Hyperlexia

Whilst waiting in the doctor’s reception this week, B read out loud the sign “This door is in use. Please do not sit or stand behind it. ” His brother declared, “Wow! He can talk properly now!” Well, yes and no. B’s ability to read is quite amazing really. Without any real input from us, he seems to have developed the skill of understanding first phonic sounds, then how to blend the sounds to read words. From there he progressed to reading sentences like the one above. He has several books that he can read all the way through, although some of this will be down to memory. On Mother’s Day, he read the words, “have a fabulous Mother’s day” on a card.

I read recently about ‘Hyperlexia’. This describes children who have a word reading ability unusually advanced for their age, and is present amongst a number of children on the autistic spectrum. A quick look on Wikipedia came up with some enlightening information (which I have shamelessly copied below):

‘Hyperlexic children are often fascinated by letters or numbers. They are extremely good at decoding language and thus often become very early readers’

‘Despite hyperlexic children’s precocious reading ability, they may struggle to communicate. Often, hyperlexic children will have a precocious ability to read but will learn to speak only by rote and heavy repetition, and may also have difficulty learning the rules of language’

This pretty much nails B (although I’d take issue with the word precocious!). I’m not claiming he is some sort of genius or child prodigy. I’m sure many pre-school children pick up these skills before Reception. What’s remarkable is how pronounced the difference is between this ability, and his inability to do so many other things. When his brother declared he could talk, he was right in so much that he can say any words, repeat any sentences and communicate a great deal. His speech has come on leaps and bounds recently.

But where he falters is in the types of speech he can manage and his talking habits. B can describe (“My beaker is blue”) and request (‘demand’ is probably more accurate) things (“Give me the iPod”). He is good with simple sentences and has reached the stage where he is able to articulate needs and thoughts. But compared to other three year olds we know, he has a very narrow repertoire of speech. He communicates to a large extent with learned phrases, which often lack context. He cannot have a conversation beyond asking or answering a question. Often, he expects a specific answer to a question and is upset if the answer varies. As a result of using learned phrases (echolalia) he often gets pronouns mixed up too: ‘my’ becomes ‘your’.

Despite these problems, his reading and language development are a very positive step in the right direction and a reason to be hopeful. One interesting development, that I think comes from his reading, is his attempts to reiterate stories (“Once upon a time…”). When he does come up with a well constructed and articulate sentence, or tries to initiate conversation, it is so rewarding. A joy, in fact. A friend recently joked about his three year old ‘never shutting up’, and I thought he should count his blessings. It’s funny how much we take for granted. I know we did with our eldest. If nothing else, life with an autistic son helps you value these things.

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In other news, this week B underwent his MRI scan. It was straightforward enough, if a bit horrible. We are unlikely to hear anything for some time, unless there’s a problem, so let’s hope for no news.

Also, a letter arrived from the paediatrician, with confirmation of the diagnosis. I’ll probably post about this, but not now; we’re about to take the letter with us to Legoland, where we shall jump some queues (their ‘exit pass’ system is a fantastic idea)!

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