Hyperlexia – A precocious, self-taught ability to read words which appears before age five, and/or an intense fascination with letters, numbers, shapes…accompanied with significant difficulty in understanding and developing oral language.
A self taught reader before the age of five has got to be a great thing, right? It is great and we are immensely proud of her, however this advanced reading ability is in direct contrast with her difficulties understanding spoken language.
Unlike other children, hyperlexic children don’t learn language in the usual way. The way a typical child would learn language is a progression of sounds to words and then to sentences. Instead, hyperlexic children, who have amazing visual and auditory memories, memorise phrases, sentences and even entire conversations. It’s this memory that then helps them to learn language.
The repetition of phrases and sentences without understanding the meaning is known as “Echolalia” and is something Neiva has been doing most of the time when communicating her thoughts and feelings with us. We are so glad she has used echolalia to communicate with us, especially in the early days. It helped us work out what she was trying to say.
The majority of the time, when Neiva uses echolalia, fortunately, it is in context. However, we are using the technique of giving her key phrases to memorise to try and weed out the odd few comfort phrases she would repeat that have no context. For example, when she was frustrated or angry, she would say “snap! I win again!” (A Charlie & Lola phrase) and stamp her foot. When she does this, we know to tell her:
- What the emotion she is feeling (“Neiva is feeling frustrated” or “Neiva is feeling angry/cross”)
- What she should say instead (“I am feeling cross” or “I am feeling frustrated”)
- What she needs to do to feel better (take a deep breath and blow the angry away/give mummy a hug)
This ritual is crucial for her to remember. The more she does it, the easier it will be for her to communicate that emotion to us and more importantly, know how to deal with that particular emotion independently.
Her love of letters and numbers has followed her to the choice of films she watches. Winnie the Pooh is a particular family favourite. We watch it often on our family movie nights. It is so gentle and simple with catchy songs.
What I love about the 2011 film, is that words in the book play a role in the story. Neiva loves this. I do feel the storybook setting that features throughout play a major role in loving this film.
Just tonight, after a bedtime story, we snuggled down to watch Pooh at Neiva’s request, laughing loudly at the part where he is so hungry, everything he sees turns to honey, including the words of the book the narrator is reading “honey honey honey honey honey”.
As I am typing this, Neiva is almost asleep. The credits for the film are still rolling. (We have to watch the credits roll up until the end, another hyperlexia trait) She stirs “Pooh bear again please mummy” she sighs quietly and slowly starts to sleep gently.
“Night night my little bear”