Hyperlexia is a syndrome that is characterized by a child’s precocious ability to study. It was initially identified by Margaret C. Silberberg and Norman E. Silberberg in 1967 who defined it as the precocious ability to comprehend words without prior experience in learning to read, generally before the age of five. They indicated that children who were undergoing hyperlexia had a significantly higher word-decoding ability than their reading comprehension levels. They also found out that children with hyperlexia also present with a fascination for written material from a very early age.
Hyperlexic children are typically characterized by a word-reading ability that is well above what would be expected given their age. First named and scientifically categorized in 1967, it can be seen as a super ability in which word recognition ability is far above expected levels of skill. Some hyperlexic students, however, may have the caveat of understanding speech. Some experts believe that most children who present with hyperlexia, or maybe even all of them, may be autistic to some degree. Darold Treffert, an expert on the field, proposes that hyperlexia may have subtypes, only some of which overlap with autism. Almost 5 to 20% of autistic students have been estimated to be hyperlexic.
Hyperlexic children are often seen as being fascinated by numbers or letters. They are extremely proficient at decoding language and hence become readers very early on. Some English-speaking hyperlexic students learn to spell long words before they are 2 years of age and learn to read entire sentences before they turn 3. Typical interests of hyperlexic children often include:
- Foreign alphabets
- The solar system
- The periodic table
- Capitals, and so on
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