The Line Between Autism and Hyperlexia Type III: This is My Son

One of my favorite quotes comes from a novel by Janet Fitch:

“The hard things came easy. But the easy things he found impossibly hard.”

This is my son.

Teaching himself to read? Easy. Putting on his shoes. Impossibly hard. Naming the capitals of all 50 U.S states? Easy. Getting his hair washed? Impossibly hard. Counting by 1,000’s? Easy.   Sitting at the dinner table? Impossibly hard.

My son is hyperlexic. Though hyperlexia is often concurrent with Autism– a new literature review cited that 84% of current research links Autism and Hyperlexia– my son has not been diagnosed with Autism. As of this time, he falls into a very small group of a small group of children who hyperlexia expert Dr. Treffert would define as having Hyperlexia Type III.

Type III children may exhibit some Autism red flags, but these behaviors seem to diminish over time. (To read more of his work click here). It is unknown whether this is because children have developed coping behaviors to “fit in” more appropriately with adults and peers, if interventions aimed at socialization improvement have yielded positive results, or just that time has allowed the asyncronicities to level out. 

If you come across this post, it’s likely you have heard of hyperlexia (If you haven’t, head over to What is Hyperlexia?) and you might be curious about what Type III hyperlexia looks like. Your child may or may not be diagnosed with Autism at the present time, and you may feel unsure of the appropriateness of the diagnosis (Type III children don’t necessarily “fit” in terms of Autism characteristics and interventions). Children who seem to outgrow their Autism characteristics (children do not “outgrow” Autism) may in fact have Hyperlexia Type III. 

The following is a list I created of traits my son with hyperlexia type III possessed from birth to age 4.5. I included traits that are specific to hyperlexia, traits that are specific to Autism, as well as traits that are just part of his personality (as these are difficult to exclude). Sensory issues are included, as well (both sensory avoiding and seeking behaviors).

Hyperlexia Type III at 0-1 years:

  • Doesn’t use gestures to communicate (no pointing or waving); giggling is sporadic
  • Enjoys books and has long attention span  for reading
  • Calm and alert baby
  • Learned to walk at 8 months by toddling toward favorite books
  • Doesn’t crawl or pull himself to stand
  • Favorite song is the ABC song; preference towards alphabet toys and wheels

Hyperlexia Type III at 1-2 years:

  • Begins to use some gestures to communicate (learns to wave and hug through coaching, but waving is “off”, still doesn’t point)
  • By first birthday can say Mama and Dada
  • Rarely babbles until close to 2nd birthday
  • Does not show much interest in other toddlers or children
  • Loves books and will listen to fifty books a day
  • Fascination with letters and words
  • Loves to sing the ABC song
  • Points to the letter X on a barn door at 1.5 
  • Exceptional puzzle skills
  • Sensory issues include: dislikes sand or grass on feet, dislikes messy hands
  • Relative (who is a speech pathologist) suggests he might be hyperlexic

Hyperlexia Type III at 2-3 years old:

  • Speech skyrockets on second birthday, almost immediately begins speaking in full sentences
  • Leads to advanced verbal skills, thousands of words
  • Recites books by memory
  • Uses book phrases in daily speech
  • Hand flapping and tip toeing noted by pediatrician (but not enough to “worry”)
  • Continued disinterest in other toddlers, but will play with other children when in small groups
  • Excessive drooling
  • Seeks control and routine
  • Doesn’t focus on who is speaking
  • Cannot remove own clothing or feed himself
  • Fear of vacuum and toilets flushing
  • Reads sight words and signs
  • Spells first word, “excavator”
  • Enjoys word play in language, speaks in a British accent for fun 
  • Early fascination with numbers. Loves to count, especially big numbers, can count by 2’s, 5’s, 10’s, 50’s, 100’s, 1,000’s, etc.
  • Can spell numbers
  • Sensory issues include: notice and extreme dislike of shirt tags, will not do face painting

Type III Hyperlexia at 3-4 years old:

  • Reads books and unfamiliar sight words
  • Enjoys numbers and prefers number toys
  • Enjoys index and table of contents in books
  • Exceptional map skills
  • Teaches himself addition and subtraction
  • Literal thinking prevalent
  • Rarely initiates conversation
  • Struggles with empathy
  • Doesn’t usually respond to adults outside immediate family, selective listening; this is especially true in public situations where there is a lot of outside stimulation
  • Often doesn’t notice or “hear” other people until he is made aware of them
  • Begins to notice and enjoy other children; plays and has fun with other children
  • First half of the year struggled with running away
  • Can follow directions, does best when directions are written
  • Fear of certain seemingly harmless movie scenes; coping methods (sits on couch for vacuuming and wears ear muffs for public restrooming)
  • Sensory issues: must wear socks with shoes, will not wear a blindfold for preschool games, hugs other children at random when admidst a large group setting

