The “Smart Kid Disorder” You’ve Never Heard of

I was hyperlexic when I was young; also, obsessed with reading....

We rely on our children’s pediatricians in the early years when we have a question, their teachers for information when we can, and when all else fails, we turn to the internet. I, myself, have typed into a search bar looking for answers on many occasions. “How can I get my toddler to sleep through the night? How can I get my toddler to eat a vegetable? How is it possible that my toddler just read me a book?” Well, I guess that last one isn’t typical, but it is a question that I have had to Google before. It is a question that quite a few parents have had to Google, actually, and we all have something in common: our kids have Hyperlexia.

I am guessing you have never heard of Hyperlexia. Neither had we, until we stumbled upon blogs by other parents and a few journal articles written by a handful of doctors and researchers who took an interest in it. Hyperlexia is complicated, but a good general way to describe it is a precocious reading ability and an intense fascination with letters and numbers that is accompanied by issues comprehending verbal language. Hyperlexic kids have extremely strong visual and auditory memory which they use to break down TV shows, conversations, music, anything to learn something new. Often, they can recite shows they have seen or books that have been read to them verbatim after being exposed to it once or twice. This act is called “echolalia” and is one theory surrounding the idea of how they teach themselves to read, some as young as two years old. (Bainbridge, “If my Toddler”). Hyperlexia is in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (also referred to as the DSM), but not as a diagnosis. In this manual, which is basically the Bible of disorders, it is characterized as a splinter skill of children with autism. But, a lot of our kids don’t have autism. My son has had two separate evaluations to prove it.

According to Dr. Darold Treffert, who is a leading expert on Hyperlexia, there are three different types. Type 1: Neurotypical children who read early. Type 2: Children with autism who have Hyperlexia as a splinter skill. Type 3: Children without autism who read early, but have some autistic-like traits that fade over time. (Treffert, “Oops! When autism”). If a disorder is not considered a diagnosable disorder in the DSM, it doesn’t technically exist and doesn’t get diagnosed. Hyperlexic kids often have sensory issues and autistic-like traits that require early intervention, but these services are hard or impossible to get without a diagnosis. Not to mention the fact that it is hard for doctors and educators to help your child with hyperlexic issues when they have no idea what that means. Hyperlexia needs to be added into the DSM as a stand-alone diagnosis so that hyperlexic kids who do not have autism, can get the help they need to foster their strengths and overcome their challenges.