was also able to write and describe social interactions, mostly through the use of dialogue and description. With people I was always a disaster. I could not get visual or verbal/tonal social cues. The problem continued until I was finally diagnosed with a nonverbal learning disability in twelth grade. I went to the Arrowsmith program for two years and have since had a much easier time, although I still have some difficulty (particularly when the other person is foreign born or good at masking their feelings.) I usually let my teachers know that they should just tell me to stop when I do something they dislike, rather than trying to hint it which I may not get.

My preferred genre is fiction, particularly high fantasy, Tolkien and Asimov, and books from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. In nonfiction I enjoy history and some biographies.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 3 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Well, that is very interesting and adds to my knowledge on this topic. Sounds as if you were not hyperlexic, just a very good reader. But I do find it interesting that cultural norms come into reading non-verbal cues, so that you need more help understanding the feelings of foreigners. This indicates that the non-verbal social cues we do give are partly learned.

What did they teach you in the Arrowsmith program? Have you written about your experiences there?


Emily 2 years ago

This is a nice article!


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 2 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, Emily.


Stephanie36 profile image

Stephanie36 2 years ago from Canada

This is a great article! I've seen so many children struggle with reading and it's so difficult for them to make it through school when they have this trouble. Anything tools, methods, or tricks that can make reading easier is great. :)


Sarah 12 months ago

Aya, what do you think about people who say their children have NO delays, but they still consider them to "have Hyperlexia,"? The parents I've come across are "seeking services" for their "neuro-typical" child, and at the same time they insist that their children are just precocious readers. I am puzzled by this, and I wonder what your thoughts are. My son is Hyperlexic, and also has high-functioning ASD. He is 3-1/2, and reading at a 1st grade level, with age-appropriate comprehension of language. I sought services for the ASD issues, certainly not for the precocious reading or his other precocious skills, such as writing letters, drawing, etc. Also, do you know of any large-scale studies that have been done for Hyperlexia? Thank you for your amazing and informative hub!


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 12 months ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, Sarah. Your question is very relevant and insightful. Hyperlexia, in and of itself, is not a problem, requires no treatment and does not necessarily imply that a child is on the spectrum. There are precocious readers who can decode the written language far in advance of having the social experiences that would make them understand all the nuances and implications in every work they are capable of reading fluently. Some children might be three and reading on a first or second grade level or above and not have ASD, but then, in that case, they don't need any kind of "services". There are, however, parents who balk at the term "autism" and like "hyperlexia" better, even though they realize their children have considerable social deficits for their age. I think that is a cop out, and those parents eventually do realize that the problem is not hyperlexia, or being "too intelligent", but that it involves social issues and falls within the parameters of ASD, regardless of how high functioning the children are in certain areas.

I don't know of any large scale studies on hyperlexia at the moment. That would be interesting.


Shan Yap profile image

Shan Yap 5 months ago

I have been having challenges teaching comprehension to my hyperlexic son who is also ASD. He is more obsessed with letters but not sentences. Still having challenges with pronouns even after years of teaching using different methods including symbols. For anaphoric inferencing, sometimes I cheated using colour code. Example, if the story has 2 characters , e.g. Mary and Peter. I use highlighter to highlight Mary pink and Peter blue. I use the pink and blue to highlight pronoun for Mary and Peter respectively.

Wish there are severe hyperlexia friendly books.

Do you mind to share strategies to teach 'when'? My son mastered the others but 'when' is challenging.

It's easy to associate when to time and day. When do you go see doctor? So, his natural answer would be time or day. Appreciate if you can point me to good resources online for this to read up.

Thanks for writing this article.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 months ago from The Ozarks Author

It sounds as if the problem your son is having with "when" is for those times that "when" is used for "under what circumstances." It's actually true that this is usage is more clearly associated with an "if...then..." type of logical structure. So teach him that if time and date don't seem to be what the question is about, in those cases what the person is asking about is "what condition must hold true so that X will follow." Or in logical terms, "if Y happens then X happens." Example: If you are sick, you go to the doctor." Translated into a when sentence: "When we are sick we go to see the doctor."


Afsheen 8 weeks ago

Hi Aya

All the things you talked about in your article describe the issues my son has. He is 13 with autism and hyperlexia. Can you help me improve his comprehension?


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 8 weeks ago from The Ozarks Author

Afsheen, I would need to know more about your son's situation to be able to offer any kind of suggestions geared to his needs. What grade level is he successfully reading on? What sorts of inferences is he able to draw in ordinary conversation? How good are his conversational skills? Can he play poker or other primarily social games?


Shan921 7 weeks ago

Is there a way to get a printable version of this article? My son has HL3 and he goes to private school so they don't do IEP but the teachers are very open to helping him and regularly specialize his learning plans. He is an outstanding student except for reading comprehension. He teacher wants to try to bring his comprehension level up this year and I think she would love to read this.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 weeks ago from The Ozarks Author

Hi, Shan921, I think you can probably print the article from your computer. If you have any problem with that and need a pdf file, just let me know.

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