Monday, May 12, 2008

Understanding Hyperlexia

While many people have heard of dyslexia, most do not know what hyperlexia is. This disorder is basically the opposite of dyslexia and often goes undiagnosed as it is more difficult to determine.

Hyperlexia is a learning disorder that involves children who exhibit an above normal ability to read at a very young age while their communication and comprehension skills are below normal. In other words, a child may begin reading full sentences at a very early age (some as early as two) while not fully comprehending or having the ability to perform a simple verbal retell of the information that he has just read. Most parents of these children have reported that they did not teach the child to read and were surprised when the child began to pick up the ability on their own.

While some children that begin reading before preschool age are not hyperlexia and have no difficulties in school, hyperlexic children have problems with reading comprehension as well as difficulties with learning phonics. For children who are beginning to read, phonics are an important key to help them figure out words that they are not familiar with by “sounding” the words out. Children with this disorder recognize words from memory and thus have difficulties when they come across words that they have never seen before.

Hyperlexia also affects a child’s verbal skills. Children who suffer from this disorder have a fixation with letters and words but have significant difficulty with spoken language. A hyperlexic child may be able to read a whole story at a very young age, but when questioned about the information that he has read, he is unable to understand what he has read clearly. He will especially have difficulty answering the “W” questions-who, what, when, how, and why. Teaching the child to comprehend material after he has been reading for several years can be a long and difficult process.

Due to his fascination with the written word, a hyperlexic child often does not interact well with others. He may exhibit abnormal and awkward social skills and have problems relating to his peers. The child may have difficulties engaging in conversations. This may be due to the fact that many of these children learned to read by repetition, a process that they carry over into verbal conversation. This child may be able to repeat spoken words that he has just heard, but does not do well when asked to express his own thoughts or opinions.

A child suffering from hyperlexia may also display an exaggerated need to follow a routine and may become upset if that routine is disrupted. He also may have difficulties making transitions from one task to another. This symptom is especially apparent in the classroom setting, where the child is expected to finish one task and then move on to the next. The youngster may become emotionally upset or may just refuse to make this transition.

If you feel that your child may be suffering from hyperlexia, you should contact your family doctor. You should be warned, however, that the identification and study of hyperlexia is a relatively new field. If you have an older doctor, he may not be familiar with the condition. As most children are diagnosed with hyperlexia once they have entered school, you can contact your school psychologist who should have information and a list of specialists that you can talk to decide the best educational program for your child.

Early intervention is the best treatment in dealing with hyperlexia. The younger that the child is when he is diagnosed will make it easier to retrain his mind to read in a different manner that will improve his comprehension and verbal skills. These are two important factors to having a successful academic career.

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