Adult Dyslexia

The word dyslexia comes from Greek and means “difficulty with words”. Dyslexia is a specific learning disability (SLD).  It can cause difficulty with reading, spelling and sometimes numbers.  A person with dyslexia can also have difficulty with right and left, sequencing, memory and following instructions. People with dyslexia can also have distinct strengths. They can be innovative and creative thinkers, good problem-solvers.  Some are artistic and have great visual-spatial skills.

Dyslexia is a complex condition, but its main effect is to make learning to read, write and spell difficult.  Not impossible, just difficult.  It is not caused by lack of intelligence, lack of effort or any physical or emotional problem.  It is an inherited condition and so may be passed on to children or grandchildren.  It is more common than is generally realised, affecting 8% to 10% of the population.

There are various theories about what causes dyslexia, but all experts agree that it arises from differences in the brain, which affect how the brain processes information.  It must be stressed that dyslexia is a ‘difference’, not a disease or a defect.  Yet it is a very important difference, because it has implications for many aspects of the dyslexic person’s life.  Dyslexia is recognised legally as a disability in Ireland.  This is very important as it establishes the right to various accommodations that can be provided in education and the workplace.

Dyslexia is often thought of as a problem of childhood and early learning. In fact, it is a lifelong condition which can impact on college, work and even social life on occasion. It will not go away if it is ignored. If dyslexia is not identified and appropriate help is not received, the ill effects can last into adulthood. The result may well be a lifetime of under-achievement, frustration and low self-esteem.  However, adults of any age can be tested. Many adults find that assessment helps them to understand about their own strengths and weaknesses. Assessment can also make a big difference to people’s attitudes and may result in extra understanding and help.   Dyslexia is sometimes not as easy to identify in adults as it is in children because adults will usually have developed ways of coping with or hiding a learning problem.

In the past when literacy was neither vital to daily life nor very valued, having dyslexia was not a drawback.    In the future, it may well be that developments in technology will make literacy, as we know it, irrelevant.  Then, the person with dyslexia will not be at a disadvantage at all.  Possibly, with good creative, visual and problem solving skills, they will have a distinct advantage.  However, in today’s society, people with dyslexia are in an unenviable position.  Not only is work, travel and leisure dominated by the written word, but skill in planning, organisation and time management are more important than ever before.  Completing tasks to a time schedule, absorbing new information quickly and working under pressure are requirements of every workplace.  None of these come easily to the person with dyslexia. See Dyslexia in the Workplace for more information about managing dyslexia.

Adult Dyslexia Checklist

Each person with dyslexia has a unique profile of strengths and weaknesses.  Indicators of dyslexia differ at different ages and depending on the environment, e.g. college or the workplace.  The following check list may help to identify signs of a dyslexic difficulty.  An educational psychology assessment may be required to make a formal diagnosis, or needs based assessment may be available in your college.

This check list may help to confirm the suspicions that there is a difficulty present and therefore help in making the decision to obtain an assessment.

When looking at the lists of indicators, remember the following:

  • No one will have all the indicators.
  • Many individuals will have several of the indicators.
  • Some indicators are more common than others.
  • The number of indicators observed in an individual does not indicate whether the dyslexia is mild, moderate or severe.

Consider the following list and see if you answer yes to many of these questions.

  • Do you dislike reading aloud?
  • Is reading new material difficult?
  • Does it take you a long time to read a book?
  • Do you sometimes pronounce words incorrectly?
  • Do you have problems with spelling?
  • Did you have difficulty at school and did you do less well in written exams, than you feel you should have?
  • Do you find it much harder to put your thoughts in writing than in words?
  • Do you find it hard to write letters, reports, or even to take phone messages clearly?
  • Do you have problems with sentence construction and punctuation?
  • Do you get phone numbers wrong?
  • Do you confuse ‘left’ and ‘right’?
  • Is your handwriting hard to read?
  • Do you find it hard to see the mistakes that you have made in written work?
  • Do you find it hard to remember things in sequence?
  • Do you find it hard to remember new facts, names etc.?
  • Do you get confused with times and dates and sometimes miss appointments?
  • Do you find it hard to learn by ‘ordinary’ teaching methods?
  • Do you forget quickly rather than learn slowly?
  • Does someone else in your family have similar learning problems?

Most people will say ‘yes’ to some of these questions, but some people will say ‘yes’ to many of them.  If you are one of those people and you think that you might have dyslexia, then you may want to have an assessment. It is important to note that assessment is a choice. Many adults chose to seek an assessment later in life, but some do not – the choice is yours. Our Why Get a Dyslexia Assessment as an Adult? document will help you to make your choice on whether an assessment is something you need or want to pursue at this time.

After dyslexia assessment, there is often a lot of information and emotions to process. Our handout on the Emotional Rollercoaster of Dyslexia Identification discusses the common feelings and reactions after an assessment, and also provides guidance to sources of support. Each person’s experience is different, and the most important thing is being kind to ourselves on our dyslexia journey.

For further reading see:

Adult Dyslexia Booklet

Why Get a Dyslexia Assessment as an Adult?

Emotional Rollercoaster of Dyslexia Identification

Guidelines for FET sector staff