Little Bookworms (Hyperlexia)

(C) PopCap.

Who has played Bookworm on PC or Game Boy? I do. Anyway…

Bookworms, especially children, are becoming rare (because of game app on tablets). But there are little children who reads materials (books or ebooks) for advanced readers like encyclopedia, dictionaries, and high school and college text books. Parents may feel “blessed” because they have gifted children; what they don’t know that reading too advanced for a child might be a sign of a neurodevelopmental disorder, called hyperlexia.


You read it right. Hyperlexia. Hyperlexia is a syndrome that is characterized by a child’s precocious ability to read (far above what would be expected at their age), significant difficulty in understanding and using verbal language (or a profound nonverbal learning disability) and significant problems during social interactions.[1] It means a child’s advanced reading skills, i.e., a 2-year-old reading books (or ebooks), internet articles, and encyclopedias suitable for adolescents and adults. Summary: a child reading prodigy or bookworm.

Hyperlexia was first named and scientifically described in 1967[2][3] by Silberberg and Silberberg (1967), who defined it as the precocious ability to read words without prior training in learning to read typically before the age of 5.[2]

Image courtesy of wiseGEEK. Hypeerlexia is characterized by reading books with advanced vocabularies without understanding the meaning of them.

What are the characteristics of hyperlexia?

A youngster with the condition will often display a high interest in letters or numbers, and have trouble interacting with others. The condition is usually diagnosed when a child is 18- to 24-months old and shares traits with autism, behavior disorders, emotional disorders, and attention deficit disorder.[4] Hyperlexic children are characterized by having average or above average IQs and word-reading ability well above what would be expected given their age.[2][5] It can be viewed as a superability in which word recognition ability goes far above expected levels of skill.[2][6]

Hyperlexic children are often fascinated by letters or numbers. They are extremely good at decoding language and thus often become very early readers. Some hyperlexic children learn to spell long words (such as elephant) before they are two years old and learn to read whole sentences before they turn three. An fMRI study of a single child showed that hyperlexia may be the neurological opposite of dyslexia.[7]

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 from examples or from trial and error, which may result in social problems. Their language may develop using echolalia, often repeating words and sentences. Often, the child has a large vocabulary and can identify many objects and pictures, but cannot put their language skills to good use. Spontaneous language is lacking and their pragmatic speech is delayed. Hyperlexic children often struggle with Who? What? Where? Why? and How? questions. Between the ages of 4 and 5 years old, many children make great strides in communicating.[2]

The social skills of a child with hyperlexia often lag tremendously. Hyperlexic children often have far less interest in playing with other children than do their peers.[2]

Are there types of hyperlexia?

Yes, hyperlexia have types, depending on the presenting symptoms. Here they are:

Darold Treffert Types[8]:

  • Type 1: Neurotypical children that are very early readers.
  • Type 2: Children on the autism spectrum that demonstrate very early reading as a splinter skill.
  • Type 3: Very early readers who are not on the autism spectrum though there are some “autistic-like” traits and behaviours which gradually fade as the child gets older.

Rebecca Williamson Brown Types[9]:

  • Type 1: Hyperlexia marked by an accompanying language disorder.
  • Type 2: Hyperlexia marked by an accompanying visual spatial motor disorder.

What causes hyperlexia?

Nothing is known what causes hyperlexia. According to the Center for Speech and Language Disorders (CSLD), “the presence of hyperlexia within the context of another developmental disorder reflects a difference in the neurological organization of the brain. While a cause is not yet known, research in genetics and functional MRI studies may provide some information in the future.”[1]

Maybe hyperlexia is autism?

Some experts say hyperlexia is similar to autism, but others may classify hyperlexia as a separate disorder co-occurring with other neurodiverse conditions.

Another quote from CSLD tells that hyperlexia is present in a lot of autism children and have persistent pragmatic language and social difficulties:

 In working with a large number of children with hyperlexia, we have seen a spectrum of outcomes. Some children, though they may be excellent readers, may exhibit severe and persistent symptoms of autism. Other children have great difficulties developing verbal expressive language, though their written expressive language may exceed their verbal abilities. Some children may do well academically, but may have difficulties socially. It is hard to predict what a child with hyperlexia will be like as a young adult; however, we do know that using writing to supplement their learning leads to better progress.[1]

What are the symptoms of hyperlexia?

According to About Parenting, hyperlexia symptoms go like this[10]:

Hyperlexic children memorize phrases, sentences or entire conversations. To express an idea, the children must be able to dissect what they have memorized to create original expressions.

