During research in 1994 at Leicester University into appropriate support for adults with dyslexia, Marion found that tuition following a structured cumulative language programme was essential, but that other areas needed to be addressed at the same time. These needs are wider than difficulties with literacy.

The study saw the emergence of a three-strand provision for adults with dyslexia.

  • The structured language programme is one of these strands. Adults with dyslexia have often not grasped the basic conventions and patterns that underpin the English language and it can be a revelation to many to discover these. To learn these using multi-sensory techniques – seeing, hearing, saying, doing, simultaneously – enables them to supplement their often poor visual or aural memories. The cumulative aspect enables them to constantly revise and reinforce skills to combat their short term memory problems.
  • The second strand is an emphasis on help with strategies to cope with their unique literacy needs. These can range from sending a postcard while on holiday to compiling business reports or writing assignments in Higher Education. Each adult should be encouraged to discover their own preferred learning style and to explore ways of circumventing their difficulties. They need much persuasion that ‘cheating’ – for example, using a Spellchecker – is O.K.
  • The aim of the third strand is to encourage the adults to become aware of their dyslexia and its effect on their lives so far and to enable them to ‘reframe’ their perspective and take control of their dyslexia. The tutor or supporter has to provide the support that enables this. Nearly all adults with specific learning difficulties have a very low picture of their worth and capabilities. Much energy and effort is devoted to hiding their supposed inadequacies. Understanding how dyslexia affects them, or does not affect them, is crucial. In this way the dyslexic person can get a truer picture of their own potential and how they can fulfil this.

Marion found David McLoughlin’s book ‘Adult Dyslexia, Assessment, Counselling and Training’ (1994, pub. Whurr) most helpful in her study. He writes as follows about research by Gerber in 1992:

‘Gerber, Ginsberg and Reiff (1992)* have made a major contribution to understanding and helping dyslexic adults by studying those who have become successful. In contrast to research that has focused on why dyslexics fail, it has identified the factors that contribute to their success. The overriding factor is the extent to which dyslexics have been able to take control over their lives. Being able to do this involves internal decisions and external manifestations.

The former include:

  • a desire to succeed
  • becoming goal-oriented
  • re-framing, which means recognising that there is a difficulty, accepting it, understanding its effects and acting to overcome it.

The external manifestations are:

  • being persistent
  • developing coping skills and strategies
  • using support networks; and
  • being in an environment in which the person feels comfortable.

The reframing process is especially important. Dyslexic adults seeking assistance are at one of four levels of awareness, understanding and compensation and therefore fall into one of four groups:

  • Those who have not really been aware of their difficulties and have little understanding of them.
  • Those who are aware of their difficulties but do not understand, and therefore have not dealt, with them.
  • Those who have an awareness of their difficulties and have unconsciously developed compensatory strategies.
  • Those who are aware of and understand their difficulties and have consciously developed compensatory strategies, but who need to develop these further.

The purpose of .. interventions .., whether assessment, counselling, teaching or training, is to help the adult dyslexic to move through stage 4 and beyond.’

*Gerber, PJ, Ginsberg, R and Reiff, H.B. (1992), Identifying alterable patterns in employment success for highly successful adults with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities 23, 570 – 573

Marion’s research therefore concluded that all three strands had to be addressed for support to be effective. These can be expressed as follows:



    Any language programme must be structured to provide a framework. The programme must be cumulative. Each new concept must build on those already known. The tuition must use multi-sensory techniques. ‘Normal’ teaching methods have already failed.
    These are necessary for the individual’s everyday life.
    They will be unique to each individual. Examples might be form-filling, writing messages and letters, writing work reports, making notes from lectures, essay writing etc.

    Through awareness of the nature and reason for this difficulties the individual can learn good coping strategies. He can regain control. A tutor can help this process through confidence and self-esteem-raising exercises. The individual must realise that coping strategies, such as word processing, electronic hand-held spellcheckers, diaries, lists of useful words etc are no more ‘cheating’ than wearing glasses for short sight.





This can also be expressed pictorially thus:

Marion Walker BPhil(Ed), Adv.Dip.Special Ed., A.M.B.D.A., Cert. Ed.