Reading Difficulties in Adults

Dyslexia is a common term used to describe individuals with reading disabilities.  The term literally means “difficulty reading”, but individuals may be challenged by reading for different reasons.  It is important to know both how reading is breaking down and why reading is breaking down.

The most common reasons for reading difficulties include:

  • Difficulty hearing individual sounds (phonological awareness) which affects initial understanding of how print works
  • Difficulty distinguishing individual letters (visual processing) which affects our ability to distinguish specific letters or words, and can make tracking from line to line challenging.
  • Difficulties with working memory which can affect comprehension

Understand Reading Challenges

  • Building Blocks of Reading Proficiency: Reading can be hard for many reasons – but these reasons are predictable.  When a person is struggling with reading, the first goal is to figure out where reading is breaking down.  This chart can help you to understand what reading skills you have and what skills might be missing.  If one of your “building blocks” is missing or weak, the entire structure of reading can suffer.
  • – In Depth Reading has a page dedicated to articles, resources and video presentations about reading difficulties and reading disabilities.  There is also a page dedicated to Adults with Learning Disabilities.

Reading Interventions and Supports

  • Audiobooks: Students with identified “text-based” disabilities can access free audiobooks through  The site includes text books as well as fiction and non-fiction found on many course syllabi, including college texts.  All students can also access audiobooks through their local library.
  • Background Knowledge: Reading is easier when you know what you are reading about.  Before starting in on your assignment, watch some YouTube videos, or visit a museum to learn more about the topic.  This is called “frontloading”, or building your knowledge base so that you have a framework for placing new information you learn from the text.
  • Chunking: Students who struggle with comprehension may benefit from reading in small “chunks” and then checking for understanding.  At the end of each paragraph, say one sentence to yourself about what you just read.
  • Sharing is Caring: Another comprehension technique is to share what you’ve read with a friend.  Translating what you’ve read into spoke language can help the information process in new ways so that it “sticks”.
  • Post-Its are the Mostest: A very helpful strategy for understanding texts is to keep a stack of post-its near by.  After each section, or even after each paragraph, write the key points, important words, or summary statements on a post-it and stick it directly on the page.  When you go back to review the text, you have a guide waiting there for you.  You can also remove the post-its and use them as an outline to write your summary of the text for some assignments.

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