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Dyslexia vs. Hyperlexia – What’s the Difference?

By: Tammy Jordan, SLP

Given that approximately 50% of children who have ADHD also have a coexisting case of dyslexia, I spend a great deal of my time at Connections talking about dyslexia.[1] While most parents have some understanding of dyslexia, few have ever heard of a word called hyperlexia. Basically, the root word “lexia” means “words,” while the prefix “dys” means “difficulty,” the prefix “hyper” means “over” or “above.” Therefore, dyslexia and hyperlexia can be relatively thought of as polar opposites.

Dyslexia implies that a child is struggling to learn the basic principles of reading, despite being formally exposed. Hyperlexia means that a child has learned to read intuitively with little to no formal training. Both the dyslexic and the hyperlexic can be intellectually gifted; however, both are considered learning disabilities.

Dyslexic children exhibit difficulty learning letters and sounds, as well as difficulty sounding out words. Once this has been mastered, however, reading comprehension is relatively intact. On the flip side, hyperlexic children can easily name letters and sounds and sound out the words, but they usually exhibit difficulty with reading comprehension.

While children with dyslexia do not necessarily have a history of language delay, hyperlexia is usually accompanied by a deficit in language development. Very Well Family Magazine described it as the “acquisition of exceptional reading ability in a young child who also happens to have a delay in the area of speech/language.”[1] By age two, the hyperlexic child tends to develop a deep fascination with letters or numbers and can easily name letters, etc. Mastery of this skill occurs much earlier than expected and often occurs much earlier than age-appropriate vocabulary development.[2] Therefore, the hyperlexic may not be saying “daddy,” “mama,” “hi” or “bye,” but may have committed to memory every letter of the alphabet and then go on to intuitively sound out and blend simple words effortlessly. Children with hyperlexia generally have impaired vocabulary development and communication difficulties, consequently, hyperlexia can be one of the first signs of autism.[3] Approximately 84% of young children who have a history of language delay and hyperlexia are eventually diagnosed with autism.[4]

It should be noted that early development of reading ability in a child who is exceptionally gifted should not be confused with a child who has hyperlexia.[5] Hyperlexia is accompanied by either a speech or language delay. If a parent has any concerns regarding the characteristics of hyperlexia or speech and language development in a young child, feel free to contact a staff member at Connections for an evaluation.

Information on this page should be utilized as a guide, not as medical advice. If you feel you need to speak with someone regarding counseling or mental health, please contact Psychology & Counseling to make an appointment. At Psychology & Counseling, we offer counseling and mental health assessments. Following diagnosis, we work with you to determine the best course of treatment and counseling for you. If you would like to schedule an appointment, please call us at (601) 261-1650.