How to Treat the Symptoms of Dyslexia

Medication won’t diminish the symptoms of dyslexia, but accommodations at school, at home, and in the workplace can help children and adults manage their learning disability and perform to the best of their ability.

Business man with ADHD talking to colleague about ADHD accommodations at work
Business man with ADHD talking to colleague about ADHD accommodations at work

Dyslexia is the most common learning disability — some organizations estimate that up to 20 percent of the population exhibits some symptoms of dyslexia. Unlike other disabilities, learning disabilities like dyslexia are not easily recognizable, even to teachers and parents. For this reason, students — or adults — with dyslexia can be overlooked and misunderstood for years. To succeed, they need understanding educators, colleagues, and family members who respect and understand their challenges, and provide the accommodations they need to shine.

The bad news: Medication is useless for dyslexia — though if comorbid attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) is present, medication may help someone with dyslexia manage that condition and improve overall focus. The good news? Simple changes to the school or workplace environment — combined with lots of understanding and support — can work wonders for a child or an adult trying to manage and move beyond dyslexia-related challenges.

Academic Interventions for Dyslexia

If dyslexia is diagnosed during childhood, parents and school specialists can set up in-classroom accommodations designed to help the student catch up and get back on track in reading. If your child is granted an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 Plan, the school’s team will likely propose some strategies to accommodate your child’s dyslexia — and you shouldn’t be afraid to suggest a few of your own! Some tried-and-true school-based interventions include:

Provide vocabulary and summaries ahead of time. This gives the student a chance to look over the pre-reading material on her own time — feeling more confident and prepared when the actual reading assignment begins.

Encourage all students to mark up text with markers, sticky notes, or anything else to help students sort, arrange, and highlight important concepts in the text.

[Self-Test: Does My Child Have Dyslexia?]

Provide audio versions of the material, whenever possible. Reading along to a book on tape can be beneficial for students with dyslexia.

Provide alternative materials such as books with similar content at a more appropriate reading level.

Use mnemonic devices to help students with rote memorization.

At-Home Interventions

Dyslexia doesn’t only create difficulties at school; your child’s treatment must happen at home, too. Here are a few suggestions:

Read together as often as possible. Young children can sit on your lap while you read a picture book. Elementary-school children should progress to more complex — and more engaging — fare like graphic novels or choose-your-own-adventure books. If your child is in high school, it might be tough to get him to sit down on the couch to read with Dad, but try to sneak in reading wherever you can — an interesting magazine article you saw, or a new recipe for a special occasion. The important thing is for your child to focus on reading in a low-pressure setting outside of school, without grades or criticism.

Provide reading material that piques your child’s interests. Figure out what your child likes — whether it’s video games, art, or sports — and find as many age-appropriate books on the topic as you can. Many companies print books in special fonts that are easier for children with dyslexia to read; this might help your child feel more confident. Encourage her to spend time reading, and make sure she sees you reading occasionally, too — even if it’s just flipping through a magazine or skimming the morning paper.

[Free Webinar Replay: Beyond Dyslexia: Overcoming Reading Challenges for Kids with ADHD]

Go high-tech. Assistive technology — like text-to-speech software or electronic spellcheckers — can help your child complete assignments and build up weak skills. Several smartphone apps also help children improve reading skills, aimed at various age groups.

Praise, praise, praise! Your child needs to know that his reading challenges don’t define him. Express pride when he’s trying hard, and give words of encouragement when he runs into an obstacle. If you have dyslexia, too, talk openly about your challenges and the strategies that have helped you succeed. If you don’t, make sure your child understands that no one is perfect, everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and everyone makes mistakes — even Mom and Dad.

Workplace Interventions

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), adults with dyslexia are entitled to reasonable accommodations from their employers to compensate for the condition. Some common accommodations for dyslexia in the workplace include:

Make use of assistive technologies. Smartphone apps, computer programs, and other high-tech solutions can be used to counter dyslexia’s challenges in the workplace. Try text-to-speech software to help you read long documents, or word prediction software to help make daily reading and writing tasks quicker.

Provide materials for meetings or presentations ahead of time. Being allowed to prepare for big meetings in advance can help you feel more confident — and less likely to be blindsided by a question from the CEO.

Ask a co-worker to proofread important documents before you send them. This can help you avoid the small spelling or grammar mistakes that are often viewed as “unprofessional.”

Ask for summaries when possible. If it’s not absolutely necessary for you to read every word of a 30-page report, ask your boss if someone could summarize the key points for you.

Make use of larger print, different fonts, and different colored paper. Simple changes to a document can make it easier for someone with dyslexia to read, without negative effects on anyone else. If you prefer a certain font or text color, ask that your co-workers use it when sending you emails or reports. It’s a small change that can go a long way!

Every student and adult is different, and may require specialized accommodations to suit their particular learning style. It’s important for parents and adults to advocate fiercely in order to secure the tools needed to succeed in school or the workplace.

[From a Learning Disability to Harvard: A Dyslexia Success Story]

Updated on November 1, 2019

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