Hyperlexia and Hypernumeracy with Autism – The Best Ways to Manage

For several years I’ve worked with children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). When my son was diagnosed as being on the spectrum, I became a mother in denial. I knew that there was something else or something more to him and his challenges. I began researching and eventually I came across an article written by a psychiatrist; the article described hyperlexia. Hyperlexia is described as the precocious self-taught ability to read usually before age five without comprehension of what is being read. The author of the article described three different types of hyperlexia. I felt the article described my son perfectly. Upon reading it, I reached out to the doctor thanking him for all the information that was provided and informed him how his article gave me the answers and acceptance that I was searching for.

Best Ways to Manage Hyperlexia and Hypernumeracy with Autism

My son Eddie is a playful and affectionate little boy. Some of the activities that Eddie enjoys includes drawing, reading, writing, counting, completing puzzles, watching game shows, playing computer games, and running, or better yet getting chased. Eddie is the youngest of three children. He was the perfect baby. He was calm, quiet, and rarely fussy. He developed normally and met most major milestones. However, he spoke only a few words. I just assumed that it was a part of his persona and that he would be a late talker.

Around age three, Eddie started going through phases in which he became fascinated with certain animated characters, logos, and people. He was compelled to write and or draw these characters everywhere, including his books, the hardwood floors, the walls, and even on his body. He would also walk around the house spelling out these obsessions aloud and or writing them in the air with his pointer finger.

When in the community, he would label locations, signs, or billboards. I assumed that he memorized the logos. One day I overheard him reading out loud from a book that we’ve never read and I was amazed that he was actually reading the words. At age four, he was evaluated and diagnosed as having symptoms associated with ASD. Although he scored very poorly and below his age range in most areas, he scored very high in his ability to read. Since his diagnosis, he has received speech and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy.

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Overall, Eddie is very quiet. He’s not much of a talker, and when he speaks, it’s usually between one and three words in length. I’ve noticed that when he’s angry, he’s better able to express himself. When he really wants something, he is motivated to talk. If he’s not motivated, he just remains quiet and ignores everyone. Everything that he does is pretty much on his terms. When he’s thirsty, he will go to the refrigerator take out juice, get a cup, pour out some juice, and then drink it. Or he will find me, take my hand, lead me to the kitchen, open the refrigerator and put my hand on the juice rather than saying, “I want juice.”
Eddie is only able to follow some simple one-step directions; however, he is able to read paragraphs in a chapter book. If I recite a sentence to him, he is able to write it and spell most words accurately, yet he has no comprehension of what he’s reading or writing. Since Eddie is such a strong reader, I use his strength to teach him. Some of the techniques that I’ve implemented in order to better help him understand what he’s reading include labeling objects within our home. For example, the garbage can is labeled. When I give him an item and the direction “put in garbage,” I point to the label on the garbage can indicating to him that this is garbage and that this is where the item should go.

I also have a list of easily accessible phrases on a wall in the dining room. When Eddie wants something he usually gets it himself, brings it to me, or reads the label to me. I then tell them him that he has to use all his words if he wants it and direct him to the phrase “I want ___.” I then have him read the entire phrase out loud; this process usually takes a while, but I wait him out. I also have “yes,” “no,” “please,” and “thank you” that I prompt him to use in context. Another method that I use is having checklist of some of his daily routines. For example, when its bedtime, he has a checklist which he reads, completes, and then crosses off tasks as he completes them. As he performs each step, I comment on what he’s doing: “I’m taking a bath,” etc. Here is a sample bedtime routine:

  1. Take bath
  2. Brush teeth
  3. Put on pajamas
  4. Get in bed
  5. Read book
  6. Go to sleep

In addition to being a great reader, Eddie is fascinated with numbers; this is referred to as hypernumeracy. He can count beyond what is expected for the average five year old. He can label numbers, count backwards and forwards, fill in missing numbers on a number line, and identify numerous shapes. Currently, I’m teaching him addition, and slowly we will build upon those skills. I’m certain one day he will excel beyond what I am able to teach him in math. This fall, Eddie will be entering kindergarten, I believe that academically he’s mastered the kindergarten curriculum. However, I fear that his abilities will be overlooked and all that will be seen are his disabilities.

