When Dyslexics Become Good Readers

Abigail Marshall ©2019 DDAI

What Brain Science Tells us about Dyslexia and the Reading Brain

Girl reading book

Most brain research into dyslexia and reading focuses on dyslexic children and adults who are also struggling readers. Often, brain scan technology is used to observe differences in brain function when compared either to same-age individuals who are good readers, or to younger, nondyslexic subjects who read at the same level. These studies rest on an assumption that observed differences in brain structure or function are the cause of the reading difficulties.

However, many individuals with childhood dyslexia eventually become capable readers. Even though the path to acquiring reading skills may be delayed, reading comprehension skills may be well above average in adulthood, and many dyslexics successfully pursue higher education and earn advanced degrees. Scientists sometimes refer to these readers as being “compensated” or “resilient.”

When brain scientists have explored the differences between dyslexics who read well and those who continue to struggle, a different picture has emerged. More than two decades of research evidence makes it clear that for a dyslexic, the process of becoming a capable reader requires the development of some mental skills that are quite different from typical patterns of reading development. Here are some key findings:

Adult dyslexics who read well show an inverse pattern of brain use when performing phonetic tasks. While typical readers show increased left brain activation for such tasks, such activity is correlated with weaker reading skills in among dyslexics. The dyslexics who read well show greater activity in the right temporal and frontal regions instead. (Waldie, 2017; Rumsey, 1999; Horwitz, 1998)
Greater activity in right brain and frontal brain regions in dyslexic children correlates to and predicts later reading achievement. Conversely, a longitudinal study has indicated that dyslexic children who fail to develop these alternate mental pathways remain persistently poor readers. (Patael, 2018; Hoeft, 2010; Shaywitz, 2003)
The brain areas activated by capable dyslexic readers are tied to understanding word meaning. High-achieving dyslexic readers often perform even better than nondyslexic readers on measures of vocabulary knowledge and comprehension. (Cavalli, 2017)

One group of researchers observed, “These findings challenge the idea that normalization of neural activity is essential to remediate dyslexia.” (Waldie, 2017)

These studies provide insight into the reasons students often progress so quickly with a Davis program for dyslexia, which is keyed to the dyslexic learning style. Davis programs provide specific tools for controlling attention focus and for mastering word meaning, using strategies that come easily to most dyslexic learners.

See List of Research References

Aboud, Katherine S., Laura A. Barquero and Laurie E. Cutting.. Prefrontal mediation of the reading network predicts intervention response in dyslexia. Cortex. 101: 96-106, April, (2018).

Noor Z Al Dahhan, John R Kirby, Donald C Brien, Rina Gupta, Allyson Harrison, Douglas P Munoz. The Biological Basis Of Dyslexia At A Neural Systems Level. Brain Communications. fcaa173, (2020).

Bolger, D. J., Minas, J., Burman, D. D., & Booth, J. R.. Differential effects of orthographic and phonological consistency in cortex for children with and without reading impairment. Neuropsychologia. 46(14), 3210–3224, (2008).

Hélène Brèthes, Eddy Cavalli, Ambre Denis-Noël, Jean-Baptiste Melmi, Abdessadek El Ahmadi, Maryse Bianco and Pascale Colé. Text Reading Fluency and Text Reading Comprehension Do Not Rely on the Same Abilities in University Students With and Without Dyslexia. Frontiers in Psychology. 13:866543, (2022).

Eddy Cavalli, Pascale Colé, Chotiga Pattamadilok, Jean-Michel Badier, Christelle Zielinski, Valérie Chanoine, Johannes C. Ziegler. Spatiotemporal reorganization of the reading network in adult dyslexia. Cortex. Volume 92, Pages 204-221, (2017).

Eddy Cavalli, Lynne G. Duncan, Carsten Elbro, Abdessadek El Ahmadi, Pascale Colé. Phonemic—Morphemic dissociation in university students with dyslexia: an index of reading compensation?. Annals of Dyslexia. Vol 67, Issue 1, pp 63-84, (2017).

Christine Chiarello, Linda J. Lombardino, Natalie A. Kacinik, Ronald Otto, Christiana M. Leonard. Neuroanatomical and behavioral asymmetry in an adult compensated dyslexic. Brain and Language,. Volume 98, Issue 2, Pages 169-181,, (2006).

