By Debra Marcelle-Coney, PhD, and Myrna Molinari, MSW, LCSW, CAP, Department of Veteran Affairs

The thought of a learning disability never crosses the minds of most people. Some may dismiss the idea and assume it is a few tendencies or possible characteristics of something else. As a result, the association between transposition of a few numbers here and there does not seem like a big deal. One may think it is an error until one notices a pattern or trend over many years or significant events and begins to track at least ten or more of the common characteristics of Adult Dyslexia. Listed below are a portion of the five areas of adult lifetime stages of maturity based on the New England Dyslexia Solutions website:


  • Has difficulty focusing and staying on task, may feel more comfortable managing many different tasks simultaneously
  • Difficulty with tests, passing standardized tests can be a barrier to career advancement
  • Highly successful/overachiever, or considered “not working up to potential.” Either way, displays extreme work ethic
  • May be a perfectionist and overreact when they make a mistake
  • Out-of-the-box thinker or operates with very strict rules for themselves
  • Learns best through hands-on experience, demonstrations, experimentation, observation, and visual aids


  • May be able to sense emotions and energy of others
  • Remembers struggling in school
  • Often has dyslexic children and experiences guilt when seeing own child struggle. Insecurities arise while reading to own children or helping them with homework.
  • Easily distracted/annoyed by noises and other things in environment
  • May appear to “zone out” and be unaware that it is happening
  • Misspeaks, misuses, or mispronounces words without realizing it
  • May have poor balance or is/was very athletic
  • May have excellent recall of events that were experienced or not remember at all
  • May confuse past conversations or be accused of “not listening”
  • Difficulty remembering names of people without tricks, but remembers faces

Treatment Options for Adult Dyslexia

Researcher and expert on dyslexia Ronald Dell Davis views dyslexia as a gift instead of a defect, and describes dyslexia as a function of picture-thinking with an associated assortment of strengths and abilities. Davis himself struggled with a severe form of dyslexia and researched ways to overcome barriers to learning.

His Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) utilizes visualization paired with rapid eye movement to process images attached to traumatic emotions that are stored in memory. The eye movements are believed to stimulate and integrate activity of both brain hemispheres that is conducive to better problem solving. This method helps the patient view the original event or problem while processing out negative feelings and imagery to improve mood and functioning. Founder Laney Rosensweig has used the ART method in dyslexia treatment. His results show the adult learner “seeing” themselves reading successfully without difficulty. As a result, they feel more relaxed, confident, and read more fluently while enjoying an experience they previously dreaded. Rosensweig and Davis’ position is the brain functions in picture thinking to resolve problems may offer a very viable treatment option for adults with dyslexia.

Color therapy has also been successfully utilized in helping the adult learner to see the words and numbers correctly instead of transposed. This helps them to read fluently, work correctly with numbers, and function better. Color therapy has been studied in the treatment of dyslexia, and while there are a range of colors that have been successfully used, two dominant colors, rose and aqua blue, appear to work best for addressing difficulties in reading. There are a number of formats the colors can be used in, including sheer colored plastic sheeting and colored lensed glasses. Alternative medicine also uses light in the practice of color therapy.

Numerous other theories on the development of learning disorders and methods for treating dyslexia are available. The main barrier for the adult professional to overcome is seeking help. For those with limited access to professional help, there are free resources available.

Math, Time Management, Directions

  • May understand higher math, but can’t show it on paper
  • May excel at math, or may still rely on tricks for remembering math facts
  • Relies on calculators or finger counting, may have difficulty with making change
  • Difficulty with left/right and/or north, south, east, west
  • Gets lost easily or never forgets a place they’ve been
  • Difficulty reading maps
  • May have anxiety or stress when driving in unfamiliar places, relies on others to drive when possible
  • May lose track of time and is frequently late, or is highly aware of it and is very rarely late
  • Finds it difficult to estimate how long a task will take to complete

Reading, Writing, and Spelling

  • Difficulty reading unfamiliar fonts
  • Avoids reading out loud, or may dislike public speaking
  • Will commonly perceive that they “read better silently”
  • Has adopted compensatory tricks to remember spelling and homonyms (their, there, they’re), or misuses homonyms and has poor or inconsistent/phonetic spelling
  • Reading fluency and comprehension fluctuates depending upon subject matter
  • Frequently has to re-read sentences in order to comprehend
  • Fatigues or becomes bored quickly while reading
  • Reliance on others (assistants, spouses, significant others) for written correspondence
  • Uncertainty with words, punctuation, and spelling when writing, or reliance on spellcheck and grammarcheck
  • Words out of context look “wrong”
  • Poor handwriting, masks spelling mistakes
  • Writes with all capital letters, or mixes capital letters within words, and abbreviates words frequently

Behavior, Health, and Personality

  • May have a short fuse or is easily frustrated, angered, or annoyed
  • Easily stressed and overwhelmed in certain situations
  • Low self-esteem
  • Self-conscious when speaking in a group, may have difficulty getting thoughts out: pauses frequently, speaks in halting phrases, or leaves sentences incomplete. This may worsen with stress or distraction.
  • Sticks to what they know, fear of new tasks or any situation where they are out of comfort zone
  • Extremely disorderly or compulsively orderly
  • Confusion, stress, physical health issues, time pressure, and fatigue will significantly increase symptoms

Like most, I thought dyslexia was predominately a children’s condition. Personally, I never imagined that I would have dyslexic traits, until I began to notice how some of my thinking patterns were inverted, meaning my sentence structure pattern provided the ending before the beginning. Although my chair during my dissertation process would recommend I periodically change some of my concepts around, I never believed it was possibly a learning condition.

It was only after the push to reach a targeted disabilities goal of 2 percent of staff as one of the requirements for the annual Employment Equal Opportunity Report did I realize. Someone during the meeting disclosed their dyslexia condition and asked whether that was one of the disabilities. (It was concluded it was not.)It was suggested, though, if anyone would like to self-identify, that the form would be available to be submitted to personnel. The Employment Equal Opportunity manager assured everyone this disclosure would not cause any discrimination or hinder any potential promotion opportunities based on the disability identification.

After this encounter I decided to do some reading about dyslexia. Research shows many adults go undiagnosed and suffer through a life of shame, doubt, and being misunderstood. Thankfully, there are a number of treatment options available for the adult with dyslexia which provide hope in managing the impact dyslexia has on functioning personally and professionally.