Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Hyperlexia and Comprehension

It has been stated that hyperlexic kids often have tremendous difficulty with reading comprehension once their peers catch up to their reading level and academic expectations tighten up. An SLT who worked very well with Jason and really helped him a lot 'warned' us of this. I recently recall Ms. Clark alluding to this with one of her kids as well commenting on another blog.
This is not always, however, the case.

My son's school began a new program yesterday called Book-It. It works like this:
A child has one month to complete ten books.
Completing a book means reading it themselves or having an adult read to them.
If they successfully complete 10 books in the month's time, they receive a coupon for a free Personal Pan Pizza at Pizza Hut.

Keep in mind that my son started Kindergarten just a few weeks ago. Keep also in mind that they happened to pick a powerful motivator - Pizza. Jason loves Pizza the way Pandas love bamboo, the way Spongebob loves Crabby Patties, the way ... you get the picture.

It is now approximately 30 hours (hours, not days) since the program was announced. Jason has read 8 books. All by himself. We can't keep him away from books right now. He finds one in one of our household's kids' book stacks (they're everywhere) and races off to a quiet spot to read. A short time later he will reappear and request that this book be added to the Book-It list.

Last night he brought me an old Disney publication of "Peter Pan and Mary". This book was 24 pages long, maybe 40-50 words per page. I was skeptical that he had done more than look at the pictures, so I quizzed him.
"Jason, what is the dog's name?"
"How does Peter Pan help them fly?"
(Excited, flapping hands) "Dust!"
"What are the boys in Neverland called?"
"The Lost Boys."
"Who is Hook's enemy?"
"No, Smee is Hook's mate. Who is Hook's enemy?"
"Hungry Crocodile!"

I can't wait to take Jason for his victory Pizza at Pizza Hut. Thing is, we'll have to wait a month for his peers to finish their books first.


isles said...

Yay for Jason!

I'm not usually a fan of book logs, but WOW, was this ever the motivator for him!

AnneC said...

Wow! I remember the Book-It program...they had that back when I was in elementary school. Which, considering I'm 28, was a while ago. Good for your kid!

Another Autism Mom said...

That's so exciting! My 4-year-old son is hyperlexic too, but he's still not ready for long stories like Peter Pan. He won't even watch any Disney movies. I read with him a lot, to see if it expands his horizons and vocabulary, and his ability to enjoy and focus on a narrative. Hopefully he'll get to Jason's level when he's the same age. : )

Steve D said...

AnneC -
If Jason stays at his current pace until he is your age, he will have read 67,130 books!
I think now is a good time to buy that Barnes & Noble membership card (sigh)
Isles - thanks, he does show a competitive streak sometimes too, and this also plays into it.
AAM-If they tell you to be wary of comprehension b/c of hyperlexia, listen to them but be prepared for this to not happen. Otherwise you risk not presuming competence, whcih is a mistake with any kid.

Ms. Clark said...

That's amazing. My kid could read easily but was never a voracious reader ... which seems to be a hallmark of autistic hyperlexics... at least the ones who get written about.

I have no idea how big a deal comprehension problems are in hyperlexia but I think it's part of the definition. My child still (at age 27ish) can read anything, but misses the point sometimes, and sometimes they are points a much younger person would easily have gotten... but I see progress all the time.

My kid could read at the level of a person with a Bachelors degree at age 13, but couldn't construct a paragraph, and still probably couldn't... but I haven't tried test that out lately. Xe can write a short sort of mini-dialog though.

I don't know if Michelle Dawson is reading this, she'd know much more about hyperlexia than I do... I need to see what the experts are saying about it these days. I woudln't be surprised if the problems of hyperlexia were overstated.


Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

I would be interested too since Adam is hyperlexic. I agree that the assumption that hyperlexic people don't comprehend is not necessarily true. Maybe this has to do with the "response" factor in the way it was previously "measured."

While Adam reads, I do not know what he is garnering yet. So I make no assumptions.

In fact, I don't think any generalization can apply. We also know that Ralph Savarese's son was not hyperlexic, and look at him now!

abfh said...

I read the original Peter Pan when I was 5 years old and enjoyed it very much. I imagined myself flying away to Neverland and having adventures with the Lost Boys and the mermaids.

Perhaps the reason why hyperlexic children get stereotyped as unable to comprehend what they read is that they'll try to read anything, whether it is intended for children or not. I learned to read very early and wandered happily around the various sections of the library. I tried to read the Warren Report on the JFK assassination when I was 9 years old (but found it confusing and gave up). I also remember being in high school and having absolutely no idea what my mother meant when she told me that I shouldn't give "1984" to my little sister because it was "too old" for her.

