When Dyslexics Become Good Readers

Author
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

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How to Cite this Article

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

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7 comments

  • Kelly Nelligan

    Hello! In reading on this site I find myself wondering if both my boys, 6 and 9, might be dyslexic. Neither one of them is having trouble reading in school, however, both of them we have been primed for reading with HOARDS of picture books since birth and exposure to all those words associated with pictures before formal reading instruction.
    My 9 year old has adhd and matches so many of the characteristics listed on this site- other than difficulty reading, he is reading in the 99th percentile for his grade level although his spelling is pretty bad and so is his handwriting.
    My 6 year old has also picked up reading very quickly in kindergarten and has tested high for reading ability at his age, but he is struggling with b and d consistently. Personality wise he matches less characteristics, but when I asked him if he thinks in words or pictures he immediately responded pictures.
    My dad also has dyslexia, he is in his 70’s and was held back in 1st grade. He went on to own his own air conditioning and refrigeration company… highly intelligent, but somewhere he could mask his perceived deficits.
    It is all very interesting to me and something I definitely want to keep my eye on to support if I need to.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      I think that this pattern will become more common as people gain a better understanding of dyslexia. The reading difficulties tied to dyslexia can be mitigated or avoided altogether with the right types of early support. This is true with every other symptom or area of difficulty as well — but outside of the academic area, we might not put much effort into exploring the ways to provide support. So if we bolster the reading skills early on, the other types of difficulty might not be so obvious until they pop up later on.

      I think it’s best to view dyslexia in broad terms focusing on the positive mental strengths as well as areas of difficulty. Then we can make educational choices focused on enhancing our children’s natural gifts, and we can have young people who grow into adults who are proud of their dyslexic talents.

      If your sons are generally good readers, you could use the Davis clay modeling techniques in a more targeted way. b/d confusion is still quite common at age 6 — you’ll find more information in the article on this site about Mirror Generalization (see https://www.dyslexia.com/research/research-database/mirror-generalization/)

      The mental focusing tools described in the book The Gift of Dyslexia are really helpful for anyone, dyslexic or not. So between those tools and some modeling clay, you may find it is quite easy to address specific problems as they arise.

  • 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

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