Helping Adults with Dyslexia

Helping adults with dyslexia is critical to improving opportunities for education, employment, and independent living.

Dyslexia is a brain-based, specific learning disability that most frequently causes difficulty with fluent and accurate word recognition, spelling, and decoding abilities. In recent years, there has been a greater focus on diagnosing dyslexia instead of grouping it under the general umbrella term of learning disability. This specific diagnosis is important for several reasons.

Helping Adults with Dyslexia in Educational Settings

There are many ways in which educational settings such as adult education and postsecondary programs can provide support for adults with dyslexia. Many adults who were unable to finish high school enter education programs to earn a GED or high school credits toward a diploma. Often these programs require an initial assessment of reading and math skills such as the Test of Adult Basic Skills (TABE). These assessments may help to identify adults who are reading significantly below the level necessary to pass the GED or meet other academic demands, and can be used as a way to further screen for dyslexia.

It is extremely important that adult education programs and community colleges ensure that there are trained educators available to assist in screening and providing accommodations for struggling readers. Many adults enter these programs to further their education or receive vocational training and educators in these settings are often on the front lines of identifying adults with dyslexia.

The purpose of the Section 504 is clear: ‘To empower individuals with disabilities to maximize employment, economic self-sufficiency, independence, and inclusion and integration into society.’❞

Community colleges, in particular, must have processes in place to support adults. This may mean serving students in educational settings under 504 plans. While special education protections under an IEP end when a student leaves high school, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, including adults. The purpose of the Section 504 is clear: “To empower individuals with disabilities to maximize employment, economic self-sufficiency, independence, and inclusion and integration into society.”

The documentation required for and contained in 504 plans is important for several reasons.

  • A documented disability, such as dyslexia, is necessary for an adult to be eligible for the use of accommodations on high-stakes tests such as the GED, SAT, and GRE. Without the results of previous or current evaluations, many students are unable to obtain the necessary documentation to quality for accommodations.

  • Students with 504 plans are eligible for accommodations and modifications on class assignments and assessments that allow them to be successful in adult education programs leading toward a diploma, certification, or license.

A website that provides more information about accommodations for the GED can be found here and for students with disabilities who are preparing for postsecondary education, information about rights and responsibilities can be found here.

Appropriate accommodations for helping adults with dyslexia in educational settings include access to print resources like those offered by Learning Ally™. Over 80,000 human-read audiobooks include an extensive collection of textbooks, classic literature and test prep aids that are available to download for anyone with dyslexia or other learning disabilities. This particular resource highlights the text as it’s being read and offers text and audio speed adjustments. Audiobooks are particularly useful for providing access to large amounts of text that would be otherwise be overwhelming and allows adults with dyslexia to keep pace with their peers.

Other accommodations that are effective for learners with dyslexia are extended time on assignments and assessments,use of assistive technology such as reading pens, software that supports text-to-speech and speech-to-text, and spell check and word prediction programs. Low tech options include the use of Google docs and spreadsheets that can be shared and edited between multiple parties and apps such as Mercury Reader that convert articles and website content into clean and readable text without ads and other distractions.

Helping Adults with Dyslexia in Work Settings

Nearly all adults, regardless of educational background, will require employment to provide for themselves and their families. This makes finding the right job particularly important for adults with dyslexia. Statistics attest to the fact that these adults can be extremely successful if they are able to utilize their strengths and reduce reading and writing demands.

Many dyslexics report a history of hiding their dyslexia and living in fear that they will be found out and lose their job if others discover their limitations.❞

It is also beneficial if an adult with dyslexia can be open with their employer and coworkers about the areas of job performance that are difficult or stressful. Many dyslexics report a history of hiding their dyslexia and living in fear that they will be found out and lose their job if others discover their limitations. As information about dyslexia becomes more available and more understood, it is hopeful that helping adults with dyslexia in the workplace to become valued colleagues will become commonplace.

This is certainly possible given today’s high tech environment and opportunities for employers to promote out-of-the-box thinking. There are many ways that an adult with dyslexia can use technology and strategies to contribute. Smartphones and computers offer a range of technologies that assist with planning and organization such as electronic calendars and reminders, and support for writing and editing is widely available.

Adults with dyslexia have often developed novel ways of thinking and learning that can generate energy in a stagnant group or project.❞

Considering options for helping adults with dyslexia in the workplace may actually be good for all employees and a way for businesses and organizations to think differently about staff participation. Identifying each employee’s strengths is a first step in building strong teams. By determining what every member brings to the table, adults with dyslexia can frequently be viewed as an asset. Adults with dyslexia have often developed novel ways of thinking and learning that can generate energy in a stagnant group or project.

If someone is not good at writing, no problem. That employee may be better suited to oral presentations or following up with other departments or customers. Many people with dyslexia excel at multi-dimensional thinking and are often better at seeing the big picture and creative problem-solving. Because they have not relied on print, adults with dyslexia may have honed other skills such as visualization, intuition, and highly practical methods of getting things done.

What works for supporting adults with dyslexia can also reform workplace processes. An emphasis on innovation, creativity, and efficiency can generate a host of strategies for improving traditional practices. Instead of long written reports, for example, short summaries or structured group reporting sessions may work well for everyone. Software programs and apps allow teams to track workflow and progress and increase contributions from team members who are in different locations or work remotely. Using online forms or templates are another resource that may start as an accommodation and quickly become an effective tool. Daily or weekly planning sessions with peers or supervisors encourage discussion and verbal participation and may actually take less time and accomplish more than long meetings.

The best way to identify methods for helping adults with dyslexia in any setting is to ask them. There is no greater level of support than determining what a person needs in order to be successful in an academic setting or place of employment.

Are you a teacher or administrator looking for free dyslexia resources?

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