When Tanya Paxton’s baby girl started speaking at the age of two, the mum was ecstatic.

Sienna was just over 2lbs when she was born two and half months premature and had been hitting her milestones – like rolling over and sitting up – slower than she was supposed to. 

‘Her first word was a fairly standard ‘hiya’, but from there she quickly moved into full sentences, often repeating phrases from TV’, Tanya tells Metro.co.uk.   

”Sky, believe in better!’ she parroted over and over again after seeing the advert on telly. By two-and-a-half, she was reading off signposts and notices when we were out and about.’  

British mother Tanya Paxton with her daughter Sienna, who taughter herself to read at the age of two due to hyperlexia

British mother Tanya Paxton with her daughter Sienna, who taughter herself to read at the age of two due to hyperlexia 

When Sienna first read a road sign saying ‘exit’, Tanya dismissed it as a one-off fluke.  

‘Then she did it again. Looking up at me with her big brown eyes, my two-year-old gestured to a sign above an elevator and read aloud, “Lift”.’

The mum said that after that, people used to stop her and comment on how far ahead Sienna was. They wanted to know what Tanya had been doing to teach her daughter how to read so early. 

‘But at home, she was looking at the same picture books that all toddlers have, and running through her ABCs,’ she recalled. 

Sienna had been born two and half months premature and was initially hitting her milestones - like rolling over and sitting up - slower than she was supposed to

Sienna had been born two and half months premature and was initially hitting her milestones – like rolling over and sitting up – slower than she was supposed to

‘She certainly wasn’t learning adult words like “exit”, “lift”, “toilets” and “fire escape”.’

Sienna’s love for language didn’t stop there. Within six months, her attention had turned to books – specifically a personalised storybook Tanya’s father had bought called Princess Sienna and the Pony.

‘I was reading a story her granddad had bought for her one evening at bedtime when, suddenly, she just took over. She was pretty much word-perfect; I was so gobsmacked I got my phone out and started filming her.

‘Her babysitter couldn’t get over it. She’d hand Sienna things like receipts, shopping lists and food packets, and watch in awe as my daughter read the words in front of her.’ 

But at nursery, teachers had flagged some difficulties Sienna had been having when it came to socialising with other children, and she was sent to an educational psychologist aged four. 

THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF AUTISM

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with autism have trouble with social, emotional and communication skills that usually develop before the age of three and last throughout a person’s life. 

Specific signs of autism include: 

  • Reactions to smell, taste, look, feel or sound are unusual
  • Difficulty adapting to changes in routine
  • Unable to repeat or echo what is said to them
  • Difficulty expressing desires using words or motions
  • Unable to discuss their own feelings or other people’s
  • Difficulty with acts of affection like hugging
  • Prefer to be alone and avoid eye contact
  • Difficulty relating to other people
  • Unable to point at objects or look at objects when others point to them

He diagnosed Sienna with autism and explained her amazing abilities as hyperlexia, a self-taught ability to read in children under five, often associated with autism. 

About two in every 10,000 children with ‘autism spectrum disorders’ have hyperlexia – which means children can often read fluently without understanding what they are saying. 

It’s a syndrome defined by a precocious, self-taught ability to read words before the age of 5, or a fascination with logos, letters, numbers, maps or patterns. Some children may experience both.

This occurs alongside a delay in the development of oral language, and challenges once they do start speaking. They will usually also have difficulty interacting socially with adults and other children.

It’s found in children with conditions such as autism, Asperger’s syndrome, Tourette’s and seizure disorders, and it is not recognised as a stand-alone condition.

Tanya has to be careful what her daughter, now nine, picks up after catching her reading Bella Mackie's How To Kill Your Family

Tanya has to be careful what her daughter, now nine, picks up after catching her reading Bella Mackie’s How To Kill Your Family 

Seven years on from Sienna’s diagnosis and Tanya says her daughter’s interest in reading shows no signs of slowing down. 

‘Now nine-years-old, Sienna is a complete bookworm and can get through a young adult novel in a day. 

‘I have to be so careful because she’ll pick up absolutely anything and read it. I recently caught her reading one of my books called How to Kill Your Family, with a cheeky grin on her face!’ 

At school, the mother says teachers have given Sienna books written for older children to keep her engaged.

Although staff had been briefed about Sienna, the mother added: ‘When they actually saw her doing it they were pretty shocked […] She’s also brilliant at spelling; her teachers struggle to find any words that she doesn’t know. We joke that she’ll be fantastic at pub quizzes when she grows up.’

What’s more, Tanya says Sienna loves to read stories to her brother Grayson, two, and the mother says she grateful her daughter has a ‘wholesome interest’ when many of her peers are ‘addicted to their screens’.

Sebastian, pictured at the age of three, knows the entire periodic table of elements by heart, while his father admits he couldn't name ten of them.

Sebastian, pictured at the age of three, knows the entire periodic table of elements by heart, while his father admits he couldn’t name ten of them.

Earlier this year, five-year-old Sebastian Esposito’s parents started sharing his incredible reading talent online

When the little boy – who has also been diagnosed with hyperlexia – was 18 months old, he became obsessed with a wooden letter puzzle and began spelling out words like cat and dog.

Six months later, his parents said he could write out more than 200 words and had learned the entire Russian alphabet. 

Now five and in kindergarten, where his classmates are still learning their ABCs, Sebastian has a reading age of 18, has memorised the Greek, German, Armenian, and Turkish alphabets and can recite the entire periodic table of elements by heart – although he cannot yet tie his shoelaces.

Proud dad Ryan Esposito, 30, a mine worker, who lives with his photographer wife Amanda Esposito, 33, her daughter from a previous relationship, Shyann, 14, and Sebastian, said: ‘Every parent thinks their child is special. But I knew Sebastian was really special.

‘When he started to spell words backwards, I thought maybe he was an alien. And he picked up all these words so quickly. It was incredible.

Where his classmates are still learning their ABCs, Sebastian has a reading age of 18 and has memorised the Greek, German, Armenian, and Turkish alphabets

Where his classmates are still learning their ABCs, Sebastian has a reading age of 18 and has memorised the Greek, German, Armenian, and Turkish alphabets 

‘We think he has a photographic memory. Anything he sees he just stores in his head and never forgets it.’

When Sebastian’s family first started posting videos of him online, it was to raise awareness of his condition and they never expected the short clips to go viral – with some attracting nearly 20 million views.

The most popular TikToks, which he posts under the name @litttle.einstein, often show him writing out an entire alphabet or every font on Microsoft Word, as well as listing every country and capital in the world from memory.

Ryan said: ‘He can list every single country in the world and their flag, their capitals and where they are. He can tell a country from the outline.

‘Seeing him flourish like this is so brilliant. We don’t feel like we deserve such a blessing.’

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