Hyperlexic children have excellent visual and auditory memories, which means they easily remember what they see and hear. They use their memory to help them learn language. They will often exhibit echolalia, which is the repetition of phrases and sentences without understanding the meaning.

Given their difficulty with spoken language, hyperlexic children rarely initiate conversations.[10]

Hyperlexia is considered to be part of the autism spectrum of disorders and like autistic children, children with hyperlexia have problems socializing and behaving appropriately. They also exhibit other characteristics of autism:

  • Self-stimulatory behavior
  • Ritualistic behavior
  • Concrete and literally thinking
  • Difficulty with abstract concepts
  • Normal development until 18-24 months, followed by regression
  • Need to keep routines
  • Difficulty transitioning from one activity to another

Additional characteristics of autism include the following:

  • Sensitivity to sounds, smells, and touch
  • Unusual fears
  • Selective listening (may appear to be deaf)

Image courtesy of Wikipedia/William Adolphe Bouguereau-The Difficult Lesson (1884).

According to the UK’s Special Needs Education (SEN), hyperlexia symptoms are summarized below[11]:

  • A precocious ability to read words, far above what would be expected at their chronological age or an intense fascination with letters or numbers.
  • Significant difficulty in understanding verbal language
  • Abnormal social skills, difficulty in socialising and interacting appropriately with people
  • Learn expressive language in a peculiar way, echo or memorize the sentence structure without understanding the meaning (Echolalia), reverse pronouns.
  • Rarely initiate conversations.
  • An intense need to keep routines, difficulty with transitions, ritualistic behaviour.
  • Auditory, olfactory and / or tactile sensitivity.
  • Self-stimulatory behaviour.
  • Specific, unusual fears.
  • Normal development until 18-24 months, then regression.
  • Strong auditory and visual memory.
  • Difficulty answering “Wh–” questions, such as “what,” “where,” “who,” and “why”.
  • Think in concrete and literal terms, difficulty with abstract concepts.
  • Listen selectively, appear to be deaf.

Can hyperlexia be cured?

No. Hyperlexia cannot be corrected since this is innate to the child. She is born with hyperlexia. Instead, co-existing deevelopmental disorders are managed and therapies are used to improve a child’s communication skill as well as social skills (for management of autism spectrum disorder, click here; see also my articles about stuttering and specific language impairment).

Hyperlexia isn’t necessarily a disorder though research may or may not label this as such. Neurotypical children do also have this (hyperlexia type 1).

For hyperlexia associated with autism and other developmental disorders: thorough psychological evaluation by a psychologist who is familiar with the syndrome of hyperlexia is a crucial first step. Hearing, neurological, psychiatric, blood chemistry, speech and language and genetic evaluations can be performed to rule out other disorders but are not needed to identify hyperlexia.[11]

Intensive speech and language therapy and early intervention programs can help achieve this objective. The child’s reading skills should be used as a primary means of developing language.[11]

It is important to teach the child appropriate social skills. Providing opportunities for the child to interact with children whose behavior is more socially appropriate is one way to accomplish this. Parents, teachers and other professionals should work together to develop programs for each child to reach his /her fullest potential.[11]

Image courtesy of thepaintedlily.blogspot.com. Addicted to books and complicated academic material is not so bad at all. It is actually good that it expands your scope of knowledge.

The only problem hyperlexia may have is its association with “nerds” or “geeks” or maybe too much reading can cause nearsightedness.

(C) Giant Microbes. Do bookworms have hyperlexia?

O too much reading can turn you into bookworms…

Nevertheless, precocious reading can be a good sign as this can make a child smarter.


  1. http://www.csld.org/HyperlexiaDefinition.htm
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Hyperlexia
  3. “Hyperlexia–specific word recognition skills in young children”. Exceptional Children 34 (1): 41–2. 1967. PMID 6066378.
  4. http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-hyperlexia.htm
  5. Tina M. Newman Æ Donna Macomber Adam J. Naples Æ Tammy Babitz Æ Fred Volkmar Æ Elena L. Grigorenko. (2007). Hyperlexia in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. 37:760-774-2. J Autism Dev Disord
  6. Grigorenko EL, Klin A, Volkmar F (2003). “Annotation: Hyperlexia: disability or superability?”. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 44 (8): 1079–91. doi:10.1111/1469-7610.00193. PMID 14626452.
  7. Turkeltaub PE, Flowers DL, Verbalis A, Miranda M, Gareau L, Eden GF (2004). “The neural basis of hyperlexic reading: an FMRI case study”. Neuron 41 (1): 11–25. doi:10.1016/S0896-6273(03)00803-1. PMID 14715131.
  8. Treffert, MD, Darold A (2011). “Hyperlexia: Reading Precociousness or Savant Skill? Distinguishing autistic-like behaviors from Autistic Disorder”. Retrieved 2013-01-22. (WebCite archive of 2013-01-22).
  9. http://www.nldline.com/hyperlexia.htm
  10. http://giftedkids.about.com/od/glossary/g/hyperlexia_def.htm
  11. http://www.specialeducationalneeds.co.uk/hyperlexia.html

