Hyperlexia in a Four Year Old

“I just kicked his butt!!!” my son exclaimed as he plays his favorite racing game.

My husband and I exchange a smile over the use of my son’s language. Just last year he would never had said something as ambiguous and informal as “kicked butt.” Is our four year old starting to sound like a typical four year old?

Last year at this time we would never have heard something like that. Slang was unheard of. His thinking was too literal. But this year has brought out so many changes in his hyperlexia. A few years ago when we first heard of hyperlexia, we were eager to determine how it would impact his future, especially in terms of if and how he would relate to others. Later, we identified with Hyperlexia, even as he began to outgrow some unusual behaviors.

An Example

Today my son had a playdate at our house with a boy from school. At conferences a few weeks ago, his preschool teacher told us that he has been working on initiating a conversation to play and has been making progress.

But today I got to see it happen firsthand.

When his school friend arrived, he ran to the door to greet him. His excitement was obvious, and he verbally asked his friend to come join him to play with his Hot Wheels. Being the first time at our house it took his new friend a few minutes to warm up, but after a few minutes the two were playing together like besties. They were able to have small conversations, utilized turn taking and sharing skills, and played together happily.

During the few hours that his friend was around they also played separately with different toys, but this was sporadic and was naturally and nonverbally agreed upon by both boys. For example, my son didn’t shut himself off with a book with no concern or care that another person was there as he has done previously.

What Hyperlexia Looks Like

So what does Hyperlexia look like for my son now that he is making some headway socially? Here are some ways that his hyperlexia has changed since it’s peak (at two and three years of age):

  • Reading. His fascination with books has died down significantly since he learned to read. Whereas he used to devour thirty or forty books a day, he now reads four or five books. He also currently prefers nonfiction books to stories, though we often catch him listening when I read princess books to his sister, as books still do draw him in.
  • Interactions with Text. Yesterday we drove by a church, and he said “Look you can win that car. I think I’d like to win that,” after we passed a sign on a car that said “Win this car!” I can’t imagine how he can process and comprehend so much textual information around him all the time, but he does so successfully. He doesn’t read everything aloud to us, only things that interest him or that he thinks we may find interesting. He has a large list of sight words, but he is also able to sound out unknown words. He hasn’t been tested for comprehension, but does not currently show any delays.
  • Letters and Numbers. One of the defining characteristics of hyperlexia (and the adjacent hypernumeracy) is that all-out love and obsession with letters and numbers. And while he still enjoys some letter and number play, especially with his little sister, it has changed drastically from his early years. They are not his only interests, and he will interact with letter and number toys in ways that any other preschooler would.
  • Passion for interests. He still has a strong passion for his interests (it’s one of the things we love about his personality!), but his number of interests has grown, and he enjoys sharing his interests with others. He has many interests he can share with his peers, including but not limited to racing, trucks and trains, Disney characters, Legos, and building/taking things apart. Some of his interests are still not age typical (geography, periodic table, physics, mathematics), but they are not all encompassing interests.
  • Speech. His speech has come a long way from quoting text out of books. He initiates conversations and participates in back and forth conversations. He also has shown improvements regarding his selective listening. He still has some speech oddities that come and go, including made up words and randomly talking about numbers and math. For example, without anything else to say, he will say something along the lines of “what’s 100 + 100.” Not really posed as a question, as he already knows the answer, but just as a filler for actual conversation.

In a previous UG post, I suggested that hyperlexia, especially in my son’s situation, is best viewed as a social disorder. Check out: Categorizing Hyperlexia as a Social Disability.

Viewing it through this lens allows parents and professionals to focus on appropriate social interventions for hyperlexic children. It also allows for progress among hyperlexic children, especially in terms of the social realm. At four and a half my son has not yet outgrown his hyperlexia label, but we are seeing obvious changes in his development.

We will keep monitoring his behaviors as he continues to kindergarten next year. As consistent with other Hyperlexic children, his placement is currently unknown as his asynchronous development still remains a challenge in terms of academia (currently math and reading level 2nd/3rd grade). But we will keep taking life one day at a time. And focus on the accomplishments as they come. Hyperlexia is quite the journey, and we are looking forward to where it leads us next.


  1. Thank you for sharing story. I have a 3 year old that’s been reading since 2 and has speech delays. What have you found with your son’s development as you are a few years out?


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