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Dyslexia in Adults

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 reasonable accommodations.

Dyslexia is often thought of as a problem of childhood and early learning. In fact it is a lifelong condition. 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 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 information 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.

Dyslexia is not a ‘disease’ that should or can be ‘cured’ and one does not ‘grow out of it’.  It is a difference in how some people learn. It is a mixture of difficulties and strengths.  There are many helpful strategies for coping with it and dyslexia does not, by itself, prevent individuals from attaining qualifications, or succeeding in business.  Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, W.B. Yeats and Thomas Edison are all thought to have had dyslexia.  In the business world, Richard Branson of Virgin, Nicholas Negroponte of Media Lab, and John Reed of Citibank are all happy to say that they have dyslexia and many celebrities have also spoken openly about their dyslexia, e.g. Sir Stephen Redgrave, Jamie Oliver, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.

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DAI activities are part-funded by the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government (Scheme to Support National Organisations 2016-2019 administered by Pobal), the Special Education Section of the Department of Education and Skills, SOLAS and KWETB.