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.
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.
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:
- Take bath
- Brush teeth
- Put on pajamas
- Get in bed
- Read book
- 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.
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.
This article was featured in Issue 69 – The Gift of Calm This Season