Dyslexia is a learning disorder that can cause many difficulties, including problems with reading and writing. People with dyslexia have trouble matching the letters they read to the sounds those letters make.
Dyslexia is typically diagnosed in childhood; so, many dyslexia guides focus on helping children manage symptoms of this condition. But dyslexia often continues into adulthood.
Some children with dyslexia are not diagnosed until they reach adulthood, while some diagnosed adults find that their symptoms change as they age.
Fast facts on dyslexia in adults:
- Dyslexia is part of a group of conditions called specific learning difficulties (SLD).
- It is a highly variable and personal disorder.
- Dyslexia may be a group of disorders rather than just one.
- Treatment focuses on helping a person overcome their specific challenges.
Many of the challenges caused by dyslexia affect specific aspects of a person’s learning but not learning as a whole.
This means that people with dyslexia have a range of intelligence levels comparable to people without dyslexia.
Dyspraxia is commonly thought to be a disorder that causes clumsiness and poor coordination, but this is not the case. While it may cause such symptoms in some people, it also causes a range of other issues, including problems with processing information, organization, and social skills.
Though difficulty reading is a hallmark of dyslexia, particularly in children, most adults with dyslexia can read and have devised strategies to work around their reading difficulties. Adults with dyslexia may also present a range of other characteristics, such as memory problems.
People with dyslexia do not, however, have trouble with vocabulary or speaking.
Dyslexia is an umbrella term for a variety of related symptoms. Different people may experience dyslexia for different reasons and in different ways.
Much research suggests that the root source of dyslexia is something called a phonological deficit. Phonology means the relationship between speech sounds in a language. The phonological deficit may explain why many adults with dyslexia have trouble breaking words down into smaller parts.
Some brain imaging studies suggest that this phonological deficit occurs in the left hemisphere of the brain, which is associated with processing words and language. So, when a person with dyslexia reads, the left hemisphere of the brain does not work in the same way as it does when a person without the condition reads. The two hemispheres of the brain may also communicate differently in people who have dyslexia.
Dyslexia seems to run in families. What researchers do not know, however, is how genes affect the risk for dyslexia. For example, it might be that particular risk factors in the environment activate genes for dyslexia, or that some illnesses change the way genes behave, leading to dyslexia.
It is unclear whether genes change the structure of the brain, the way the brain processes information, or whether something else causes the brain to struggle with reading.
Adults with dyslexia often have a wide range of nonspecific mental health, emotional, and work difficulties.
They may have low self-esteem, experience shame, humiliation, or lack confidence in their ability to perform at work or school.
They may appear highly intelligent or score well on intelligence tests but underperform at work or school.
Other symptoms include:
- Visual problems while reading: Adults with dyslexia may be highly sensitive to glare, or to the color of the paper or words. Changes in a font, color, or other characteristics of the words may make it more difficult for adults with dyslexia to read.
- Difficulty focusing when reading: Adults with dyslexia may frequently lose their place, feel like the words are moving or jumbled, or find reading very stressful.
- Rarely or never reading for pleasure: Dyslexia makes reading challenging, so many dyslexic adults who love learning may avoid reading, preferring other modes of learning instead.
- Difficulties with written communication or tests: For example, an adult with dyslexia might be highly competent at their job but is reluctant to take a written test to advance to the next level. They may find that co-workers or managers complain about their reports or other written communications.
- Confusing very similar words or letters when writing or reading.
- Difficulty writing down messages or reports: Adults with dyslexia may forget what they were writing, struggle to follow a train of thought, or incorrectly transcribe a message.
- Confusing left and right, or otherwise struggling with spatial reasoning: For instance, a person with dyslexia may have trouble reading a map, particularly if the map contains written words.
Young children with dyslexia have trouble detecting that words rhyme. They may mispronounce words and may not be able to talk correctly until well into preschool years.
They commonly have difficulty sounding out words and may not read until after their peers do. They may reverse similar letters, such as the lower case “b” and “d,” making it difficult for others to understand their writing, and undermining their ability to read even simple words.
Frustrated by the challenges of learning to read, some children with dyslexia develop behavior problems.
Dyslexia is treatable but not curable. However, a range of treatments and therapies are available that can help people with dyslexia read and learn.
Some medications can improve symptoms of some of the conditions people with dyslexia may also have, such as ADHD, but there is no medication currently approved for treating dyslexia alone.
Although no specific treatment can cure dyslexia, some people do find that their symptoms change or improve with time.
Treatment for dyslexia begins with proper diagnosis. Simply knowing that the problem is due to dyslexia can help some adults with dyslexia feel better about their difficulties. Other factors that might help a person with dyslexia include:
Being in a supportive environment might help a person with dyslexia work around the condition. For example, offering alternative methods of communication or learning can help a person with dyslexia perform better and learn more easily.
In many nations, people with dyslexia receive educational and workplace accommodations. In the United States, for example, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) protects employees from discrimination for dyslexia and other disabilities.
Practical and lifestyle factors
Reading, vocabulary, and phonology practice, plus other supportive strategies are often helpful. Sometimes, specific fonts may make it easier for people with dyslexia to read.
Some people with dyslexia say that lifestyle changes or treatments such as musical therapy help.
Dyslexia can be frustrating, but it does not have to prevent a person from leading a fulfilling and successful life.
Former President George W. Bush has dyslexia, and he struggled with the disorder into adulthood. Many other highly successful people also have dyslexia.
The right combination of a supportive environment, practice, and compensatory strategies can transform dyslexia from a disability into a mild inconvenience.