Adult Dyslexia and Reading

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In both the fields of research and education there is a tremendous focus on diagnosing dyslexia in children and developing reading remediation programs to help them learn to read. This is very important. By helping children with early diagnosis, they can be helped to learn to read effectively. Through proper academic and social and emotional support, these children can avoid some of the trauma that the undiagnosed dyslexic learner tends to experience. But what about adult dyslexics, especially those who never had much help when they were in school? We hear very little about adult dyslexia and reading. Is it too late to help these learners?

If you’re a parent or educator who cares about struggling readers and you’ve never heard of Dr. Guinevere Eden, that’s about to change. As a full professor at Georgetown University and the Director for the Study of Learning, Dr. Eden has made a career of studying how the dyslexic brain learns to read. Her work is incredibly comprehensive; she not only focuses on developing advanced diagnostics of reading challenges, but also on discovering techniques that work best for remediation.

In the diagnostic arena, Dr. Eden’s brain imaging technology has allowed the previously invisible diagnosis of dyslexia—which can seem mysterious and inexplicable—into something very real and visible. And unlike many specialists who work with dyslexia, she doesn’t just offer science-based criteria for reading instruction for children. She also works with adult dyslexics who did not have the benefit of a supportive learning environment while growing up. A specific one of Dr. Eden’s studies of adults with dyslexia first brought her work to my attention, but more on that later.

Adult dyslexia and reading: A series of CAT scans of the human brain.

It’s important to note that the fMRI brain scan technology Dr. Eden uses isn’t primarily focused on making individual diagnoses of dyslexia. Instead, she focuses on the statistical power of group studies. This is a key differentiation, because no two dyslexics are exactly alike, even within the same family. Why can dyslexia manifest so differently in different individuals and to such varying degrees?

While searching for the answers to that question, Dr. Eden focuses on what we can learn from both the similarities and the individual differences of each person’s dyslexia experience.

For example:

  • Why are so many different areas of the brain involved in dyslexia?
  • How does the brain in people with dyslexia differ in terms of anatomy, or differ in the functions of each region, and how does this network of structures work together?
  • What brain differences which later manifest as dyslexia can be seen from birth?
  • Why do some, but not all, dyslexics also struggle with math?
  • Why are the highest percentage of diagnosed cases of ADHD also dyslexic?
  • How are the motor skills of the eye involved with learning to read well?
  • Why do some dyslexics respond better than others to remediation?
  • In readers who have received remediation, what visible brain changes have occurred when the brain is viewed via consecutive fMRIs?
  • Are those brain changes compensatory?
  • Are differences in motor skills and visual task acuity a part of dyslexia, even though they do not cause the reading difficulty, or are they the consequence of not learning to read?
  • Why do the brains of female dyslexics differ from female non-dyslexics in ways that don’t mirror the distinctions seen in male dyslexic versus male non-dyslexic brains?

Dr. Eden and her team continue to search for the answers to these questions. They focus on children, it’s true, but also on adult dyslexia and reading.

MRI scan of the human brain. fMRI scans of the brain show that after specialized reading instruction, the brain changes. Adult dyslexia and reading.

And that study by Dr. Eden that originally piqued my interest? This study showed that at any age—even as an adult—intensive, explicit phonological instruction offered remarkable results in reading improvement after only eight weeks! Participants in the studies showed strong improvements in both phonological awareness as well as reading accuracy skills. Not only that, but the fMRI scans of their brains showed a marked difference in both levels and locations of brain activity between the before and after scans. Imagine that! With only two months of specialized reading instruction, dyslexic adults can effectively retrain their brains to help compensate for some reading deficiencies caused by dyslexia.

This is amazing to me. As a dyslexia advocate, I recognize the extreme importance of early diagnosis of dyslexia in children so that they can get access to remediation as soon as possible. We always hear so much about helping children improve reading skills through remediation. But we hear very little about helping adult dyslexic learners through remediation. As an adult dyslexic, this had a huge impact on me. In time, we may see the development of specialized programs that focus on helping adult dyslexic learners improve their reading.

One of the study’s participants had never read a book before in her life. Following the study, she read before work every day, setting her alarm clock so she could wake up early to do so. The takeaway? It’s never too late to improve your reading skills—and your life! Thank you, thank you, thank you, Dr. Eden!

Thank you for reading about adult dyslexia and reading.

Cover of book Raising a Child with Dyslexia: What Every Parent Needs to Know by Don M. Winn

For a thorough discussion of dyslexia, you may enjoy the second edition of my award-winning book Raising a Child with Dyslexia: What Every Parent Needs to Know, available in softcover, hardcover, eBook, and audio. In addition to facts on testing and accommodation, my book gives you the tools to provide the social and emotional support children with dyslexia require. The second edition has the same great content as the first edition but now contains a very helpful bibliography and index and an exciting new cover.

Cover of book Failing Students or Failing Schools? A Parent's Guide to Reading Instruction and Intervention by Faith Borkowsky

And to learn more about how every student best learns to read, you may also enjoy Failing Students or Failing Schools? A Parent’s Guide to Reading Instruction and Intervention, by reading specialist and shortlisted World Literacy Award nominee Faith Borkowsky.

Cardboard Box Adventures picture books are great for shared reading and can help parents establish a strong preliteracy foundation for their children. Check out the CBA Catalog for a full list of award-winning picture books, chapter books, and resources for parents and educators. Visit my Amazon author page for more information.


One Comment

  1. I am quite familiar with Dr. Eden’s work–excellent summary of her work with adult dyslexics–and I have seen the power of intervention no matter the age of the individual–never too late!

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