Dyslexia legislation has focused on early remediation, but what about older learners who weren’t formally identified until adulthood or ‘resistant’ dyslexic learners who seem a great deal slower than other dyslexic peers at progressing with gold standard structured literacy instruction?






Q: Can older students and adults be remediated for dyslexia?
A: Yes. Absolutely.

Remediation is often easier if begun earlier, but adults of all ages can learn to read with good comprehension. Their speed of reading is slower – but with more regular practice, it becomes quicker.

From a study by Guinevere Eden and colleagues:
Adults were given 3 hr a day remediation with a “structured multisensory phonological intervention” for 8 weeks in a program by Lindamood Bell that included training in sound awareness, letter-sound awareness, articulatory feedback, and imagery strategies to manipulate letters and words (Seeing Stars?).


The study noted that “long after the termination of formal schooling, adult dyslexic readers can make significant gains in phonological processing skills that support efficient reading,” and they observed that “left and right hemisphere increases” in fMRI signals were associated with gains in phonological awareness.

Reading fluency still lagged in this 2 month study – either suggesting that true reading fluency (accurate automatic and effortless reading) is more difficult or at least requires more training and practice…something that might be expected.

Recently, we were contacted by a parent of a near-teen who was concerned that her child might grow up “illiterate.” There are a wide range of reasons why some students may have more difficult acquiring reading compared to others – some of the factors are related to working memory or sensory issues (auditory or visual processing), or variations in brain development. What is true is that progress is very non-linear. So that what might look impossible in terms of progress at 12, may suddenly become possible and even exceed expectations at 13.



The big picture advice for late or resistant readers is not to give up. First comes decoding, and later comes fluency. Keep with the process, whether it’s short structured literacy work on a near-daily basis, reading decoding books, but also echo reading (guided repeated reading) and listening and and fluency work reading along with a partner (whether it’s a person, audiobook recording, or assistive technology).

There may be some who prefer students to only read books within a curriculum, but personally, we have never recommended that. More often than not, students are starved for high quality content because they are limited by what they can read in an effortless fashion. Family read aloud (or listening together with audiobooks) or reading aloud between spouses can become a delightful and cherished together-activity.

For students, having a regular practice of reading along with listening can help train the eyes to follow along at a good speed, give practice at “filling in” by context, and also allow a little word shape reading that should not replace word decoding work, but be a little supplement to it. Later when single word decoding really improves, it will become easier to transition to become fluent readers.



Whatever the age, if it seems to be taking much longer to progress through a solid structured literacy program, then ideally, a professional should look into why this might be so. It might be that comprehensive testing and referral to other specialists might be necessary, but assessment with second-level screener like the one from Neurolearning may also be able to suggest problem clusters, like a broader language difficult, attentional issues, or visual or auditory difficulties that should be formally assessed by a relevant professional.

Sometimes a reader who is not responding to a particular curriculum may benefit from a switch – Some may need different types of practice or be confused or forget if scaffolding mnemonics or reinforcing practice are not sufficiently included.

Other people may need to grow into their working memories so that they can juggle more tasks at once – ultimately combine all those skills together in the act of fluent reading.

The important thing is to celebrate every success and keep moving forward. Dedicate a regular time to learn technology and find out what works best for you. If you use Voice Dream Reader, adjust speeds and displays (font style, color, and background, speed, and speaker) to ways that help you the most. If your find an audiobook reader that you especially like, try other books by him or her.

For adults who don’t know where to begin, reach out to a non-profit or other group that has volunteers that may teach in person or via Zoom. In the UK, there is a charity called ReadEasy. In the US, there are libraries with free literacy tutoring, non-profits like ProLiteracy, and many private tutors who may work remotely or in-person. The free programs are simplified and lack features of commercial structured literacy programs, but for some households, it may be a useful resource to consider.



To date, one of the best sources of information about the long-term achievement of severe dyslexics comes from legendary educator, Margaret Rawson, who published her 55 year longitudinal study about Dyslexia Over the Lifespan.

An excerpt:
“…for whatever reasons, the boys who were early diagnosed as having severe to moderate specific language disabilities (dyslexia) have achieved at least as high levels of education and socioeconomic status as their more linguistically facile schoolmates…several individuals still find that some of the residuals of their language problems are sources of difficulty in their current lives (but) they have not been stopped in their careers…”

Indeed, in this group of low language students at the Rose Valley school 3 severe and 2 moderate dyslexics had to repeat grades, but for the most part, after leaving the school they showed steady progress in secondary school and graduated around the age of 18.

When the boys in the study were grouped into High, Medium, and Low Language Facility, Margaret was surprised at how successful the lowest language facility boys were when they were surveyed around the age of 35. Here are the occupations these students had at that time: 2 medical doctors (both research scientists, one also with a PhD), 1 lawyer (partner), 2 college professor (one department head), 2 research scientists (other than medical), 3 medium-sized business owners, 3 business executives, 1 school principal, 3 secondary school teachers (one with an MA), 1 actor, 1 factory foreman, 1 skilled laborer.

A late blooming effect definitely seemed apparent as the majority admitted not being among the top students in secondary school and few received exceptional honors in college; however, more began receiving distinctions in graduate school and still others, later in their careers.

Margaret included one known “false negative” in her study of dyslexic students at the Rose Valley School. A decision was made to not include Mark in the study when a tester concluded that an IQ test was an “underestimate” because of “emotional problems that stopped his learning.”

Mark touched base with Margaret decades later as an adult, announcing, “I’m one of your dyslexics!” As it turned out, he left to attend another school, but had regular after school tutoring witha phonological mulitsensory approach almost identical to the one at The School of Rose Valley. After remembering that he and his brother “worked their tails off” for three years, Mark said he did “OK” in public school, got a degree in Physics from Swarthmore, then PhD in Engineering, to become Department Head of Nuclear Engineering. Mark said, “I still have some difficulty reading. Sometimes I swap the order of the letters and so misread the words. I am still a ‘slow’ reader and have trouble spelling, so I always use the spell checker on my computer.” His brother Rob became a botanist.

All this is a reminder to not underestimate the long term achievements of people with moderate or severe dyslexia. Within these groups are those who are late blooming, others suffering under emotional burdens, and still others who may have educational mismatches or other early life stressor.

Some of the adult respondents in Margaret’s study said they never opened a book after they graduated college, while others were surprised to discover in middle age that reading for pleasure was possible and even enjoyable.

The path for moderate and severe dyslexics can vary considerably and progress through remediation can also vary widely.

While many students made progress in their elementary years, some in Margaret’s studies only saw reading improve significantly during in their middle to secondary years.



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