Signs of Dyslexia in Adults and How Speech Therapy Can Help

Dyslexia is one of the most common language-based learning disabilities. It affects reading, spelling, and information processing. Although dyslexia is often diagnosed in childhood, it is a lifelong condition, meaning symptoms can continue into adulthood. And if not treated, the symptoms of dyslexia can cause challenges with work, relationships, and self-esteem.

Read on to learn more about dyslexia, the signs of dyslexia in adults, and how speech therapy can help.

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a learning disorder that negatively affects a person's ability to read. A person with dyslexia has difficulty identifying speech sounds and understanding how they work within words.

It’s important to know that dyslexia is not related to intelligence. A person with dyslexia has a difference in the part of the brain that processes language. 

What causes dyslexia?

Genetics is believed to play a major role in dyslexia. There are certain genes related to language processing that may make someone more likely to have dyslexia. Dyslexia is often found to run in families. 

Dyslexia is a common condition. In fact, it affects up to 20% of the population. Dyslexia is the most common learning disability in both children and adults.

Signs and symptoms of dyslexia in adults

Contrary to popular belief, signs of dyslexia in adults are different from those in children. Here are some common symptoms of dyslexia in adults:

  • Difficulty remembering past conversations or summarizing stories, as if “not listening”

  • Trouble reading, writing, spelling, and reading aloud

  • Difficulty remembering names 

  • Trouble learning new or foreign languages  

  • Avoiding reading activities or preferring to read short articles 

  • Getting lost easily, especially when following written directions

  • Mispronouncing names or words, or confusing words that look similar, like “take” and “tack”

  • Spending long periods of time completing reading and writing tasks, or relying on others to help with written tasks 

  • Feeling self-conscious when speaking to a group, often using filler words or stopping and re-starting sentences 

How dyslexia can affect adults at work

A person with dyslexia may struggle in their professional life, especially if their job involves lots of reading. Here are some signs of dyslexia in the workplace:

  • Avoiding public speaking or reading aloud during meetings 

  • Needing to re-read emails before understanding 

  • Heavily relying on spell-check and other writing tools 

  • Disliking unfamiliar fonts, handwritten materials, or administrative work, like repetitive forms

  • Difficulty writing by hand, placing capital letters in words where not needed

  • Feeling bored and distracted when reading long documents 

  • Avoiding tasks that require time management, like planning meetings or events

  • Trying to hide these challenges from co-workers

Who can diagnose dyslexia? 

Specialists such as clinical psychologists, educational psychologists, neuropsychologists, and speech-language pathologists (also known as speech therapists) can diagnose dyslexia. 

How is dyslexia treated in adults?

Dyslexia can’t be cured. However, there are treatments to support reading, writing, and other skills affected by dyslexia. 

Part of treatment for dyslexia includes workplace accommodations. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for adults with dyslexia. Here are some examples:

  • Assistive technology: This includes smartphone apps, computer programs, text-to-speech, or word prediction software. This technology can help make reading and writing tasks quicker and easier, especially if you’re reading long documents. 

  • Font: Simple changes to the font in a document can make it easier to read for a person with dyslexia. Some people prefer certain font types or colors, while others prefer different colored paper. It’s important to tell your employer and co-workers about your needs.

  • Written materials: It can be helpful to keep written communication brief and have an employer provide summaries of key points for long documents when possible. Adults with dyslexia also benefit from being able to prepare for meetings or presentations by seeing the materials ahead of time. 

  • Proofreading: Using spell-check tools and asking co-workers to proofread your work can be extremely helpful. 

Reading and writing programs are also available, including Language! and Wilson Reading System.  

How can speech therapy help adults with dyslexia?

Speech therapy addresses the various aspects of communication that are affected by dyslexia: reading, writing, spoken language, comprehension, and/or the organization of thoughts.

A speech therapist will likely focus on the person’s phonological awareness skills. This is the ability to manipulate sounds in words in order to process spoken and written words. These skills play a big role in reading and writing. 

Speech therapy treatment may also include:

  • Structured literacy programs that teach phonemic awareness, fluency, and comprehension, such as Orton-Gillingham

  • Reading interventions that focus on decoding skills and reading comprehension strategies

  • Writing strategies, such as chunking information, using graphic organizers, and practicing spelling and grammar

  • Language activities that enhance vocabulary, sentence structure, and understanding of figurative language

  • Meta-cognitive strategies that help people with dyslexia become more aware of their learning process

  • Counseling and support to address any frustration, anxiety, or low self-esteem that may result from struggles with dyslexia

Above all else, speech therapy will be tailored to the individual's specific needs and goals. Progress may vary for each person, and patience, persistence, and a supportive environment are key factors in achieving success in therapy for adults with dyslexia.

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