–Triveni Goswami Vernal
Registered Special Educator (A64010)
A lot of children on the Autism Spectrum have a fascination for alphabets and words, from an early age. It can include various things, like reading early, beyond the expected ability but more significantly, an obsessive interest in letters and numbers, that is often seen since infancy.
An article, “Hyperlexia: Definition and Criterion” defines Hyperlexia as “a condition in which developmentally disordered children have advanced word recognition skills but show little reading comprehension” (https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-94-011-3732-4_8).
According to WebMD, Hyperlexia in Autism, is considered to be a splinter skill, that may not have much practical application, but may be used as an enabler in therapeutic intervention https://www.webmd.com/children/what-is-hyperlexia). A news report cites that 6-20% of children with Autism, have Hyperlexia (https://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/channels/news/helping-children-autism-and-hyperlexia-learn-understand-what-they-read-333217).
The WebMD website lists three types of Hyperlexia:
Hyperlexia I: This type happens when children developing without disabilities learn to read early and far above their expected level. Because other children eventually learn to read and catch up, this condition is temporary.
Hyperlexia II: This type of hyperlexia occurs in children with autism. They are often obsessed with numbers and letters, preferring books and magnetic letters over other types of toys. They also frequently remember important numbers such as license plates and birth dates. These children usually have more typical signs of autism, such as avoiding eye contact and affection and being sensitive to sensory stimuli.
Hyperlexia III: This type is like hyperlexia II, but the symptoms decrease over time and finally disappear. Children with hyperlexia III tend to have remarkable reading comprehension, but their verbal language development may be behind. They also have excellent memories. In contrast to children with autism, children with hyperlexia III easily make contact and are outgoing and affectionate” (https://www.webmd.com/children/what-is-hyperlexia).
The signs of Hyperlexia (mentioned in the website And Next Comes L), perfectly encapsulates the characteristics that are often seen in children with Autism who are also Hyperlexic. The ability to read words comes easily to them, but being able to decode and read, does not naturally translate into the ability to comprehend what is being read.
Even though my son had regressed at around 2 and half years, and lost all his speech and social skills then, he regained some speech over the past 2-3 years. He has been quite obsessed with letters ever since. When he picked up the ability to read, he also became quite obsessed with writing the letters (initially, not so much now), but he can type independently, fairly well. But this obsession with letters—the ability to read/spell words, does not always translate into reading comprehension. For that, we need to work separately, on Visualization, Sequencing, Prediction and other core skills essential for Reading Comprehension.
But one can always take advantage of the obsession towards letters and numbers and utilize it as a tool of teaching for the child. Using games/activities that involve alphabets/numbers, might work as a positive reinforcer, while teaching a particular skill (academic or otherwise).
Holly F, a Speech Language Pathologist provides several reading techniques to help a hyperlexic child with autism develop reading comprehension (https://www.speechbuddy.com/blog/speech-therapy-techniques/help-for-hyperlexia-great-reading-tips-for-children-with-autism/). Some of them are as follows:
1) Teach the concept of Sequencing and Cause/Effect: The learner can be encouraged to answer Wh questions: Who? What? When? etc. Also using the temporal guides like first, next, then to guide the storytelling, can help them develop an understanding of the sequencing.
2) Picture Walk: Before the book is read, a preview can be provided regarding the title, main characters, and also a basic sequence of the story.
3) Directed Reading:Thinking Activities (DRTA): This technique “encourages readers to ask questions, make predictions and evaluate their predictions throughout the story.”
4) Make a Visual Map: Using a Visual Mind Map/Story Map can help the child organize information about the text, better. A Story Map can have the following information: the Setting, Characters, the Sequence of the story in brief etc.
Thus, we see that while being considered a splinter skill, Hyperlexia in individuals with Autism can be utilized to their advantage and can facilitate their learning process, in the long run.
Author Triveni Goswami Vernal Triveni Goswami Vernal is an Autism advocate, registered Special Educator (CRR A64010) and an Independent Researcher. Her areas of interest include Autism, Disability Rights, Gender, Art and Northeast studies. She is a mum to an 11 year old on the Autism Spectrum.
Creative representation for this blog is done by our extremely talented CreativeSaathi associate kabir vernal