Type III Hyperlexia at 4-5 years old:

  • Interests expand, though some interests are intense (See Passion or Obsession?)
  • Continued interest in books, but often enjoys reading books silently; Reading expands beyond extensive sight words, can utilize phonics, as well
  • Conversational skills improve; Begins initiating conversation and contributes in back and forth conversation
  • Interactions with peers improve, though still often participates in “parallel play” at school
  • Successful in a structured preschool environment
  • Selective listening improves dramatically
  • Can now answer wh- questions 
  • Still needs to be “taught” some social behaviors; benefits from social stories at school
  • Likes to “win”, be first in line, be in control of situations 
  • No sensory issues at present time

    As you can see, the prevalence of hyperlexic (and autistic red flag) behaviors is noted in the infant years though increased between the ages of two and three. At the time, we discussed our concerns with two separate pediatricians but were met with blank stares. Pediatricians rarely have knowledge of hyperlexia, and we were only introduced to the idea when a relative suggested it to us. These behaviors are also obvious between the ages of three to four, but in the months before my son’s fourth birthday is when he began first making tremendous strides.

    Since hyperlexia is not an official diagnosis, type III hyperlexia will often be ignored or misunderstood. Any interventions and accommodations, especially in terms of ensuring a successful school experience, will need to be promoted by the parent. We are fortunate this year at school that my son’s teacher is entirely on board with his diagnosis, and that has contributed to him having a very successful year so far. His teacher also wants to work with the special education coordinator and the principal to determine kindergarten placement for next year. His teacher had stated that even though he will not have an IEP for school, we can still advocate for an appropriate environment for our son (more structured classes, less down time, enrichment activities, etc.).

    This list of characteristics of a child with type III hyperlexia is a means to connect with other parents and professionals who may seek further knowledge of the characteristics of hyperlexia. Please feel free to leave a question in the comments section or to email me for further information. This list will be updated as my son grows (he is currently 4.5 years old). 

    21 Comments

    1. My son at age 3 would greet another child by pushing them over … and when I asked him to say sorry – he would SPELL it! My son is now 9 and most of the challenging behaviours are gone, though he wants a map of space for Christmas. He used the most recent holidays to learn Morse code and Greek!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lynette thanks for commenting…I love hearing about how older children are doing! My son does the pushing, as well, though currently hugging seems to be more of an issue. :-p Wonderful to hear that a lot of challenging behaviors have been eliminated, and that your son is doing so well. Yes, I think these kids definitely have a knack for teaching themselves a new language; we are seeing some of that already, too!

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    2. This is fascinating. I never knew what hyperlexia was until tonight. What an exceptional child! It’s almost like the brain only has so much room to process everything at once, so while some kids’s brains focus on social progress others focus on more “academic” progress. That’s great to read about his social progress at 4y!!

      Liked by 1 person

    3. This is SO similar to my son! He doesn’t have sensory issues or issues with empathy, but the rest of it is spot-on! He loves to spell and count and can read a ridiculous number of words. He’s 3.5. He does go to preschool and gets services for speech/social delays, and his teachers seem stumped by him and getting him to engage in group activities. He likes to be with the other kids but doesn’t quite “get” how to interact with them beyond hugging and petting them (can you tell he had only feline siblings until recently?) I’m so glad to have found Hyperlexia III to describe his quirks.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. Thanks for your post. My DD is 3 years old and read all her pet the cat stories by herself . always interested in reading whatever she sees . But she also babbling most of the time . She understands all commands but sometimes very stubborn to follow and choose to ignore. She also loves to be around the kids but do not know how to play with them.always wants to be engaged.

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    5. Hi, my son(1 yr 8 months) is very social when he is around known people, he seeks attention from every one in the family (for e.g. by calling them by their names and playing with them). He even has started liking to play peek a boo with unknown people when he is outside. He communicates with so many words. Sometimes uses two word phrases but what I am worried about is he intensely loves numbers (knows 1 to 10 and loves to recite them) and now Alphabets. He recites all the alphabets from A-Z almost all the time now. He recognises them all (but J,L,N,G,) he also knows basic shapes, basic colours, animal names and their voices. But his intense interest in alphabet worries me a lot. Whenever he sees any alphabet written anywhere he will surely recite all the alphabet for once at least. My question is does this qualifies for hyperlaxia??

