The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity
Become a Better Reader

There is no deadline or age limit for when a person can learn to read. Research attests to the plasticity of the human brain and its ability to reshape itself in mature adults as it does in children. There are many dyslexic adults who are out of school and working or in retirement who simply want to learn to read or have more focused goals related to their work or to pursuing a high school equivalency (GED) diploma. Such adults face a serious challenge but one that can be met successfully.

In the coming years the vast majority of new jobs will require a twelfth- grade reading level. The ability to read impacts the quality of everyday life. Printed materials we read every day require a surprisingly high level of reading, from instructions on the ATM to IRS forms. To allow someone to enter adulthood and remain a very limited reader is to sentence him to second-class citizenry.

While children who are poor readers have not learned the fundamental skills of reading, adults, in contrast, may have acquired a smattering of some skills while totally lacking others. And so placement testing is especially important for older disabled readers since each is invariably starting from a different point and typically shows an uneven and unpredictable pattern of reading skills. Keep in mind that the goal is to match the instruction as closely as possible with the adult's needs. Teachers (and adult students, too) tend to overestimate an adult's reading abilities and are often shocked to see the results of the testing.

Ideally, the reading instruction is research-based, systematic, and delivered in small group settings. Adults in particular do well with group instruction (with a well-trained teacher). It's engaging, highly motivating, socializing, and effective. Adults benefit from learning from one another. Optimally, this instruction occurs four times a week, for one and a half to two hours per session. Some successful programs meet twice weekly. This is critical since attendance is one of the few factors associated with better progress.

Adults are particularly sensitive to issues of consistency and duration of instruction. Adults work during the day or may have young children (the majority of students in adult reading programs are between sixteen and thirty), and it is often difficult to get to class more than twice a week. Long intervals between classes and lack of practice reading at home represent real barriers to more rapid progress. Adult students can expect to increase their reading one grade level for every one hundred or so hours of instruction; clearly, the more hours per week, the faster the improvement. So maximizing the amount of instructional time in class and, particularly, practice at home is very important.

For teaching adults, I recommend these:

  • Language! provides the broadest coverage, encompassing just about every aspect of language instruction while also managing to integrate nicely the different language components. Each unit of study is rated according to its level of reading difficulty and assigned a "readability" code. A student in this program is now able to access more than a thousand books in fifteen categories, including adventure, sports, science fiction, history, biography, science, and mystery. Without such a system, pinpointing a book's level of readability is often more difficult than you might think.

  • Wilson Reading System uses manipulatives, such as cards with letters and a finger-tapping procedure, to teach phonics and word analysis skills systematically while stressing fluency, incorporating spelling, and providing engaging materials for adults to read. The program is designed to be taught in a one-on-one setting or in small groups. It typically requires one to three years to complete and is very well received by teachers and adult students.

  • Starting Over was developed primarily for mature men and women, particularly those attending adult basic education classes. Adults enter the program following an in-depth interview and assessment. They are introduced to the basic sound structure of language, including phonological awareness and letter-sound relationships; there is also instruction in handwriting, composition, spelling, vocabulary, and comprehension. While there are no texts or stories specifically associated with the program, teachers are encouraged to make use of all sorts of printed materials, including newspapers, dictionaries, and telephone books. Even the highest-level readers, those reading at a fifth or sixth grade level, will require at least one year to develop into competent, independent readers; many students require about three years.

Source: Overcoming Dyslexia

Copyright 2008, The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity Yale School of Medicine