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This Is My Definition of 'Hyperlexia'

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My son has hyperlexia and hypernumeracy.

You’ve likely never heard of these.

Neither had I until November 6, 2014. But, like me, you’ve probably broken down those words into pieces and figured out their meanings accordingly. When given an unfamiliar diagnosis, I took the first logical step: I Googled it. There I was, after months of wait lists, with some unfamiliar diagnoses, typing those two words into Google only to hit another roadblock. There was practically nothing — yes, nothing — for me to read on the topic beyond the basic definition. Especially on the topic of hypernumeracy (there are currently 63 search results in Google on this particular topic). How disappointing is that?

I’ve quietly struggled for years trying to understand my child’s extreme fascination with letters and numbers, his irrational outbursts and lack of conversation. And then I was finally given a diagnosis (OK, more like multiple) but ended up feeling just as lost as always. The psychologist basically handed me a piece of paper and said, “See you in three years. A full report will be mailed to you shortly.” So between that and the lack of results via Google, I am disappointed in the information on hyperlexia and hypernumeracy available to parents like me.

Less than two weeks after, I found myself at a meeting for parents at Autism Services. At this meeting, each parent shared their name and a little bit about their child who is either on the spectrum or is waiting to be assessed for autism. I mentioned hyperlexia and hypernumeracy, as I feel it’s important to share these details. I’m glad I did because after the meeting, a gentleman who was sitting behind me approached me to discuss hyperlexia. Like me, he’d never heard the term before. He was interested in reading more about it because his son had been intensely obsessed with numbers. This chance meeting was a lightbulb moment for me.

I knew I had to write about hyperlexia. I had to write about it not only as a way to help me understand it myself but to also hopefully connect with other parents dealing with it. My hope is that I can create a great resource for parents just like me, trying to navigate the crazy, wonderful world of hyperlexia and/or hypernumeracy.

What is hyperlexia?

Hyperlexia can be defined as:

“A precocious, self-taught ability to read words which appears before age 5, and/or an intense fascination with letters, numbers, logos…[accompanied with] significant difficulty in understanding and developing oral language.” 

Basically, my son started reading and spelling words before he turned 2. It was all self-taught. Yet, he cannot carry a conversation, responds to questions with inappropriate answers and sometimes appears as if he didn’t hear me ask a question at all.

I realize (and willingly admit) that I don’t know enough about what hyperlexia is. And honestly, I don’t think a definition does it justice. Yet, I realize many of you won’t know what it is, so I highly suggest reading this hyperlexia pamphlet for more information. Although I cannot define hyperlexia confidently and still don’t really know what it’s about (but I’m learning!), I’ve been living, breathing, and experiencing hyperlexia for five years. That is what I’m going to share with you. I’m going to show you what hyperlexia and hypernumeracy look like.

This is hyperlexia…

Watching movies in their entirety, including the credits, because the credits are filled with letters.

Naming the movie you want to watch by the length of the video playback instead of its title. Yes, calling a movie 1:26:32 instead of its proper title. And yes, he was always that precise.

Walking around the block when you’re just 1 and a half years old and looking at license plates — not just looking but tracing your fingers along every single letter and number on the license plate. Not just one car either. Every single car you walk past.

Turning any kind of loose part into letters and numbers. See hereherehereherehereherehere and especially here.

Reading and spelling difficult words at an early age. And doing it correctly.

Never having a letter reversal stage when learning to write.

Learning to spell in another language when you don’t speak another language and haven’t been taught it.

Never having cute kid-invented spelling when learning to spell and write.

Flipping through every single page in a book before being able to move on to a new task.

Flipping through a new book to find out how many pages there are, browsing the table of contents and perusing the index. Then referring to those books by the number of pages instead of their title.

When asked to draw a picture of a big cat, writing the words “Big Cat” instead.

Going for a walk, passing under street lights, only to have your child say that’s #10 or that’s #12 because, believe it or not, if you look up at that street light, you will find a number. It’s not a particularly large number, but he spotted it.

Writing numbers and letters in chalk all over the deck, the railings, the play structure and even your brother’s hat…

Having meltdowns because the clock in the kitchen says 11:20 and the clock on the thermostat says 11:22 and the clock on the microwave says 11:23.

Covering all the digital clocks in the house for months because, no matter how hard you try, you can never get the darn clocks to stay in sync.

Writing the words “My Duck” with magnets after fighting over a toy duck with your younger sibling. Your age at the time: 3. Your brother’s age: 14 months. Too bad your brother’s not old enough to read!

Taking a blank notebook, writing the page numbers for each page in the book, and then writing “The End” on the last page.

Doing math well beyond your age.

Asking the psychologist if she loves fractions (you just turned 5).

Making an entire clock using plain wooden blocks.

Skip-counting by obscure numbers, like the number 12, at age 4.

Asking, “How many times do I have to tell you that?” and getting this answer: “291 times.” Well played, my son. Well played.

And to give you the full effect, I made a video!

Hyperlexia and hypernumeracy are both extremely fascinating. Some of the things that my son does absolutely blows me away and, oftentimes, I don’t take a photo or write it down. I want to consciously take more photos of what he does and keep a better written record of things he says. To do so, I will be sharing photos of his hyperlexia and hypernumeracy on social media using the hashtag  –>.

Come embrace the world of letters and numbers with us!

If your child has hyperlexia, then please join the fun. Tag your photos on Instagram with  –>. I would love to see them! Or if you’re simply fascinated in learning and seeing more, then be sure to follow  –> for photos, as well as useful hyperlexia resources and articles ( –>).

Want more information on hyperlexia?

–> for additional information, news articles, recommended books, and more.

This post originally appeared on And Next Comes L.

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Originally published: March 11, 2015
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