Further Reading:

  1. https://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/professional/savant-syndrome/resources/articles/hyperlexia-reading-precociousness-or-savant-skill/
  2. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/oops-when-autism-isnt-autistic-disorder-hyperlexia-and-einstein-syndrome/
  3. http://www.k12academics.com/disorders-disabilities/hyperlexia#.VYULyPk_PIU

Letters What? (Dyslexia)

Hmmm…for us, letters are just granted in our everyday lives. After all, they are just…letters. Letters to read, letters that convey words…bu alas, not all of us can read or comprehend letters or overall written language in general. Some people do really have that kind of condition. Thus is what we call dyslexia.

What is it?

Dyslexia, also known as alexia[1] or developmental reading disorder,[2] is characterized by difficulty with learning to read and with differing comprehension of language despite normal or above-average intelligence.[3][4][5] A person who has dyslexia is called a dyslexic.[6]

In layman’s term, a person with dyslexia or a dyslexic cannot understand what he or she reads or what it is written. It does not necessarily mean that a dyslexic is not intelligent. He or she can be fluent in speaking, physically active without motor weakness, in short, normal in all aspects of development, except for his or her reading comprehension. The condition is slightly more

It is not caused by vision problems. The disorder is a specific information processing problem. It does not interfere with one’s ability to think or to understand complex ideas. The condition often runs in families.[7]

What are the signs and synptoms of dyslexia?

Although symptoms may vary among individuals, here is the list of warning signs per developmental stage:

Warning Signs in Preschool or Kindergarten[8]:
-Has trouble recognizing the letters of the alphabet
-Struggles to match letters to sounds, such as not knowing what sounds b or h make
-Has difficulty blending sounds into words, such as connecting C-H-A-T to the word chat
-Struggles to pronounce words correctly, such as saying “mawn lower” instead of “lawn mower”
-Has difficulty learning new words
-Has a smaller vocabulary than other kids the same age
-Has trouble learning to count or say the days of the week and other common word sequences
-Has trouble rhyming

Warning Signs in Grade School or Middle School[8]:
-Struggles with reading and spelling
-Confuses the order of letters , such as writing “left” instead of “felt”
-Has trouble remembering facts and numbers
-Has difficulty gripping a pencil
-Has difficulty using proper grammar
-Has trouble learning new skills and relies heavily on memorization
-Gets tripped up by word problems in math
-Has a tough time sounding out unfamiliar words
-Has trouble following a sequence of directions

Warning Signs in High School[8]:
-Struggles with reading out loud
-Doesn’t read at the expected grade level
-Has trouble understanding jokes or idioms
-Has difficulty organizing and managing time
-Struggles to summarize a story
-Has difficulty learning a foreign language

That makes a dyslexic suffer from not understanding written language and its consequeces. Thus, it makes him or her frustrated, and predisposes him or her to depression or anxiety or other mood disorders.

Really? But letters are easy to learn.

Yes, easy for us. But not for dyslexics. As what it is stated, a dyslexic has no visual problems and usually has normal to above-average intelligence. The problem lies here.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia[5]

As you can see in the above picture, a dyslexic can see written words like this. It is not caused by blurry vision or eye disorder, but rather abnormal development of their visual nerve cells.[5][9]

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) have produced a correlation between functional and structural differences in the brains of children with reading difficulties. Some individuals with dyslexia show less electrical activation in parts of the left hemisphere of the brain involved in reading.[5][10]

In a nutshell, there is a ‘short circuit’ in the reading area part of the brain, that makes it difficult to read and interpret words.

Dyslexia can lead to a number of problems, including:

Trouble learning. Because reading is a skill basic to most other school subjects, a child with dyslexia is at a disadvantage in most classes and may have trouble keeping up with peers.[11]

Social problems. Left untreated, dyslexia may lead to low self-esteem, behavior problems, anxiety, aggression, and withdrawal from friends, parents and teachers.[11]

Problems as adults. The inability to read and comprehend can prevent a child from reaching his or her potential as the child grows up. This can have long-term educational, social and economic consequences.[11]

If without support, dyslexics can end up unemployed, divorced, or with lifelong struggle to live independently.

