When you come across someone who always takes longer than usual to complete a task, and then finally submits work that’s full of spelling errors and wrong numbers, the very first thought that hits you is: “is he doing this on purpose, or is he just plain stupid?”
Hold your anger. Have you ever stopped to consider the possibility that he may be dyslexic?
It isn’t every day that you come across someone with dyslexia. Plus, learning disabilities are not something that is very easy to perceive either. It is naturally easy for us to empathize with experiences we can relate to, but when it comes to the things that we can’t, we inadvertently fail to acknowledge them. Our perception gets warped and we end up believing things about the person that are entirely false.
Unfortunately, dyslexia is more common than you think, putting about ten to fifteen percent of the US population at risk of life-long illiteracy and social exclusion. Yet, only five out of every one hundred dyslexics are actually recognized and are offered assistance.1 Perhaps it is finally time to increase our horizons and learn a little more about this condition.
What Is Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a lack of ability to relate the sounds of words with the alphabets that create the words. This condition is considered a learning disability, which means it can affect certain abilities that humans use for learning such as reading and writing.
Because it is a learning disability, dyslexia also affects the person’s ability to remember names and facts, set techniques such as tying shoelaces and ties, to write neatly, to recall facts (even those from two minutes ago), and to read and interpret numbers correctly. Therefore, dyslexia is not a reflection of the person’s intelligence levels or vision.
Types Of Dyslexia
There are three main types of dyslexia. Most dyslexic people have all three types, usually at differing levels. These are:
- Dysnemkinesia: This type involves motor skills and a difficulty knowing how to form letters when writing. People with this type of dyslexia usually write their letters backward.
- Dysphonesia: This type involves listening or auditory skills. It also causes a lot of difficulty with pronouncing words the right way or understanding unfamiliar words.
- Dyseidesia: This type involves visual skills and causes difficulty or simply an inability to know or understand written words. It also causes difficulty in recognizing words by sound.
Causes Of Dyslexia
There is no definitive medical or scientific explanation as to what causes dyslexia. There are, however, some theories that exist.
- Hereditary: Some researchers are of the opinion that dyslexia is a condition that is linked to genes. This is why the condition often runs in families. A person is more likely to have dyslexia if his parents, siblings, or relatives have it (regardless of whether the condition has been diagnosed or not)
- Brain anatomy: While everyone’s brains are different, those of dyslexic people are thought to be faulty in terms of anatomy. Researchers believe that the way the different parts of the brain interact and communicate with each other may be inefficient which causes the person a difficulty in learning.
- Brain function: Each time we read, our brain translates the words we see on the page into sounds. These sounds are then combined by the brain to make meaningful words. In a typical brain, the areas that are responsible for language skills work in a predictable manner. But if a person or a child has dyslexia, these parts don’t function the right way, which makes learning such a difficult process.
Since there is such a gaping lack of any accurate evidence of what exactly causes dyslexia, it is hard to recognize where the problem exactly lies. Many specialists and researchers in this field are currently of the opinion that dyslexia is probably a combination of more than one of the above explanations.
How Dyslexia Affects Adults
Dyslexia affects both children and adults. Some people are diagnosed with this condition early in life, while others don’t realize they have dyslexia until they’re older.
Kids diagnosed with dyslexia struggle with school work, even though they are just as smart (or perhaps, even smarter) than the rest of their peers because of their learning disability. Even if they do “survive” school, they eventually become full-grown adults and life gets even more challenging. They face trouble getting into colleges and snagging the right internships. Filling out applications for jobs seems impossible and exhausting, let alone clearing job interviews.
Not only does this stop them from acquiring the qualifications that they need to move ahead in life, but also affects their confidence. They find it hard to make friends, and even harder to survive romantic relationships, even though they have the same feelings as everyone else does. As a result, dyslexia makes most adults (even children) decide to withdraw into their shells, to try and protect their self-esteem. This only results in depression and some even find themselves turning to crime to make ends meet.
Symptoms Of Dyslexia In Adults
Dyslexia is different for everyone. Some people have a mild form that they eventually learn how to manage. Others have a little more trouble overcoming it.
