New Picture of Rare Childhood Disorder

Brain scan of boy with hyperplexia provides new insight

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WEDNESDAY, Jan. 7, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- The first use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the brain of a boy with a rare disorder called hyperlexia is described in a Georgetown University study in the new issue of Neuron.

The case study of a single child revealed the neural mechanisms that underlie hyperlexia. The findings suggest hyperlexia is the true opposite of the reading disability dyslexia.

Children with hyperplexia display some of the same characteristics as children with autism, including extreme difficulty with oral communication, social interaction and expression. Yet children with hyperplexia can have extraordinary reading ability.

It's been reported that some hyperplexic children can read at 18 months. Some start reading two years before they say their first word. Ethan, the child in the Georgetown University case study, reads six to eight years in advance of his age.

"This advanced reading ability, which would likely surprise any parent, is even more extraordinary given that many of these children begin reading before mastering spoken language, and sometimes before speaking at all," study senior author Guinevere Eden, an associate professor of pediatrics and director of Georgetown's Center for the Study of Learning, says in a prepared statement.

"Current theories of reading development posit that decoding skills are based on linguistic abilities, but our finding suggests that children like Ethan are able to map sound onto print without a solid language basis," Eden says.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about hyperlexia.

SOURCE: Georgetown University Medical Center, news release, Jan. 7, 2004

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