This article was featured in Issue 69 – The Gift of Calm This Season


Shernette Julal

Shernette Julal works as an ABA therapist in NYC. She lives outside of the city and is the mother of three boys. She enjoys spending time with her family. She also enjoys writing and has decided to share her experiences with her son with autism and his awesome abilities in an attempt inform and inspire other families.

  • Avatar Angel says:

    Enjoyed the article would like to read more

  • Avatar Duchess smith says:

    I just started a session for single moms w autistic kids and I’m learning new things that can come w being on the spectrum. My son hated using a writing tool because it was hard to hold. Now that he has the hang of it he is attempting to write sentences and peoples names. Strange but interesting. He has an amazing ability w numbers that has to be explored. He just turned six. Articles like this one are so inspiring. We focus on his weaknesses but I’d love understanding his strengths. Thank u for sharing.

  • Wonderful to read about so many exciting experiences families are involved in with a member on the spectrum. Inspiring and affirmative!

  • Avatar Rhian Peart says:

    I also have an Eddie! Who like your Eddie is autistic with hyperlexia and hypernumeracy. He is 4 and a half and reads to the level of an 8 year old. I was also the same as a child and waiting to undergo assessment for autism too

  • Avatar Staci Bazemore says:

    Hello my son was just diagnosed with Autism. Thank you for sharing this article because I feel as though my son fits alot of the same characteristics as your son. I am looking for help and support in navigating this path to best help and support my son. I would love to talk to you more over the phone or email if possible.

  • Avatar Shaine says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this! I have a little guy who was diagnosed asd and it never fit. This Hyperlexic diagnosis is him to a t!!! I get like I was reading about my little guy through your words. Thanks again! Would love to hear more about Eddie!

  • Avatar Tiffannie Deflorimonte says:

    Thanks so much for the article. I live in NYC and I’m currently looking for a school for my 3 year old. He’s just aged out of early intervention. He’s Hyperlexia and Also fascinated with numbers. He can count well into the thousands and taught himself addition subtraction and multiplication. He could write and hold a pencil by 2.5 but his words really only started coming out right before his third birthday. He was diagnosed with autism at 18months and I’ve come to terms with it but I’m afraid as you are that everyone is looking over all the amazing things he can do and only focusing on the fact that he isn’t communicating normally. Is your son in public or private school. How was it for him in preschool?

  • Avatar Christina says:

    My son turns 3 next week. This all sound so much like him. He’s not reading yet, but he can memorize any word in seconds and then it’s in his memory forever. He also will spell that word and then show me the magnet corresponding or a stuffed animal if it’s a “turtle” or “elephant” so he definitely gets what he is spelling. He’s been counting for over a year and can do addition easily. He can Count forwards and backwards. The newest thing he did this week was fascinating! He was saying numbers so I decided to write them down. 70+ numbers and he can say them correctly, and order every time. And I can start anywhere in the sequence. Also he likes to count every other number with me if I use his list. I’m not sure what that is.
    Thanks for writing what you did!!! I might try using some lists because he pulls me by the hand and directs me to whatever he wants as well. And he has used his words before when he really wants it, but usually not at all!!

  • Avatar J says:

    This article describes my son 100%. He is now 3.5yo and was diagnosed recently at age 3. How is Eddie doing now? I worry about my son but it’s good to connect with someone with skills similar to his and see how they are doing. Thank you much.

  • Avatar Tiffany says:

    Wow! Sounds just like my son. He is 3 years old. I’ve seen him multiply up to 7x table. He can do addition and subtraction. He reads words when he sees them but I’ve never heard him read an entire book. He has taught himself how to count to 20 in Japanese and Spanish I supper the has also picked up Hindu. His memory is impeccable, but he doesn’t speak much. He was diagnosed at 18 months and then again before his 3rd birthday. My question is how do you teach anything that is not related to numbers? He’s having a hard time transitioning out lately.

    • Avatar April says:

      Hello, Tiffany. Thank you for the wonderful comment and for sharing this with us.
      Please feel free to check our other helpful posts here, just simply search the keyword of an article you wanted to read and it will suggest a couple of blogs for you:https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/search-autism-articles/

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      at the bottom of the article titles. Enjoy reading and keep safe!

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