As we read, our brain is rapidly translating letters to their corresponding sounds, quickly applying learned rules about alphabetic principles that enable us to swiftly blend, combine, analyze, and segment sounds to recognize and decode words. We then nearly instantaneously associate these decoded words with their meaning.
When someone has dyslexia, written words are difficult to interpret and result in reading comprehension problems. While most people associate dyslexia with children, adults also have dyslexia. To expand on this topic, Dr. Jessica Galgano and the team at Open Lines Speech and Communication, provided an overview of dyslexia in adults, including symptoms to be aware of, and how speech therapy can provide support to help one compensate and succeed.
What is Dyslexia in Adults?
Dyslexia stems from difficulty efficiently decoding words. It refers to a specific type of reading disorder which is neurologically based. It does not affect intelligence but is caused by underlying weaknesses processing and manipulating the sounds of language. Attention difficulties may also be present within some subtypes of dyslexia. These challenges can ultimately impact a person’s ability to read and write.
People with dyslexia may have difficulty interpreting and manipulating the sounds associated with specific letters to form words. This can make it challenging to retain information and learn. It also makes it harder to use sound-letter correspondence and other phonological awareness skills, such as segmenting and blending sounds/syllables/words, to read.
“When these kinds of weaknesses are present, reading fluently may feel like an arduous task. As a result, it can be challenging to process and retain what was read. What is worse is the fact that these challenges can result in feelings of frustration and can affect one’s ability to enjoy reading or even feel motivated to read” Dr. Galgano stated.
MRI mapping indicates differences in the reading skills of typical readers and those with dyslexia are caused by differences in the neural pathways activated during reading. Skilled readers rely on a complex and integrated network of neural pathways in the occipito-temporal and parietal-temporal regions of the brain. This network helps people automatically recognize visual features of text (e.g., letter forms) and activate all the information needed about letters and words (e.g., pronunciation, meaning) to be able to decode and comprehend. However, individuals with dyslexia rely on less efficient pathways with differences in cortical activation of brain regions which play a critical role in reading. Activation of regions of the brain involved in attention during reading tasks is also typically different in individuals with dyslexia.
What Is Phonological Awareness?
Phonological awareness refers to a group of foundational skills that ultimately enable us to decode written words. Phonological awareness is the ability to understand that spoken words are comprised of individual sounds, allowing us to segment and manipulate these sounds. When learning to read, we apply phonological awareness skills and translate letters into their corresponding sounds so we can blend, integrate, analyze, and/or arrange sounds to form words.
What Does a Person with Dyslexia See?
A person with dyslexia sees words in print the same way a person without dyslexia sees them.
In the past, it was believed dyslexia was caused by a visual processing disorder. However, as Dr. Galgano noted, more recent neuroimaging studies have confirmed people with dyslexia do not always visually reverse or jumble letters. Rather, difficulties occur due to weaknesses in attention, phonological processing, decoding, word form recognition, and matching a written word to its meaning in a coordinated and timely manner.
The team added, “Because of the increased attention, time, and effort required to recognize and decode words, people who have dyslexia may find they have a difficult time attending when reading, which can affect their ability to absorb the content and information of what is being read. This can lead to other problems when trying to hold on to the details and ideas of the information that was read.”
Signs of Dyslexia in Adults
Initial symptoms of dyslexia may be characterized by slow and inefficient reading due to underlying deficits in phonological awareness, word form recognition, and attention. Reading comprehension can also be impacted, as more cognitive resources are devoted to decoding rather than retaining meaning. These symptoms, along with difficulty writing, are present in childhood and can persist into adulthood, though many adults with dyslexia often use compensatory strategies or creative solutions to go to college, graduate school, and become experts within their field. However, these underlying difficulties can make day-to-day tasks incredibly challenging. Writing an email, reading documents, and leading presentations can be daunting, leading to increased anxiety surrounding daily activities. Both anxiety and ADHD are common comorbid conditions associated with dyslexia, making it difficult to organize thoughts, further impacting the ability to read and write. Adults with dyslexia may also experience reduced vocabulary or difficulties with word retrieval compared to peers, as reading is one of the ways we significantly grow our vocabulary.
If these symptoms are present, a speech language pathologist and neuropsychologist can assist in forming a differential diagnosis of dyslexia.
Can Speech Therapy Help with Dyslexia?
Since dyslexia involves complications with decoding words, you may not immediately think speech therapy can treat this issue, but there is good news! Speech therapy approaches have been shown to promote neural changes, which can improve the ability to read, write, and communicate, so you can find success in personal and career goals.
Dyslexia Treatment for Adults
Speech therapy targets strengthening a variety of skill sets, including phonological awareness, decoding, word form recognition, attention, reading fluency, reading comprehension, naming, and writing. Excellent speech therapy will also take a holistic approach, focusing on the impact that different cognitive, physical, and emotional behaviors can contribute to and maintain the difficulties one experiences. Treatment should address the internal states or feelings that can make or break your progress and success. Skill training should be combined with functional practice personalized to your specific goals, whether it is to improve within your field and advance to a promotion or find greater ease in day-to-day life. Each individual case is different, but in treatment, many patients benefit from a multisensory treatment approach in which sight, sound, touch, and movement help facilitate learning. Individuals also benefit from compensatory strategies, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques to optimize the system for listening, speaking, and reading.
Dyslexia treatment outcomes depend on many factors, including the nature and extent of difficulties, social support, professional demands, and personal goals, and previous treatment received.
In general, most people experience progress within a six-to-12-week period with the option to extend treatment at a lower dosage to maintain gains.
“In our experience, the motivation and intensity of treatment are some of the greatest drivers of success,” Dr. Galgano said. “Your speech pathologist will help you develop a plan of action with personally relevant goals and exercises to train reading and writing skills and help you develop new strategies for performing these skills with confidence and proficiency.”
Speech Therapy for Dyslexia at Open Lines
Contact Open Lines today by phone at (212) 430-6800, by email at info@OpenLinesNY.com, or through our contact form. If you or a loved one are interested in treating difficulties associated with adult dyslexia, request an appointment to discuss your goals and review our service options.