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What is Hyperlexia?

Hyperlexia is frequently considered to be either a splinter skill of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or a syndrome that co-exists with ASD. Some professionals believe that it can exist on its own, as in some children the autistic traits usually seen when the child is young, can diminish or almost entirely disappear by late childhood. However, at the current time, hyperlexia is not recognised as a diagnosis in its own right, and the majority of children affected will receive a diagnosis of ASD, or sometimes Semantic (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder (SCD).

Hyperlexia is a syndrome, which interferes with speech, language and social interaction. It may be accompanied by unusual or “different” behaviours. Children exhibit an intense fascination with letters, numbers, patterns, and logos, and a very precocious ability to read, spell, write and/or compute usually before the age of five.

Hyperlexia is observed in children who demonstrate the following cluster of characteristics:

  • A precocious, self-taught ability to read words which appears before age 5, and/or an intense fascination with letters, numbers, logos, maps or visual patterns.
  • Significant difficulty in understanding and developing oral language (i.e. language is first delayed, then “different” once it emerges).
  • “Unusual” or “different” social skills; difficulty interacting appropriately with peers and adults.

These children may show the following behaviours:

• Form close relationships with chosen family members and/or friends.

• Demonstrate the intent to communicate.

• Learn to speak in a peculiar way; echo or memorize the same sentence structure; echo speech of others; reverse pronouns.

• Listen selectively; may be suspected of being deaf or seem “tuned out”.

• Have difficulty understanding and/or answering questions beginning with: who? why? what? when? where? and how?  

• Rarely initiate social conversation.

• Think in concrete, literal terms; have difficulty with abstract concepts.

• Possess very strong auditory and /or visual memories.

• Have an intense need to develop or keep to routines in daily life; sometimes showing ritualistic and/or obsessive behaviours.

• Have difficulty understanding and/or accepting changes and transitions.

• Develop specific or unusual fears.

• Display unusual sensitivities to sounds, odours, tastes or textures.

• Exhibit self-stimulatory behaviours.


Definition adapted from information published by the Canadian Hyplerlexia Assocation. A PDF of this information is available here: What is Hyperlexia?

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