Dyslexia In Adults: How to handle it

Trouble reading, writing, breaking down speech—dyslexia affects these crucial skills. 20% of the population is diagnosed with this learning disability first recognized in 1896. While science has come a long way in a century, one thing remains: dyslexia is a life-changing disorder at any age. The symptoms are undoubtedly difficult to manage throughout childhood; however, dyslexia symptoms in adults have a unique impact. 

Dyslexia in Adults
Dyslexia In Adults

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a learning disability that affects the basic skills of language. Displaying difficulty reading, writing, spelling, speech, decoding, and arithmetic are signs of the condition.

A common misconception is that dyslexics are ignorant since reading and comprehension is a struggle. Still, that is far from the case. In fact, many diagnosed with the disorder are highly intelligent and even gifted.

Studies with imaging reveal differences in brain function, which prove it is neurological in origin and not a matter of intelligence. The International Dyslexia Association explains how those with dyslexia do not show the left-greater-than-right asymmetry typical in adult brain scans. The left portion of the brain is responsible for language, yet dyslexics reflect a right brain dominance. Further studies are needed to understand the significance of brain imaging findings.

Symptoms and Characteristics of Dyslexia in Adults

The symptoms of dyslexia in adults do not vary much from the symptoms portrayed in children. However, the symptoms exhibited by someone with dyslexia are dependent on the cause and type.

Reading, Writing, and Speaking Symptoms of Adult Dyslexia

  • Fluctuating reading fluency and comprehension
  • Re-reads sentences
  • Becomes bored while reading
  • Comprehends words out of context
  • Struggles reading certain fonts
  • Memorizing non-phonetic words
  • Omits sounds or letters
  • Replacing, guessing, or skipping word sounds
  • Strong oral comprehension
  • Poor reading comprehension
  • Poor handwriting
  • Misuses homonyms (i.e. to, two, too)
  • Finding the right word when talking
  • Telling stories in incorrect order
  • Struggles to express clear ideas
  • Letter and number reversals
  •  Uncertain with word spelling and punctuation
  • Abbreviates frequently
  • Inconsistent phonetic spelling

Behavioral, Personality, and Physical Symptoms of Adult Dyslexia

  • Easily stressed in situations
  • Low-self esteem
  • Self-consciousness when speaking or reading in groups
  • Fatigue
  • Obsessive-compulsive
  • Confusion
  • Easily frustrated and annoyed
  • Headaches
  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

General Characteristics of Adult Dyslexia

  • Misuses and mispronounces words
  • Difficulty remembering verbal instructions
  • Often accused of “not listening”
  • Cannot remember names
  • Remembers struggling in school
  • Easily distracted
  • Frequently “zones out”
  • Poor time judgment—losing track of time, cannot estimate time
  • Difficulty with directions—reading maps, determining north/south/east/west, gets lost
  • Relies on fingers or calculators for simple math

Causes of Dyslexia

Experts correlate a number of causes for dyslexia occurring in adulthood. A multitude of genetic, environmental, and life factors determine the cause.

Primary Dyslexia in Adults

Primary dyslexia is the most common form of dyslexia in adults and children. It is attributed to dysfunction in part of the brain known as the cerebral cortex. Genetic mutations are connected with its onset, as primary dyslexia is typically passed through families. Having a family member with the diagnosis drastically increases the chances of developing the disorder. Males are more prone than females.

Secondary Dyslexia in Adults

Secondary dyslexia describes the types of dyslexia stemming from hindrances in fetal brain development—meaning the dyslexia is caused by factors before birth. Examples include a low birth weight or exposure to alcohol, drugs, nicotine, or infection during pregnancy.

Adults are less likely to exhibit symptoms of secondary dyslexia because it is diagnosed in early childhood and improves with age.

Trauma Dyslexia in Adults

Trauma dyslexia is when dyslexia symptoms are triggered by “trauma” to the brain. It is rarely seen in children. Adults are more frequently diagnosed proceeding a brain injury, brain diseases impacting the ability to comprehend language, or colds and flu that damage hearing. The symptoms of trauma dyslexia are non-existent prior to the traumatic event.

Types of Adult Dyslexia

Regardless of the initial cause, the diagnosis of dyslexia is categorized by 3 main types. There are also subcategories that include mixed forms of dyslexia.

Dysnemkinesia or Motor Dyslexia

Dysnemkinesia or motor dyslexia receives its name by its effect on the motor skills and memory movement. The dysfunction is hallmarked by reversal problems with letters and numbers. Dysnemkinesia results from poor development of laterality and directionality. Those with dysnemkinesia confuse symbols and lack sight recognition. Decreases in sight vocabulary make reading slow, but this form of dyslexia is the easiest to treat. Although not directly a vision problem, symptoms are managed by an optometrist through vision remediation. Dysnemkinesia is sometimes called directional dyslexia.