If a young hyperlexic child is tested as reading on the level of a college student, that child shouldn't be described as lacking reading comprehension if he or she can't understand the content of a college textbook. The kid simply doesn't have enough life experience to understand it. I wrote a post that touched on this subject not long ago:

The Essential Features

Also, when people make the assumption that young children are incapable of understanding what they read, that assumption may lead to unreasonable tests, as Bev describes in this post about hyperlexia:

...I had no problem identifying each word individually and in any order presented. When my father got wind of this development, he resolved to put an end to the ridiculous idea that I could read. This he did by placing a newspaper in front of his three year old daughter and asking for a report on state and local politics. When I could not deliver on this request, his theory was "proven"--I wasn't reading at all, but merely memorizing words. Along with their meanings, pronunciation and spelling. Real reading was something else.

Steve D said...

These are all very interesting comments.
ABFH, I remember a while back seeing a study that said hyperlexic children display early reading because they are actually using the part of the brain the processes shape-recognition as opposed to the part that processes language. As the reasoning then went, the delay in comprehension remains until the language part kicks in.
It makes sense on paper, but in real life?.....

abfh said...

I'm sure there must be physical differences in how the brain processes letters and language, but I don't think the science has advanced far enough to draw any specific conclusions yet, and the relevant brain circuitry may vary quite a lot from one hyperlexic person to another.

I wonder if some of my face recognition circuits and speech processing circuits got reallocated, at a very early age, to processing written language instead.

Niksmom said...

ow, Steve, that's amazing! Talk about motivated...

Very interesting topic, too. One I knwo nothing about and am curious to learn more. Nik's not shown any signs at this point but then, he's making some rapid changes all the time!

Another Autism Mom said...

Steve, I can tell when my son is not interested in a particular book - he pushes it away, yells, picks up another one, runs to another room, so there's just so much I can do to introduce books with more language to him. I keep trying though, because his taste and interests can change from one week to the next.

Casdok said...

How wonderful!

Club 166 said...

...If Jason stays at his current pace until he is your age, he will have read 67,130 books!
I think now is a good time to buy that Barnes & Noble membership card (sigh) ...

Nah, now is the time to use your library card, and find out how many other libraries in your area have reciprocal lending privileges.

Buddy Boy (second grade) isn't quite as prolific a reader. Mostly he likes kid encyclopedias. But he's working his way thru some of the "Andrew Lost" series, which he does like.


Marla Fauchier Baltes said...

That is awesome! I would be very tempted to take him for an "early" pizza treat. It is soooo hard to wait!

OnlinePharmacy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Christa said...

I enjoyed this discussion so much - it made me remember the book reading competitions that our small town library would hold every summer and how my friend I and would read like crazy to try to win.

But mostly I enjoyed it because I have a 4-year-old son with hyperlexia and I've marveled at how he's moved from memorization to phonetic reading to more and more comprehension in the past 2 years.

Even though he does not understand everything he reads, he enjoys the sound of the words so much and gets intrinsic pleasure from that alone. Reading aloud is like listening to music for him, I think.

I write about him from time to time in a blog, too.


Check it out. You might find some stories that sound familiar!


aspiemom said...

Our son could read Drive thru Pharmacy when he was 4 years old. He is classic hyperlexic.

But he has comprehension problems, particularly since he's 11yo.

However, he is learning and his comprehension level has increased, as he has aged. Does that make sense?

Anyway, interesting to see this discussion.

By the way, we have to fight him tooth and nail to read. And he reads very well.

That is a blessing that he is interested and WANTS to.

Anonymous said...

The thing about comprehension is that there are different levels of it. I work in a clinic that uses the Lindamood-Bell Visualizing and Verbalizing approach to teaching comprehension. The premise is that, when a strong comprehender reads, he or she creates a movie in his or her mind to go along with the text. Those who do not, often memorize the words instead. Hyperlexic individuals, and I hesitate to generalize because it's damning, often see things in terms of words and symbols.
It is possible that the questions you asked were simple retrieval questions.
I would take advantage of this opportunity to ask Jason, "How did you picture Captain Hook?" or "Why do you think Peter didn't want to grow up?" The first question gets at concept imagery while the second is an inference which is higher order thinking skills.
Hyperlexia is really exciting because it gives kids an advantage of being able to experience knowledge early on. It is still important to be wary of the potential issues with big picture understanding that can occur.

Steve D said...

LimeyLady -
Thank you for your excellent comment.
At the time of this post (last October), Jason was not communicating conversationally on abstract issues such as the sample questions you provided. Now, he is able to converse in that way, and I'll be taking your advice on ways to probe a bit more and promote new avenues of thinking/discussing.