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Diane! It does indeed sound like your son has Hyperlexia. The fascination with letters and numbers was one of the defining factors for us at that age. Fortunately, my son’s interests have expanded beyond that (though at 4.5 he still does love some of the typical hyperlexia interests – flags, geography, the periodic table, etc.). I would recommend visiting the Hyperlexia Parents Network on Facebook. They are a great resource for new parents learning about hyperlexia, and it really helps to talk with other parents who are experiencing similar issues. Also, feel free to email me with any questions you may have: unrewardedgeniuses@hotmail.com.

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        1. Hi Diane, some children with hyperlexia do benefit from therapy (typically speech and/or occupational therapy). My son has not yet needed any, but this is case by case specific. It depends on if they are struggling in any areas developmentally. I would bring up any concerns with your pediatrician and they will be able to give you a referral for an evaluation. You can also contact early intervention in your area if you are in the United States.

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    6. Hi, my son just turned 4 and he fits in almost all the behaviours that you have mentioned year by year. We have come across the word Hyperlexia III in the internet when we were extremely worried that if his symptoms are of Autism. As you said his worrysome behaviors have already started to fade out, and we are very happy to see that change every day. But right now our biggest concern is that he tends to use his hands on other kids when he gets restless or nervous, so he gets timeout from his teacher at preschool almost everyday. Any suggestions or tips for this would be great appreciated. Thanks in advance.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Preetha! I am glad you discovered HL3! Finding out what triggers his behaviors is so important. You said that he is physical when he is restless or nervous. What specifically is causing this behavior? We have had a very similar issue this year at preschool, and it was discovered that boredom was the main culprit. That is something we are still working on, but my son’s teacher has discovered that it helps when he is given more choices (for ex. he will get three choices and one will be time out)…this has been keeping my son out of time out, since he dislikes it so much! It encourages him to cooperate and to keep his hands to himself.

