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Hyperlexia – Do Autistic Children Speak?

hyperlexiaAutism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that it affects people to varying degrees with a large array of symptoms and traits. Some people with Autism are non-verbal, and cannot communicate verbally; however, even verbal communication affects those with Autism Spectrum Disorders to varying degrees. Some autistic children experience delays in speech at a young age, but quickly catch up to their peers, while others appear to speak very early and do so intelligently. The “little professors” as they are commonly referred to are often hyperlexic.

What Is Hyperlexia?

Hyperlexia is an ability to read way above what is expected for the child’s age, and is accompanied by a below average ability to comprehend spoken language. The hyperlexic child usually learns to speak through rote memory and heavy repetition. This child appears (and is) very intelligent, but often fails to comprehend the context of their words, or fails to comprehend their full meanings and social implications.

The Hyperlexic Child – The Little Professor

Some children with Autism, especially on the higher-functioning end of the spectrum, or with Asperger’s Syndrome present with hyperlexia. These children are often known as “little professors”. They may appear to have advanced speech and comprehension skills, but have no real grasp of the implications or meanings behind the words that they recite. The child may rattle off random facts, or carry on what appears to be advanced conversations with adults, but are really using scripted conversations committed to memory.The hyperlexic child may learn lines from movies, songs, or from listening to adult conversations and use those exact scripts in their own conversations. These comments or scripted commentary may appear to be in or out of context.

An Above Average Ability to Read

Hyperlexic children display an above average ability to read, but often are lacking in comprehension skills. These children also may be self-taught readers—first learning to read by rote memorization before actually putting the sounds and letters together in other contexts.

Hyperlexia has been reported in autistic children and adults giving the appearance of advanced verbal and communication skills. While these advanced skills may be present in people with Autism, it is more likely that the speech is scripted—meaning practiced and taken from other conversations.

Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert, contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, on the autism spectrum.

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