What Is Hyperlexia?

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on October 09, 2023
3 min read

Hyperlexia is when a child starts reading early and surprisingly beyond their expected ability. It's often accompanied by an obsessive interest in letters and numbers, which develops as an infant.

Hyperlexia is often, but not always, part of the autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It’s considered a “splinter skill,” a unique skill that doesn't have much practical application. But therapists can often use a child's hyperlexic skills as a tool for their therapy and treatment.   

There are 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.

It's difficult to know exactly how common hyperlexia is, but some facts and statistics include:

  • Among children with autism, about 6% to 14% have hyperlexia.
  • Not all people with hyperlexia have autism.
  • Approximately 84% of children with hyperlexia have autism.
  • Approximately 1 in 54 children have autism spectrum disorder.

Hyperlexia I is not a disorder and doesn't need a diagnosis. 

Hyperlexia II is diagnosed by:   

  • Ability to read far above what's expected based on a child’s age
  • Obsession with numbers and letters
  • Learning in a rote way, such as by repeating chunks of information
  • Other behavioral problems

Hyperlexia III can be difficult to diagnose because, in addition to early reading, children often show “autistic-like” traits and behaviors. These include:

  • Remarkable ability to memorize
  • Other advanced abilities
  • Sensory sensitivity
  • Intense resistance to change
  • Phobias and fears
  • Lining/stacking behaviors
  • Pronoun reversals, such as referring to themselves as he, she, or you or by their own name

However, children with hyperlexia are often affectionate, outgoing, and interactive with their immediate family members. Their autistic-like behaviors decrease over time, and they end up being typical for their age. This needs to be diagnosed by a professional who has expertise in ASD and hyperlexia III.

Children with hyperlexia I require no treatment. Those with hyperlexia II and hyperlexia III benefit from several types of treatments:

Speech and language therapy.Speech and language therapy can help improve the language and social skills of children with hyperlexia. Their advanced reading abilities are used to help develop and improve their weaknesses, which may include social interaction and understanding. Every child has their own treatment plan, which focuses on their needs, including.   

  • Social skills
  • Higher-level language skills
  • Understanding spoken language
  • Writing and speaking

Some strategies therapists use to work on these skills include.   

  • Visual methods to support understanding
  • Visual schedules and timelines
  • Association games to teach word relations
  • Social stories
  • Cause and effect predictions
  • Strategies for parents and teachers

Occupational therapy. Occupational therapy is specialized for each person, but the occupational therapist always works on any areas of difficulty, which may include.  

  • Sleeping
  • Feeding
  • Practicing self-care
  • Participating in school activities
  • Participating in social activities
  • Writing
  • Responding to sensory stimulation appropriately

Educational placement is the main difference between the strategy for children with hyperlexia II and those with hyperlexia III. Children with hyperlexia II will benefit from being a part of special education classrooms. Regular classrooms may be too stimulating for them, and they may learn better in a one-on-one situation.

Children with hyperlexia III will benefit from being in a typical classroom setting. They will have more chances for suitable social interaction with their same-age classmates.

All children with hyperlexia will benefit from learning the skills they need through the written language. This uses their strengths, builds their confidence, and eases stress while they learn.