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    7. My daughter was recently diagnosed with Hyperlexia. She was born on November 6, 2015.
      I know for sure that my daughter has Hyperlexia but I just want to figure out whether she has Hyperlexia 2 or 3…if somebody figure it out then please tell me because the ‘experts’ feel that she is autistic.
      I was wondering how your son is doing now…how old is he now?
      I would really appreciate if you could take out time and read my daughter’s symptoms, which I am listing below; but before writing her symptoms I have some questions which I’m listing below:
      *was his speech robotic when he started to talk? When children with Hyperlexia 3 start talking do they talk in a ‘robotic’ manner?
      *the symptoms I listed below how much of it matches your son?
      *do you think my daughter has Hyperlexia 2 or 3 by reading the symptoms
      *M was born on November 6, 2015 without any birth difficulty or birth problem and passed the hearing test
      *She could not latch very well so couldn’t get enough breast milk
      *M is a very normal looking child and most of the time people don’t notice that she might have some problem…
      *She began to spell at 16 months
      *She knew A-Z at 16 months, now she can spell and read words which are unknown to her (without understanding the meaning)
      *she has a very sharp memory (one can call it photographic memory)
      *she loved to play educational games in her iPad but for the last three months we didn’t let her touch the iPad, instead we let her watch tv at times
      *she sleeps well
      *April 1, 2018 she had her baby sister and she doesn’t like her sister’s cries and the cries can wake her up at night and it really bothers her…she acts as if her sister does not exist…
      *She knows the names of all colors, shapes, numbers, fruits, vegetables, animals and their sounds, day to day common objects, household items, seasons, days, months and many more and can easily label them…
      *she does not have any sensitivity towards sound, textures, clothes tags and so on (recently two days before she turned two and half I’m noticing that she is putting her fingers in her ears for couple of seconds several times a day for no reason but is not crying)
      *she did not like to eat anything that’s sweet such as ice cream, chocolates, fruits and so on…other than sweet food she is willing to try anything new… (at age two and half she is trying mashed fruits and eats yogurt of different flavors)
      *she does not give hugs or kisses but understands them when she receives them and smiles
      *she laughs out loud when she is happy
      *she does not make much eye contact (she makes eye contact at times only)
      *she does not respond to her name (her speech therapist calls it ‘selective Listening’ as she responds to her name when we call her for something that she wants and she is interested in
      *she does not understand verbal language and also fails to use written language functionally (she knows a lot of words but does not use any functionally)
      Do children with Hyperlexia 3 understand certain simple commands such as come, sit, go, eat at an early age before language actually develops? (The reason I’m asking is because my daughter doesn’t understand any verbal/written language such as the simple ones mentioned above but she can label hundreds of objects in daily life…for example if I show her a picture of an open or closed door she can say open/closed door but when she wants me to open the bathroom door she cannot say open door…)
      *her speech therapist is teaching her to say ‘open’ for the last three months but still she is not using this word functionally
      *she started lining up at around age two years two months; she lines up her toys and sometimes plays with them too, depending upon her mood…(there are certain toys which she never plays appropriately with, such as soft toys/stuffed dolls, tea set, etc. she is more interested in educational toys such as shapes sorting, etc.
      *she does not call us daddy, mommy, sister, grandma, etc… but she knows all these words as she loves to sing the finger family song…sometimes she looks at us and say daddy mommy as if she is labeling us but does not call us when she needs us
      *when her daddy comes home from work she acts as if she did not notice him … sometimes she acts deaf but we know that she listens as when we call her to give her her favorite bread and butter or chips (Lays sour cream and onion) she runs to us…another example of ‘selective listening’…
      *she is very interested in songs and melodies…and can sing many nursery rhymes
      *she does not have ecolalia
      *they call her high functioning hyperlexia as she can get things done when she wants something…such as, she pulls us and takes us to the thing she wants (if it is out of reach for her)
      Can children with Hyperlexia ‘2’ express their needs? (The reason I’m asking is because when my daughter needs something she expresses it using body language and gestures…her speech therapist is teaching her sign language but she doesn’t use them at all… is this a sign of Hyperlexia 3 or 2
      *On ‘average’ at what age can we distinguish between Hyperlexia 2 and 3? At what age did you find out that your son has Hyperlexia 3 and not 2?
      *Do some children at first look like Hyperlexia 3 but later on become Hyperlexia 2 as they start to regress? (The reason I’m asking is because by daughter was diagnosed at around 2 years 2 months; she started lining up a month after her diagnosis…previously she would say the words I taught her very clearly but after receiving speech therapy for about three months she can’t pronounce certain letter properly and it is effecting her speech and it seems more robotic, for example previously she would know how to say thank you but now she says ‘bhank you’ [please note that she says words but not functionally]…I feel that when she is saying words now a days her tongue is getting twisted and coming in between)
      *she gets three hours of speech therapy, one hour OT and one hour Social Service each week (OT and Social Service are teaching her to eat sweet food and bounce on yoga ball)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. First of all, your daughter sounds amazing!! I know as parents we want to do what we feel is best for our children and it sounds like you are doing that! So good job to you Mom! 🙂 Some people get frightened when they hear “Autism,” but really what this label is doing is allowing your daughter to get the services she needs to be successful in life (it sounds like she is already receiving therapies, which is great!!) A recent study showed that 85% of children with hyperlexia are also diagnosed with Autism. So the percentage of HL3 kids is relatively small. Further, HL3 is only identified because children outgrow or change considerably as they grow; so it really is impossible to tell which category you daughter will fall into at 2.5 years old. The positive note is that the earlier your child receives services (OT, speech, etc), the better outcome they will have in life! And the Autism label is helping her get those services . So I know it’s hard, but continue with her therapies and focus on the progress she is making. If she is like my son and the other HL kids out there, she will amaze you every day (regardless if she is HL2 or HL3)!! Feel free to email me at unrewardedgeniuses@hotmail.com. I’d love to go into further detail and answer any other questions you may have.

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    8. My son is diagnosed with moderate autism with hyperlexia. We believe the reading started around one yr of age He could woek a computer better than I. Had a obsession with letters and numbers. He is now 7 and can read very well, but still has autism symptoms. The Dr. said hyperlexia can come with autism and its not very common. They want to test his IQ. thats it.. I would like alot more testing done on him to see if anything else could be going on. One concern is his older sister has epilepsy but didn’t get diagnosed til 21 when she had her first grand mal. Would love to speak with other parents. I’m lost and not sure if Drs. are familiar with this diagnosis. thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. His Rebecca. Hyperlexia is not very common and it is still in it’s early stages of research and discovery. You may find it helpful to pose your question to a hyperlexia parent’s group of Facebook. There are two very good ones and the parents in the group may help you to determine what testing might be beneficial for your son! Good luck!

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    9. My daughter sounds very similar to your son. Did the toe walking and hand flapping stop? Or is your son still experiencing these symptoms? If they stopped, what strategies did you use to correct especially the toe walking?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Mary, thanks for the comment. For my son, toe walking has completely disappeared. It was never really something we saw; it was only pointed out to us that he was doing it. Currently, he does hand flap occasionally when tired. For instance every other week or so we may see him running around the house flapping his hands while doing so. Sometimes he is pretending to fly, so I’m not sure if is actually related or not, to be honest. That being said, it was never something that we intentionally discouraged. Stimming behaviors are known to be calming, so there was no reason to correct it, since he was not hurting himself in any way. Please let me know if you have other questions or if you would like to know what kind of interventions I do work with him at home. 😊

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