As we read, our brain is rapidly translating letters to their corresponding sound, 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.
In people with dyslexia, these words are difficult to interpret and result in reading comprehension problems. While most people associate dyslexia with children, adults can also have dyslexia, too. To expand on this topic, Dr. Jessica Galgano, executive director and founder of Open Lines Speech and Communication, explained what dyslexia in adults is, which symptoms to be aware of and how speech therapy can treat it.
What is Dyslexia in Adults?
Dyslexia stems from difficulties efficiently decoding words. It refers to a specific type of reading disorder that is neurologically based and caused by underlying weaknesses processing and manipulating the sounds of language.
Collectively, this group of skills is termed phonological awareness, and people with dyslexia have difficulty interpreting and manipulating the sounds associated with specific letters to form words.
This can make it hard to learn, memorize, and use sound to letter correspondence, segment sounds of a word, blend sounds of a word together, and combine sounds to produce words.
“Proficiency in all of these phonological skills are essential for successful and efficient word recognition, word decoding, and spelling,” Dr. Galgano said. “When these kinds of weaknesses are present, it can feel like reading fluently is an arduous task and as a result it can be challenging to comprehend and hold on to what was read with additional secondary impacts impeding vocabulary growth.”
What Is Phonological Awareness?
Phonological awareness refers to a group of skills that ultimately enable us to decode written words. Phonological awareness relies on the ability to translate letters into their corresponding sounds and integrate, analyze, or arrange sounds to form words.
“This could mean segmenting a word into syllables or individual sounds, recognizing rhymes, or combining sounds to form words,” Dr. Galgano said. “Reading fluency requires mastery of all these skills so that we can promptly recognize words when we see them in print.”
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 that dyslexia was caused by a visual processing disorder. However, as Dr. Galgano noted, more recent neuroimaging studies have confirmed that people with dyslexia do not visually reverse or jumble their letters, rather difficulties occur due to weaknesses in phonological processing.
“This means it can be hard to break words apart into their individual sounds or combine and blend sounds together to form words – skills which are needed to quickly recognize printed words,” she said.
Signs of Dyslexia in Adults
Initial symptoms of dyslexia are characterized by reduced phonological awareness, meaning difficulties with learning and using alphabetic principles like translating letters to sounds. Additional symptoms include difficulties combining sounds to form words and manipulating the sounds of words to form new words.
“Ongoing difficulty characterized by decreased reading fluency and trouble quickly and efficiently decoding or recognizing words are primary components,” Dr. Galgano says. “Some may notice they have a long standing history of problems with spelling and writing in addition to diminished reading fluency and struggle with efficient reading comprehension skills.”
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. However, people can struggle identifying speech sounds, which makes it difficult to connect speech with letters. As a result, reading comprehension becomes problematic.
The good news is speech therapy approaches promote neural changes that can improve reading skills for adults with dyslexia.
After a dyslexia diagnosis is confirmed, a speech language pathologist (SLP) will conduct a comprehensive language evaluation that closely examines the history of your difficulties including all aspects of skills required for successful listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
“Using a series of tests, the SLP will evaluate and determine your level of proficiency in a number of phonological awareness skills including decoding, word recognition, word automaticity, reading fluency, reading comprehension, processing speed, spelling, writing, rapid naming, auditory comprehension, verbal expressive language, and working memory,” Dr. Galgano said.
Dyslexia Treatment for Adults
Speech therapy intervention targets strengthening phonological awareness skills which are strongly correlated with improved proficiency in reading decoding skills. Although each individual case is different, many patients benefit from a multisensory treatment approach in which sight, sound, touch and movement help facilitate learning.
“Therapeutic interventions that use multisensory techniques to support phonological awareness skills including training in sound awareness, rules for letter-sound organization, concept imagery, visualizing and verbalizing techniques, sensory stimulation, and articulatory feedback enhance phonological processing which is the underlying weakness in dyslexia,” Dr. Galgano said. “By targeting these skills, adults are enhancing the connection between sounds and written letters and words thereby improving reading automaticity.”
Open Lines’ expertly trained team of licensed SLPs are specially trained in a number of well-established programs grounded in multisensory phonological treatments including the Linda Mood-Bell programs.
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 therapist 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 [email protected], or through our contact form. If you or a loved one are interested in treating adult dyslexia, request an appointment to discuss your goals and review our service options.