S. Hélène Deacon, Rauno Parrila & John R. Kirby. Processing of derived forms in high-functioning dyslexics. Annals of Dyslexia. 56, 103–128, (2006).

Stefan Heim, Marion Grande, Elisabeth Meffert, Simon B. Eickhoff, Helen Schreiber, Juraj Kukolja, Nadim Jon Shah, Walter Huber, Katrin Amunts. Cognitive levels of performance account for hemispheric lateralisation effects in dyslexic and normally reading children,. Neuroimage. Volume 53, Issue 4, Pages 1346-1358, (2010).

Hoeft Fumiko, McCandliss Bruce D, Black Jessica M, et al. Neural systems predicting long-term outcome in dyslexia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Vol 108 No. 1: 361-366, (2010).

B. Horwitz, J. M. Rumsey, and B. C. Donohue. Functional connectivity of the angular gyrus in normal reading and dyslexia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 95(15): 8939–8944, (1998).

Sarah Illingworth, Dorothy V.M. Bishop. Atypical cerebral lateralisation in adults with compensated developmental dyslexia demonstrated using functional transcranial Doppler ultrasound. Brain and Language. Volume 111, Issue 1, Pages 61-65,, (2009).

Martin Ingvar, Peter af Trampe, Torgny Greitz, Lars Eriksson, Sharon Stone-Elander, Curt von Euler. Residual differences in language processing in compensated dyslexics revealed in simple word reading tasks. Brain and Language. 83(2), 249–267, (2002).

Leonard Christiana M, Eckert Mark A. Assymetry and Dyslexia. Developmental Neuropsychology. , (2008).

Lucy Anne Livingston, Francesca Happé. Conceptualising compensation in neurodevelopmental disorders: Reflections from autism spectrum disorder. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. Volume 80, Pages 729-742, (2017).

Łuniewska, Chyl, Debska, Banaszkiewicz, Żelechowska, Marchewka, Grabowska and Jednoróg. Children with dyslexia and familial risk for dyslexia present atypical development of the neuronal phonological network. Frontiers in Neuroscience. , (2019).

Alfred Mansour, Susan M. Bowyer, Annette E. Richard, John E. Moran, Laszlo A. Erdodi, Amy Olszewski, Lesley Pawluk, Daniel Jacobson, Kelly Vogt, Aimee M. Moore, Renée Lajiness-O’Neill. Magnetoencephalography Coherence Source Imaging in Dyslexia: Activation of Working Memory Pathways. Psychology. Vol.5 No.16, pp 1879-1910, (2014).

Mittag, Maria; Eric Larson, Samu Taulu, Maggie Clarke, Patricia Kuhl. Altered auditory sampling in infants at risk for dyslexia across the sensitive period of native phoneme learning. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 146, 2832, (2019).

O Ozernov-Palchik, TM Centanni, SD Beach, S May, T Hogan, JDE Gabrieli. Distinct neural substrates of individual differences in components of reading comprehension in adults with or without dyslexia. NeuroImage. Volume 226, 1 February 2021, 117570, (2020).

Smadar Z. Patael, Emily A. Farris, Jessica M. Black, Roeland Hancock, John D. E. Gabrieli, Laurie E. Cutting,. Brain basis of cognitive resilience: Prefrontal cortex predicts better reading comprehension in relation to decoding. PLOS One. Online: June 14, (2018).

Rasamimanana Maud; Mylène Barbaroux, Pascale Colé, Mireille Besson. Semantic compensation and novel word learning in university students with dyslexia. Neuropsychologia. Volume 139, 107358, (2020).

Rumsey JM, Horwitz B, Donohue BC, Nace KL, Maisog JM, Andreason P.. A functional lesion in developmental dyslexia: left angular gyral blood flow predicts severity.. Brain and Language. 70(2):187-204, (1999).

Matthias Schurz, Heinz Wimmer, Fabio Richlan, Philipp Ludersdorfer, Johannes Klackl, Martin Kronbichler. Resting-State and Task-Based Functional Brain Connectivity in Developmental Dyslexia. Cerebral Cortex. Volume 25, Issue 10, Pages 3502–3514, (2015).