How is dyslexia diagnosed and treated?

To diagnose dyslexia, the health care provider will:

-Perform a complete medical exam, including a neurological exam
-Ask questions about the person’s developmental, social, and school performance
-Ask if anyone else in the family has had dyslexia[7]

This is to rule out if someone suspected has other conditions that hamper reading comprehension.

If all tests are ruled out and there is no other condition, then a diagnosis of dyslexia is made.

There is no treatment for dyslexia. Instead, there are therapies aimed for improving reading comprehension using individualized approach since the severity affects each dyslexic differently. It can be through flash cards or tape classroom lessons and homework assignments instead of taking notes about them.[12] Tutoring nad extra test time (though it’s too ideal) also may help and also use of computers with either large fonts or dyslexia-friendly fonts like Dyslexie, OpenDyslexic, and Lexia Readable[5] can help in making dyslexia less difficult to manage.

Can dyslexics be successful?

Of course yes. Given early identification and intervention and also support from loved ones, a dyslexic can be successful in life. He or she can compensate in other areas of interest like in math, science, art, sports, and others. In fact, many smart and talented people have dyslexia. Here are some examples[13]:

-Leonardo da Vinci, painter and polymath
-Galileo Galilei, scientist
-Pierre Curie, scientist
-Alexander Graham Bell, inventor and scientist
-Nikola Tesla, scientist and engineer

Huh? Scientists only?

Okay, no. There are also celebrities[13]:

-Ozzy Osbourne, musician
-Keanu Reeves, actor
-Whoopi Goldberg, American actress, comedienne, TV personality
-Cher, singer and actress, and Chaz Bono (formerly known as Chastity)
-Tom Cruise, actor
-Orlando Bloom, actor
-Patrick Dempsey, actor
-Salma Hayek, actress
-Keira Knightley, actress
-Bella Thorne, American actress
-Joss Stone, singer
-Jay Leno, talk show host and comedian

And dyslexics in other fields[13]:

-Anderson Cooper, American journalist
-Jamie Oliver, chef and television host
-Tim Tebow, American football player
-Lee Kuan Yew, first Prime Minister of Singapore
-Steven Spielberg, film director
-Pablo Picasso, Spanish artist, sculptor
-Jules Verne, French author
-Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc

So, who says a person with dyslexia cannot succeed in life? If you suspect a loved one or a friend or a colleague has dyslexia, understanding, support, and management is needed for him or her instead of discrimination or ridicule, so that at the end of the day, he or she can be productive as any human can be.


Image courtesy of KidsHealth.org[12]

Who says reading is the only way to acquire knowledge? Hmm…

Dyslexia is only one of the conditions under neurodiversity. There are more conditions which will be written next time.


[1] Benson, David (1996). Aphasia: A Clinical Perspective. Oxford University Press. p. 180. ISBN 9780195089349.
[2] “Developmental reading disorder”. A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia. 2013. Retrieved 23 January 2014.
[3] Silverman, Linda Kreger (2000). “The Two-Edged Sword of Compensation: How the Gifted Cope with Learning Disabilities”. In Kay, Kiesa. Uniquely Gifted: Identifying and Meeting the Needs of the Twice-exceptional Student. Avocus. pp. 153–9. ISBN 978-1-890765-04-0.
[4] “Dyslexia Information Page”. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. 12 May 2010. Retrieved 5 July 2010.
[5] http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyslexia
[6] Merriam-Webster Dictionary 2014 application
[7] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002379/
[8] https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/dyslexia/understanding-dyslexia#item3
[9] Stein, John (2014). “Dyslexia: the Role of Vision and Visual Attention”. Current Developmental Disorders Reports 1 (4): 267–80. PMC 4203994. PMID 25346883.
[10] Cao, F; Bitan, T; Chou, T. L.; Burman, D. D.; Booth, J. R. (October 2006). “Deficient orthographic and phonological representations in children with dyslexia revealed by brain activation patterns”. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines 47 (10): 1041–50. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2006.01684.x. PMC 2617739. PMID 17073983
[11] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dyslexia/basics/complications/con-20021904
[12] http://kidshealth.org/kid/health_problems/learning_problem/dyslexia.html#
[13] http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_diagnosed_with_dyslexia