A young woman looks up toward images flowing from an open book with pages riffling


Image credit: “Neurodivergent #2: When visions leap off the page” by Betsy Selvam

Hyperlexia is when a child starts reading early and surprisingly beyond their expected ability. It’s often accompanied by an obsessive interest in letters and numbers, which develops as an infant.

Hyperlexia is often, but not always, part of the autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It’s considered a “splinter skill,”…

Hyperlexia: What It Means, What the Symptoms Are, and More

These findings are consistent with reported associations between autism and hyperlexia, which involves early intense spontaneous interest in written materials

What interests young autistic children? An exploratory study of object exploration and repetitive behavior | PLOS ONE

Hyperlexia (Silverberg and Silverberg, 1967), a spontaneous (uninstructed), precocious, interest- driven ability to decode written words is also strongly associated with autism (Grigorenko et al., 2002).

Learning in Autism in Cognitive Psychology of Memory. Vol. 2

Hyperlexia is defined as the co-occurrence of advanced reading skills relative to comprehension skills or general intelligence, the early acquisition of reading skills without explicit teaching, and a strong orientation toward written material, generally in the context of a neurodevelopmental disorder. In this systematic review of cases (N = 82) and group studies (including 912 participants of which 315 are hyperlexic), we address: whether the hyperlexic profile is associated with autism and why, whether models of non-autistic reading can teach us about hyperlexia, and what additional information we can get from models specific to autistic cognitive functioning. We find that hyperlexia, or a hyperlexic-like profile, characterises a substantial portion of the autistic spectrum, in which the subcomponents of the typical reading architecture are altered and dissociated. Autistic children follow a chronologically inverted path when learning to read, and make extended use of the perceptual expertise system, specifically the visual word form recognition systems.

  • Hyperlexia is characterised by strong decoding skills and delayed comprehension.
  • Hyperlexia is strongly associated with autism (84% of cases are on the spectrum).
  • Autistic children learn to read through an inverted, non-communicative, pathway.
  • Hyperlexia is mediated by the extended use of the perceptual expertise system.
  • Favouring hyperlexia may be tested during intervention to foster communication.

The term “hyperlexia” was coined in 1967 by Silberberg and Silberberg (1968)Silberberg and Silberberg (1967). Four features consistently describe hyperlexia: (1) the presence of an accompanying neurodevelopmental disorder; (2) advanced reading skills, relative to comprehension skills or general intelligence; (3) an early acquisition of reading skills without explicit teaching; and (4) a strong orientation toward reading material (Needleman, 1982).

Hyperlexia: Systematic review, neurocognitive modelling, and outcome – ScienceDirect

Some autistics possess the ability to read very fast. This involves habitually scanning text considerable distance ahead while reading (scanning ahead is a skill all readers have, while we are not aware we do it). Personally, I find I am able to read aloud while simultaneously thinking about something entirely different.

The Awesome Symptoms of Autism

As a child growing up, I was the quiet one, the loner who played quietly in the corner and was left alone. 

I don’t remember discovering books, but I remember reading, oh boy do I remember reading. Twice weekly visits to the library, staggering out with a stack of seven or eight books in my arms in a Public Library where the Librarians knew me by name, but I didn’t know theirs, not even recognise their faces. 

According to my Mum I was fully reading by age four. I remember we had a little bookcase in our kitchen that was filled with a random selection of James Herbert, George Eliot, Emily Bronte, Dostoevsky and Tolkien. I can recall the smell of them: they were old and musty; and the touch: the spines were worn smooth. 

I wouldn’t be able to tell you which book i picked up first, or the second but I’d read The Lord of the Rings by the time I was seven. 

That’s not normal behaviour. I actually have a retrospective diagnosis of Hyperlexia

How did they miss me?

I hid it at school, I remember actively thinking, that I had to cull my reading, make it seem like there was nothing different about me, nothing that would make me stand out.

I look back at my Parents and wonder: how did they miss me? – The Autistic Advocate

Hyperlexia + autism has set me up for a lifetime of broad incomprehensibility.

A Hyperlexic Autistic on Twitter

Further reading,