Seghier ML, Neufeld NH, Zeidman P, Leff AP, Mechelli A, Nagendran A, Riddoch JM, Humphreys GW, Price CJ.. Reading without the left ventral occipito-temporal cortex. Neuropsychologia. 50(14), 3621-3635, (2012).

Shelley Shaul, Yossi Arzouan, Abraham Goldstein. Brain activity while reading words and pseudo-words: a comparison between dyslexic and fluent readers. International Journal of Psychophysiology. Volume 84, Issue 3, Pages 270-276, (2012).

Shaywitz SE, Shaywitz BA, Fulbright R, et al. Neural Systems for Compensation and Persistence: Young Adult Outcome of Childhood Reading Disability. Biological Psychiatry. 54:25-33, (2003).

Shaywitz, B.A., Skudlarski, P., Holahan, J.M., Marchione, K.E., Constable, R.T., Fulbright, R.K., Zelterman, D., Lacadie, C. and Shaywitz, S.E.. Age‐related changes in reading systems of dyslexic children. Annals of Neurology. 61: 363-370, (2017).

Linda S. Siegel, David Share, Esther Gava. Evidence for Superior Orthographic Skills in Dyslexics. Psychological Science. Volume: 6 issue: 4, page(s): 250-254, (1995).

Maaike Vandermosten, Jolijn Vanderauwera, Catherine Theys, Astrid De Vos, Sophie Vanvooren, Stefan Sunaert, Jan Wouters, Pol Ghesquière. A DTI tractography study in pre-readers at risk for dyslexia, Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. Volume 14, Pages 8-15, (2015).

Karen E. Waldie, Anna J. Wilson, Reece P. Roberts, David Moreau. Reading network in dyslexia: Similar, yet different. Brain and Language. Volume 174, Pages 29-41, November, (2017).

Karen E Waldie, Charlotte E Haigh, Gjurgjica Badzakova-Trajkov, Jude Buckley, Ian J Kirk. Reading the wrong way with the right hemisphere. Brain Sciences. 3(3), 1060–1075, (2013).

Welcome Suzanne E, Chiarello Christine, Thompson Paul M, Sowell Elizabeth R. Reading Skill is Related to Individual Differences in Brain Structure in College Students. Human Brain Mapping. 32 (8):1194–1205, (2011).

Suzanne E. Welcome, Christiana M. Leonard, Christine Chiarello. Alternate reading strategies and variable asymmetry of the planum temporale in adult resilient readers. Brain and Language. 113: 73-83, (2010).

Welcome, Suzanne E; Christine Chiarello, Laura K. Halderman, Christiana M. Leonard. Lexical processing skill in college-age resilient readers. Reading and Writing. Volume 22, Issue 3, pp 353–371 |, (2009).

Whitney, Carol, Paddy Ross, Zhiheng Zhou, and Lars Strother. The Visual Word Form Area Natively Processes Shape Sequences: Implications for Developmental Dyslexia. PsyArXiv. June 9, (2019).

Xiaohui Yan, Ke Jiang, Hui Li, Ziyi Wang, Kyle Perkins, Fan Cao. Convergent and divergent brain structural and functional abnormalities associated with developmental dyslexia. eLife:Neuroscience. , (2021).

Xi Yu, Silvina Ferradal, Jade Dunstan, Clarisa Carruthers, Joseph Sanfilippo, Jennifer Zuk, Lilla Zöllei, Borjan Gagoski, Yangming Ou, P. Ellen Grant, Nadine Gaab. Atypical functional connectivity of the left fusiform gyrus in infants at familial risk for developmental dyslexia. MedRxiv Preprints. , (2022).

Yu, Xi; Jennifer Zuk, Nadine Gaab. What Factors Facilitate Resilience in Developmental Dyslexia? Examining Protective and Compensatory Mechanisms Across the Neurodevelopmental Trajectory. Child Development Perspectives. Volume 12, Issue 4 , Pages 240-246, (2018).