Some symptoms of dyslexia in older children and adults include problems or difficulty with:
- Memorizing things
- Completing math problems
- Making basic math calculations accurately
- Managing time
- Understanding jokes or idioms
- Being unable to summarize something they’ve read (even two minutes ago)
Sometimes, difficulty with reading is not very noticeable in dyslexic adults, which would explain why the condition may not have been diagnosed during childhood, where ample reading is required.
Additionally, there may be other symptoms that affect a dyslexic person’s daily functioning. These include:
- Having low self-esteem
- Being far too easily stressed
- Overreacting to people’s mistakes
- Imposing strict rules on oneself
- Learning better through visuals or through hands-on experience
- Facing difficulty focusing on one task
- Becoming overwhelmed and reacting violently if asked to fill out a lengthy form
- Avoiding meetings that involve planning
Conditions Associated With Dyslexia
Dyslexia can give rise to a variety of other conditions and problems in both adults and children, such as:
- Short-term memory issues
- Dyspraxia, or problems with basic coordination
- Problems being organized or getting organized
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
How Is Dyslexia In Adults Diagnosed?
Because dyslexia is not considered as a medical or physical condition, it is assessed and diagnosed by a psychologist, not a general practice doctor.
There are plenty of self-assessment tests available online. But while these may be able to alert you to some extent, they cannot be your only assessment tool. As pointed out earlier, adult dyslexia has many symptoms. Therefore, an in-person assessment with a psychologist is very important for an accurate diagnosis.
There is a wide variety of tests that the psychologist will run to evaluate the severity of dyslexia in the patient. These tests may include:
- Vision test
- Hearing test
- Reading test
- Psychological tests
- Questionnaires about the patient’s general lifestyle or work life
Treatment Options Available For Dyslexic Adults
Once the severity of the patient’s dyslexia has been assessed, a treatment plan will be put in place to help manage the condition. This could include:
- Training or tutoring: to help the person improve his reading skills, which is a must for dyslexia at any age
- Occupational therapy: to help the person learn how to work around and manage issues that his dyslexia can cause in the workplace
- Cheaper or more reasonable accommodation: which could be requested for from the workplace under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Spoken instructions: instead of written ones to make understanding easier
- Additional training methods: aimed at helping the person to learn and remember
- Special tutoring: in subjects or tasks that make the person uncomfortable
Using Technology To Manage Adult Dyslexia
Today, technology has advanced enough to help adults manage their dyslexia, especially if they’re working. Some of these measures include:
- Recording important conversations or meetings to listen to again later
- Using speech-to-text apps and software so that typing or writing everything isn’t always necessary
- Using electronic apps or organization apps to help maintain focus and stay on track without getting distracted
Can Dyslexia Be Cured?
Dyslexia is a disorder that is present at birth and is something, that unfortunately, cannot be prevented or cured. However, it can certainly be well managed with special instruction and support.
Here’s How You Can Offer Support
Just as it is important for someone with dyslexia to seek professional help, it is equally important for the rest of us to extend our support to people battling a learning disability. Here are a few things you can do:
- Recognize it: The first thing is understanding that a dyslexic person may not be aware of his condition. You can help them by talking to them about their difficulties and suggesting that they read up more about dyslexia. You may also refer him to a psychologist, but do expect a certain degree of unwillingness from his end. If you see he isn’t too keen to seek help, respect his choice.
- Ask: The second thing you can do is asking a dyslexic person what he needs to make his task easier. This may make you uncomfortable as you can never be too sure as to how he’d react. However, dyslexia affects different people in different ways, and you can’t assume that you know everything about helping a person with this condition. The best information will come from the person in question himself.
- Maintain privacy: Always be discreet and seek conversation with a dyslexic person in private. You must also take it upon yourself to maintain the confidentiality of the person’s disability status.
- Adapt your material accordingly: Teachers and employers must understand that people with dyslexia can learn normally, but probably need to learn in ways that are different from those used to teach or explain things to people without the condition. Classes or meetings can be individualized. Reading material used can be modified too; there are dyslexia-friendly fonts and thicker paper (that don’t show the other printed side through the page) you can use to print out notes or documents. Visual representation, using shorter sentences with simple words, and avoiding lengthy explanations will further help the person perform efficiently.
- Know more: Last but certainly not the least, be more aware of dyslexia and how it makes someone’s life difficult. The more you read, the more you understand, and the better equipped you will be to help a person with dyslexia.