I was explaining to a student how our brains process language when we read and how some brains don’t do it as efficiently, which can lead to slow reading. I named dyslexia as an example of what can cause reading difficulty. My student nodded knowingly and said, “I had dyslexia when I was little, but I outgrew it.” I mentioned that there are lots of different types of reading difficulties, but that dyslexia isn’t something a person outgrows. But it’s a common perception about dyslexia that it only affects children.
Why can’t you outgrow dyslexia?
What is dyslexia?
The International Dyslexia Association has developed this definition of dyslexia:
“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”
For young children, it often looks like poor reading and spelling, difficulty remembering or pronouncing words, trouble rhyming, and resistance to reading. At this stage, teachers often say that kids are learning “at their own pace” or that we should “wait and see” if they catch up. But research has shown us that kids don’t outgrow dyslexia! They need systematic, explicit, literacy instruction to get the skills they are missing.
Often, older children with dyslexia have learned some reading and spelling skills but their reading remains slow, or they have poor comprehension. They sometimes avoid reading or writing, and might demonstrate behaviors (like arguing or goofing around) that take the focus off their difficulties and make it easier for them to avoid what they struggle with. But even if a child with dyslexia can learn to read, that doesn’t mean they outgrow dyslexia.
If you learn to read, is dyslexia cured?
Unfortunately, learning to read and spell isn’t the end of the journey for a person with dyslexia. Through the IEP process, schools will complete formal testing and sometimes, if instruction has been effective, they will determine that a child no longer qualifies for an IEP because their scores are average now. Unfortunately, that isn’t the same as outgrowing dyslexia.
While reading and spelling skill gaps can be remediated – meaning students get the skills they were missing – the brain of a person with dyslexia can still process information differently. They may need explicit instruction in vocabulary, comprehension, fluency, or writing. Older students and adults with dyslexia may also use assistive technology to help them do reading and writing tasks.
What happens to adults with dyslexia?
Adults with dyslexia continue to exist! They become scientists, teachers, athletes, writers, lawyers, parents, and many other things. With skills, accommodations, advocacy and support, people with dyslexia can grow up to be successful, powerful members of our communities.
Unfortunately, without the right teaching and support, people with dyslexia have outcomes that aren’t as good. According to ProLiteracy.org, there are over 43 million adults in the US who struggle with math, reading and writing tasks above a third grade level. Many of those adults may have dyslexia and not even know it. Poor reading skills can lead to a lack of job opportunities, as well as making people more likely to end up incarcerated.
If you can’t outgrow dyslexia, what should we do?
A dyslexia diagnosis is something that will be with a person for the rest of their life. It will affect the way they learn, the way they communicate, the jobs they choose, and the tools and supports they use every day. Many adults with dyslexia are proud of their identity as dyslexic and say it also includes strengths like creative thinking that help them succeed!
But embracing dyslexia is not the same as ignoring it. For a person with dyslexia to succeed and thrive, they need high quality, explicit instruction in reading and writing and consistent support from teachers and family who understand dyslexia and advocate for the student’s needs.
If you suspect that you or your child has dyslexia, learn more from the International Dyslexia Association. If you are looking for systematic, explicit, literacy instruction, contact us for a consultation to find out if online Orton-Gillingham tutoring is right for you!