Xi Yu, Jennifer Zuk, Meaghan V. Perdue, Ola Ozernov-Palchik, Talia Raney, Sara D. Beach, Elizabeth S. Norton, Yangming O, John D. E. Gabrieli, Nadine Gaab. Putative protective neural mechanisms in pre-readers with a family history of dyslexia who subsequently develop typical reading skills. Human Brain Mapping. , (2020).

Jennifer Zuk, Jade Dunstan, Elizabeth Norton, Xi Yu, Ola Ozernov-Palchik, Yingying Wang, Tiffany P. Hogan, John D. E. Gabrieli, Nadine Gaab. Multifactorial pathways facilitate resilience among kindergarteners at risk for dyslexia: A longitudinal behavioral and neuroimaging study. Developmental Science. Accepted manuscript online: 01 May 2020, (2020).

How to Cite this Article

Marshall, Abigail. (2019). “When Dyslexics Become Good Readers.” Davis Dyslexia Association International, www.dyslexia.com

Related Articles

Brain Scans Show Dyslexics Read Better with Alternative Strategies

Brain Scans Show Dyslexics Read Better with Alternative Strategies

Scientists studying the brain have found that dyslexic adults who become capable readers use different neural pathways than nondyslexics. This research shows that there are at least two independent systems for reading: one that is typical...
Davis Program Average Reading Gains

Davis Program Average Reading Gains

Statistics from Rocky Point Academy Davis Facilitators Lawrence and Stacey Smith have assembled data showing reading level gains for more than 360 clients who completed the Davis Dyslexia Correction® program at their center, Rocky Point Academy , in Calgary, Canada.
When Phonics Doesn't Work

When Phonics Doesn't Work

Traditional tutoring for dyslexia relies on intensive instruction in phonemic awareness and the phonetic code. But such teaching is an arduous process for many students. Often progress is slow, relying heavily on repetition and "overlearning."...

Share this page!


  • David Franklin

    I never dreamed I could be dyslexic, until I watched Liz Miele’s talk to the Dyslexic Association of America (I think that was the organization in question). I can read well. I can write pretty well, too. I’ve written two novels, for Pete’s sake! And I edit academic theses. And yet, listening to her talk about her brain, the strong points and weak points of her thinking, I thought: this is me. But my mom taught me to read when I was about one year old. I learned to read word by word. It became easy, addictive, fun. I soaked up stories and information and developed an excellent memory. I have the strong spatial awareness, big picture thinking, and visual tendencies that apparently are typical, but all-too-seldom spoken of. When I’m doing creative writing, I can visualize the scene easily, but getting it down in words is difficult. I rewrite multiple times. Including to eliminate errors such as writing “known” for no one, and “summon” for someone. When looking at spelling, I don’t go letter by letter – I go by clusters that have particular etymological/morphological significance. It’s enabled me to extend my vocabulary, understand unfamiliar words, and even learn other languages. Either I’m not dyslexic, or my mom unintentionally got me started on reading in a way that really helped.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Thank you for sharing, David. Keep in mind that a person can have the gift part of dyslexia without experiencing problems significant enough to create a disability.

  • Sarah

    My dyslexic daughter started reading at 9, and was an above average reader by 11, learning simply by reading her fav books. What we need is a program that teaches spelling, a subject which is close to reaching third grade level.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Sarah, some of the Davis techniques that help with spelling are the “spell-reading” and “sweep-sweep-spell” exercises which build the habit of visual scanning from left-to-right and sequencing the letters of the words; and the visualization of the word done with Davis Symbol Mastery, that also includes spelling the word both backwards and forwards. Because English spellings are so variable and unpredictable, I think it’s very important to develop a good visual memory of both the letter sequence and the overall shape of the word, as well as to understand phonetic conventions. It’s also helpful to understand how word meaning relates to spelling — so understanding word morphology, roots and affixes can also be very helpful. I do think that most dyslexics tend to have difficulty with English spelling, even after they become good readers — but this can also improve over time.

  • Darren S

    Been 52, dyslexic I found this review helpful. As I will not give up on learning to Spall read

Leave a public question or comment:

If you need personal help or assistance please use our contact forms instead.

All comments are moderated. Comments that are not relevant to the page topic or which contain identifiable personal information will not be published.

Your email address will not be published.