A syndrome found in young children that resembles autism. It is characterized by a significant difficulty in understanding verbal language, and social interaction, but an ability to read words at a level far above what one would expect at their age. The sources I found on it gave no information on how it is caused, but I found a few symptoms:
  1. ritualistic behavior, and an obsessive need for routine
  2. strong visual memory and auditory memory.
  3. Difficulty with abstract concepts
  4. Difficulty answering who/what/when/where/why questions.
  5. Selective listening, and the appearance of being deaf
Children with hyperlexia tend to develop normally until they are 18-24 months old. An old boss of mine had a 6-year old hyperlexic child, who I met once. He seemed shy and withdrawn, and preoccupied with the office plants, to the extent of 'watering' one.

Hyperlexia is treated by taking the child to a therapist, who will help the child work out ways to fit in with other people. One therapist outlines nine major points of hyperlexia treatment:

  1. Use written and visual models.
  2. Use patterned language.
  3. Use open ended sentences.
  4. Generate Rules.
  5. Use examples rather than explanations.
  6. Use rote learning.
  7. Teach one way, then reverse the procedure.
  8. Teach specific pragmatic rules.
  9. Use parents a co-therapists.
If treatment goes well, hyperlexic children should be able to function as shy kindergarteners, and later as gifted students who are able to figure out their own ways to overcome or take advantage of their condition.

Thanks to www.hyperlexia.org for the info.

Some thoughts on hyperlexia:

 

Everything2 medical disclaimer 

The DSM-IV criteria for hyperlexia are the same as those for autistic spectrum disorders - it shares the most similarities with Asperger's syndrome. The DSM-IV criteria for Asperger's syndrome are these :

 

  1. Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:
    1. marked impairments in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction
    2. failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
    3. a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people (e.g. by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest to other people)
    4. lack of social or emotional reciprocity
  2. Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:
    1. encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus
    2. apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals
    3. stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements)
    4. persistent preoccupation with parts of objects
  3. The disturbance causes clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning
  4. There is no clinically significant general delay in language (e.g., single words used by age 2 years, communicative phrases used by age 3 years)
  5. There is no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or in the development of age-appropriate self-help skills, adaptive behavior (other than social interaction), and curiosity about the environment in childhood.
  6. Criteria are not met for another specific Pervasive Developmental Disorder or Schizophrenia.

Aspects of this that those with hyperlexia or those who know a person who has hyperlexia may want to look at are the info contained in section 2, 4, and 5.

Social problems: Most of the social problems described for those who are hyperlexic seem to be very similar to those described by individuals who are gifted; up to 40% of gifted individuals have an accompanying secondary condition such as autism, Asperger's, dyslexia, or hyperlexia. I recommend that all hyperlexics think about an IQ test in order to avoid misdiagnosis. My own experience with this is that most gifted individuals are usually shunned for being different - Hoagies Gifted ( wwww.hoagiesgifted.org ) has a good set of resources on this. Does one suppose that poor social skills and narrow interests might be triggered by a lack of exposure, in some cases? I personally was not exposed, back when rocks were liquids, to a lot of social situations where I could have learned a lot of social skills.

In addition, a high vocabulary for one's age is typical of a gifted individual.

An article from Wired titled 'The Geek Syndrome', about Asperger's syndrome - which I will reiterate is similar to hyperlexia - does say that Asperger's is widespread in communities of largely science and technical professionals, and that a few autistic qualities are required in science and math. If this is true, then I find the pathologizing of conditions where the individual is still high-performing to be misguided and, in fact, I think people who want to cure Asperger's and hyperlexia and people who want to 'normalize' gifted individuals to be rather ridiculous - rather than push for the norm, realize that people who deal with these things most likely have high intelligence and skills that, realistically, very few others have got.

 

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