How educators, family can help adults with dyslexia
Donell Pons
May 15, 2019

This is part five of a five-part series about how to support and accommodate middle-schoolers, high-schoolers, and adults with dyslexia. You can read part one here and part here, part three here, and part four here.

Being able to read is often connected to intelligence, but many intelligent people struggle to read because of a language-based difficulty. I found out on our honeymoon that my husband has dyslexia. I hid my surprise as I thought about his academic achievements and general intellect. “If he has dyslexia,” I thought, “how many others are coping with reading challenges into adulthood?” The discovery made me realize that students with dyslexia strive to blend in and catch up in classrooms around America. If they go unidentified and unsupported, students enter adulthood coping with the challenges of reading everything from street signs to restaurant menus.

Dyslexia is a life-long journey. Common characteristics include poor spelling, poor writing, mixing up similar words and reading slowly and inaccurately. Even though many young students may be identified as having dyslexia, some won’t qualify for special education. Knowing that roughly 20% of the population will struggle to acquire the skill of reading through no fault of their own -- no lack of desire, interest or intellect -- but simply because of a neurobiological difference, should motivate all of us, as a society, to acknowledge and support people with dyslexia.

Advantages and challenges of working with adults

An adult’s progress will vary depending on the severity of their dyslexia, their enthusiasm to improve, and the experience and skill of their instructor. Many habits they develop in order to cope in school, such as guessing at words and deriving meaning from context clues rather than decoding words, are survival skills that will be an obstacle to real growth. Adults can let down their guard if they know they are in a safe learning space.

One of the advantages of working with an older student is their ability to self-reflect and to analyze different aspects of reading instruction more readily than a younger student. They’ll recognize the importance of improving their reading skills, whether it be because they want to help their child with homework or to advance their career.

Many times, adults who are interested in receiving reading remediation may find resources through state workplace programs, universities with reading clinics or the local Scottish Rite Association.

Using a Structured Literacy program

David Kilpatrick, author of Essentials of Assessing, Preventing, and Overcoming Reading Difficulties, says that phonemic awareness and a quality Structured Literacy program are critical parts of learning to read for younger students, and they remain just as critical for older students. A Structured Literacy program provides reading, writing and language instruction taught in an explicit and systematic way.

Once an adult learner finds the correct instruction and learns more about why they may have struggled with language as a child, the next hurdle is finding time for reading instruction. It’s never too late for excellent Structured Literacy instruction to make a positive difference for any learner, but making time for this type of commitment is the biggest challenge for educators working with an adult. An important aspect of an instructor’s job is to confirm why improving reading skills is important at any age and that the commitment will be worth it in the long run. Adults who set aside both small and large periods of time to devote to reading progress will eventually see improvements.

Tools for everyday life

Adults with dyslexia should be aware of the numerous technology-based supports available for readers today. Reading Horizons posts webinars that discuss how people can cope with dyslexia, as well as how instructors can support people of all ages with dyslexia. There are many tech tools people can use to make their day with dyslexia a little easier. My husband uses text-to-speech apps such as Prizmo Go to read lengthy documents. When he’s reading online articles, he’ll use Mercury Reader to clean up the webpage in order to concentrate on the text. Text-to-speech is invaluable for writing emails and other correspondence. For hard-copy print such as a book or a restaurant menu, people can use OCR Instantly Pro to snap a picture of the text. This will translate the words in the picture for a text-to-speech app to read aloud. The C-Pen Reader Pen reads text aloud as it’s scanned across the page.

Family members, friends and colleagues of people with dyslexia can help by acknowledging the existence of dyslexia. Dyslexia cannot be cured, but, having people around who care enough to learn about dyslexia has been very liberating for my husband. Talking openly about their challenges and strengths not only offers me an opportunity to be involved in education in a meaningful way by providing specialized tutoring, but it also allows me to meet uniquely talented people who find ingenious ways to thrive.

This is part five of a five-part series about how to support and accommodate middle-schoolers, high-schoolers, and adults with dyslexia. You can read part one here and part here, part three here, and part four here.

Donell Pons is a reading and dyslexia specialist in Salt Lake City, Utah. She started her career in education when her youngest son was diagnosed with dyslexia. She has a master’s degree in education and teaching from Westminster College, along with a certification in special education. Connect with her at dbpons@gmail.com.

To learn how to identify young students with dyslexia, read Pons’ four-part series about supporting and accommodating students with dyslexia.

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