Dysphonesia or Auditory Dyslexia

Phonetics describes words and letters with its accompanying speech sounds. Dysphonesia, also referred to as auditory dyslexia, prevents proper letter-sound integration. It interferes with the process of breaking down language and matching the sounds with written its syllables. Instead of decoding unfamiliar words, those with dysphonesia rely on eidetic coding (memorization) to compensate.

Dyseidesia or Visual Dyslexia or Surface Dyslexia

Dyseidesia is the opposite of dysphonesia. In cases of dyseidesia, the skills of phonetics are left intact. The problem lies in decoding of whole words, such as the inability to recognize written words or poor spelling transcription when a word is recognized. Looking at a word, it is as if the person with dyseidesia has never seen it before.


Auditory and visual symptoms are prevalent in dysphoneidesia. Symptoms of dysphoneidesia present more severely. Whole words cannot be visually seen and paired with auditory parts.


Dysnemkinphonesia is another combined form of dyslexia. Those with the condition have mixed dysnemkinetic and dysphonetic coding patterns. It causes problems with motor memory and auditory speech sounds.


Motor skills and visual recognition are impaired with the dysnemkineidesia type of dyslexia. Written symbols cannot be developed into motor gestalts. Additionally, whole words cannot be matched with their auditory counterparts.


Dysnemkinphoneidesia is the most severe form of dyslexia with it effecting all three language skills—motor, auditory, and visual. Coding abilities are significantly impaired and treatment is challenging.

Semantic Dyslexia

The primary deficit in semantic dyslexia is the inability to attach words to their meanings in speech and while reading. A prime instance of semantic dyslexia is saying “thingy” when speaking about an object, as the true word cannot be retrieved from memory.

Semantic dyslexia, unlike other forms, is progressive and classified as a neurodegenerative disease in which there is atrophy of the auditory cortex. Semantic memory also declines. Most with semantic dyslexia show attributes of visual dyslexia because they struggle with spelling to sound correspondence.

Rapid Naming Deficit

Naming speed is decreased in rapid naming deficit dyslexia. Naming speed is defined as the quickness in which one can name letters and numbers when visualized. Experts agree it is connected with processing and reading speed.

Double Deficit

Decreased naming speed, combined with phonological dyslexia, produces double deficit dyslexia. Adults and children with double deficit dyslexia cannot consistently isolate word sounds, nor can they recognize words as they see them in the normal time period.

Diagnosing Dyslexia in Adults

Diagnosing dyslexia in adults is not as straightforward as the process is for children, as opportunities for symptoms to be observed by teaching professionals are few. Dyslexia relies on clinical symptoms for diagnosis. If dyslexia is suspected, a general practitioner doctor sends a referral to a psychologist for a thorough evaluation. Providing the patient shows symptoms, tests based on language skills confirm the disorder. However, the physician will first order vision and hearing tests to rule out a physical cause for symptoms.

Phonological Awareness

Phonological awareness is a popular test that serves to diagnose dyslexia. Phonological awareness, ironically, tests phonological awareness and the ability to isolate words with their sounds. During the test, the adult is asked to blend sounds or to fill in sounds at the beginning, middle, or end of a word if a letter was removed. Skills pertaining to phonological awareness set the foundation for reading, which is why phonological awareness tests are important.

Decoding Assessment

Those with dyslexia rely on memorization while reading. Decoding assessments determine how efficiently the rules of phonics are applied. The evaluator has the person with suspected dyslexia read fake words without meaning, along with real words, to phonetically match the sounds to written symbols. A true reading level is eventually reflected. The main test for decoding is named the Test of Word Reading-Efficiency.

Oral Reading Test

Since dyslexia impacts reading skills, oral reading tests are basic testing for the condition. The process is similar to the tests completed in grade school but without pictures available for support. Regardless of age, passages are to be read aloud. Reading level and comprehension is measured through multiple choice questions. The Foundation for Learning and Attention Deficits mentions that the most prevalent tests for reading are the Passage Comprehension subtest of WJ III and Reading Comprehension WIAT-III (for comprehension) and Reading Fluency subtest of WJ III and TOWRE-2 (for accuracy).

Rapid Automatized Naming Test

As previously stated, certain types of dyslexia effect the ability to name words once the term is visualized. Rapid naming tests assess the speed that letters, numbers, words, and common objects are correctly recognized and retrieved. The test is carried out using flashcards. For adults, the cards increase in complexity.

Treating and Managing Adult Dyslexia 

Dyslexia is an exhausting learning disability, but there is hope. Once testing is finished, the general practitioner and psychologist formulate a treatment outline. Whether therapies, technology, and support groups, resources make life with dyslexia easier.

Education and Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy is a valuable tool to manage a multitude of physical and learning disabilities—dyslexia included! The role of an occupational therapist is to aid the patient in leading a productive lifestyle despite a diagnosis. This can be through handwriting support, lessening stress while reading, and focusing on strategies to overcome the effects in the workplace.


