Dyslexia Doesn't Have to Hold You Back

Adults with dyslexia use strengths in visual memory to focus their attention.

Posted Jun 18, 2015

Dyslexia is a prevalent learning disability characterized by difficulties in reading and spelling, despite average levels of intelligence. Those diagnosed also show weakness in phonological awareness, verbal working memory, and processing speed. Younger students with dyslexia tend to struggle with sounds more than with the meaning of words. This can explain why students with dyslexia are often described as bright and articulate, yet their written work shows little evidence of this. 

There is a shift in the deficits driving reading difficulties from childhood to adulthood. While children with dyslexia find it hard to process the sounds of the word, adults with dyslexia struggled more with integrating the sounds with the meanings of the words.

There is great heterogeneity in the adult dyslexic profile. In some cases, there can be a working memory deficit, while other dyslexic adults may not even show any evidence of working memory deficits. For example, in my research I compared working memory skills of college students with reading difficulties and those normal reading skills.

Here are some of the findings:

• Adults with dyslexia did not exhibit poor verbal working memory skills.

It is possible that these adults did not demonstrate any working memory deficits because they had developed their phonological skills well enough to not require working memory. Furthermore, as this was a sample of college students, it may be that since they were successful enough to attend college, they had developed coping mechanisms that did not put a burden on their working memory.

• Adults with dyslexia used their strengths in visual working memory to maintain attention to a task.

This pattern can inform how we provide appropriate support for those who struggle with reading, even at the tertiary level. Remediation can be tailored to a strengths-based model to include visual supports, such as supplementary written material and information displayed in a visually interesting manner (i.e., images or graphs).

Classroom strategies to support working memory in the classroom for the student with dyslexia can be found in Understanding Working Memory

Research Article:

Alloway, T.P., Wootan, S., & Deane, P. (2014). Investigating Working Memory and Sustained Attention in Dyslexic Adults. International Journal of Educational Research, 67, 11-17.