Let’s CHAT about Hyperlexia: Written Expectations

Jan 25, 2021 | Blog

Expectations are behaviors or actions that are expected to occur, while unexpected behaviors or actions are those that are surprising, or for this context, those that are not desired or appropriate. For hyperlexic learners (HxLs), we can help to encourage, avoid, change, or shape behaviors using written language! 

It is recommended that expectations be written in short, concrete sentences with first-person language. For example, rather than writing “sit at circle time” or “Veronica will sit at circle time,” write “I will sit at circle time.”  

Depending on the target expectation, it may also be helpful to outline unexpected behaviors. Here is an example of a visual chart on which we can visually provide feedback on the behavior that we observed.  You’ll notice that this chart allows us to give a star when an unexpected behavior has occurred, rather than taking away a star earned for expected behaviors. In this way, behaviors are being positively reinforced, and an unexpected behavior does not detract from all the expected behaviors that occurred. 

Many HxLs are perfectionists and strict rule followers, and may become disregulated if they feel they are not meeting expectations or when they receive less-than-positive feedback.  To avoid disregulation, you can modify an expectation chart in a number of ways; for example, you can add a spot for stickers to use as positive reinforcement (even allowing the HxL to choose their own stickers), or you can use letters as positive reinforcement with the goal of spelling out a special word for the day.  

Similar to schedules, expectations can be broad in nature, or broken down into explicit expectations for a certain activity.  You may have expectations for a general school day, expectations for going out in public, or you may need to be more explicit about specific expectations for going to a grocery story vs. a dentist’s office. Once an expectation is concretely written out in a way the HxL understands, they will typically attempt to fulfill the expectation to the best of their ability.  

In contrast to schedules, however, expectations should not be able to be changed by the student. While I might write a schedule on a white board or use a Velcro schedule that can be easily changed, expectations should remain constant and unchangeable (e.g. write expectations with pen or print them out to post on the wall). Again, once an expectation is concretely written out in a way the HxL understands, they will typically attempt to fulfill the expectation to the best of their ability.  

Expectations can be supplemented with social narratives to help reinforce expected behaviors, as well as to bring attention to how certain behaviors may make the HxLs themselves or others feel. Please see our next blog installment for more information regarding the various purposes, writing styles, and resources available for writing tailored social narratives.