Dyslexia, even as an adult, is a documented disability that qualifies for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 plan. Colleges and employers are legally required to fulfill accommodations.


Worried about an important meeting at work or school? Request summaries of the materials in advance. Accessing the materials early allots extra time for preparation. Summaries of the material also reduce the amount of reading required. Rather than reading 10 pages of a report, summarizing the main points makes comprehension easier.


Reading materials often come in audio versions. Listening to the audio and following is a huge advantage or those with dyslexia. Recording meetings and lectures to review again ensures all content is comprehended without pressure from co-workers or fellow students.

Alternative Materials

Ask for alternative materials. Find a comparable text with similar ideas, but in a more suitable reading level. While most with dyslexia can manage to read at average level, reducing the difficulty spares time that could be spent on other work and school tasks.

Change Fonts

Simple changes go a long way. Perhaps an odd request, but ask for emails and all reading materials to be delivered using a preferred font or font color.

Proof-read Documents

To minimize minor spelling and grammatical mistakes, take advantage or proofreading technology. Friends and co-workers can also proofread in to avoid errors.

Assistive Technology

The modern world has simplified life with dyslexia through the technological gadgets currently on the market. Occupational therapists recommend which assistive devices are conducive to a patient’s personal needs. For example, cell phone and computer applications provide a speech-to-text option. Time management deficits are overcome by setting alarms and voice recordings are helpful for meetings or lectures to ensure important data was not missed.

Tablets are ideal for the daily management of dyslexia. Aside from the above features, tablets have apps that facilitate the education process through electronic dictionaries, spelling tools, and recorders to record readings. Recording a reading session to refer to at a later date allows the occupational therapist to pinpoint what areas require added support.

Brain Training for Adult Dyslexia 

Brain training seeks to improve cognitive performance in adults with dyslexia. Language skills such as reading, comprehension, the ability to focus, and memory are supported by neuroscientific programs. Since adult dyslexia is harder to diagnose and treat than that it is in children, brain training technology is a practical resource because it identifies the specific skills that are lacking. The advanced algorithm caters the brain training games to the individual.

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Coping and Support for Adult Dyslexia

Adults with dyslexia go their entire lives assuming they are less than their peers because language is not effortless. They cannot read as fast as the student beside them, and they cannot deliver a presentation as smoothly as their co-worker. The constant comparisons are emotionally taxing. Self-consciousness and low self-esteem are the unfortunate results of struggling with the reading, writing, and speech components of communication. The emotional repercussions are only compounded when not diagnosed until adulthood and may lead to depression.

Attending therapy sessions is vital to dyslexia management. Through simply talk therapy, adults with dyslexia can resolve feelings of anxiety, anger, and hurt from the condition. Group support is a helpful addition to individual therapy, as it reduces isolation resulting from the disorder.

Tips for Dyslexia in Adults

Managing dyslexia does not stop at work and school accommodations or assistive technologies. There is much to be discovered from those who have “paved the way” before us. My fiancé is an adult with dyslexia, so I inquired about his perspective on the top tips for living with the condition.


Read and Reread

Information is not always comprehended to its entirety with dyslexia. Reading all materials numerous might be time-consuming, but the act increases the chance that key points are understood and retained.

Repeat Communications

For those with dyslexia, written and verbal instructions are often unable to be recalled. Repeat the main points of a conversation back to the teller to clear up miscommunication.

Time Management

Allot enough time to complete a task. You are more apt to be successful when you know you can work at your own pace. Try breaking up tasks into smaller increments. If a work or school project is due by a particular date, divide that workload into smaller sections of time.

Identify Your Learning Style

Visual, auditory, and kinesthetic are the three learning styles. Dyslexics learn differently than the average population and tend to learn best kinesthetically—meaning hands on. You would be surprised of the achievements possible solely from identifying your unique learning style. Once aware, tasks can be adapted to suit your needs.

Ask for Help

Do not hesitate to ask for help if it is needed. Co-workers, family, and even your boss are more willing to help than you realize. Dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of.


Eden, G. F., Jones, K. M., Cappell, K., Gareau, L., Wood, F. B., Zeffiro, T. A., … Flowers, D. L. (2004). Neural changes following remediation in adult developmental dyslexia. Neuron, 44(3), 411–422.

Kelly, K. (N.d.). Types of Tests for Dyslexia. Retrieved from https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/evaluations/types-of-tests/tests-for-dyslexiaPassage Comprehension subtest of WJ III and Reading Comprehension WIAT-III (for comprehension); Reading Fluency subtest of WJ III and TOWRE-2 (for accuracy)

Moody S. (2014). Dyslexia, dyspraxia, and ADHD in adults: what you need to know. The British journal of general practice : the journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners, 64(622), 252.

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