Developing basic skills

When an adult has been identified as dyslexic (or probably dyslexic), the immediate temptation is to concentrate on their difficulties in reading, writing and spelling (and, possibly, maths) and try to improve those deficiencies in basic skills by providing specialist tuition. However, this is not always such a helpful strategy, for a number of reasons:

1. Suitability. In essence, this approach relies on taking dyslexic adults ‘back to the classroom’ to try to teach them what they failed to learn when they were originally in school. Although the teaching method this time round might be different, revisiting the experiences of their schooldays (which were probably not very pleasant) is likely to be counterproductive and possibly emotionally unsettling, because it underlines their inadequacies as learners.

2. Time. Specialist tuition is not a ‘quick fix’. It is usually a very time-consuming process that requires several months – if not years – of hard work on at least a weekly basis. Few dyslexic adults, especially those in employment, full-time education or training, or who have families to look after, can find the time to devote to this.

3. Availability. Teaching adults with dyslexia is a very specialist job, and few teachers have been trained for it. The chances of a dyslexic adult being able to find a suitably qualified tutor in the locality, who can provide tuition at mutually convenient times, are slim. While most local authorities run special classes for adult with poor literacy skills, these are rarely designed to meet the learning needs of dyslexics, and generally offer intensive individual specialist tuition.18

4. Cost. Remedial teaching requires specialist skills and is very labour intensive, so it is usually expensive. Tuition from a private dyslexia tutor, at two sessions a week for two years (which would not be unreasonable) can cost in excess of £5,000. Although most of us would value literacy far higher than that, in practice few adults can afford such costs. Since adults with poor literacy skills are likely to be in relatively low-paid employment – if in employment at all – the expense can present real difficulties. Although adult literacy classes run by local authorities run are inexpensive – or even free to those not in employment – they may not always be suitable.

As a general principle, therefore, it may be concluded that what most adults with dyslexia require is not to be sent back to school to try to learn what they failed to learn. Rather, what they require is support to enable them to cope with the demands of a literate world, at work, in the family, in education, and in leisure time. For further suggestions on this, see Sections 6.5 and 6.6.

Obviously there will be exceptions to the general principle given above. If an adult with dyslexia has exceptionally poor basic skills, and this deficiency alone is preventing the person from:

a) obtaining employment, or

b) gaining promotion within employment

c) being accepted on to a course of training or education

then specialist tuition may be required. Before embarking on this course of action, however, the person needs to understand exactly what is involved, and that a great deal of hard work will be expected of them. Their motivation and determination will be a major factor in determining success. The Dyslexia Institute ( can offer advice in such cases and provide suitable tuition in literacy skills (see Section 7 for address details). Although such specialist tuition is expensive it may be possible to obtain financial assistance through local disability employment services. For further information contact your local Jobcentre (see telephone directory or ask directory enquiries) or visit the website and select ‘Customers Home — Help for Disabled People’. Helpful guidance on ways in which basic skills can be improved for dyslexic adults (whether in employment or unemployed) may also obtained from the following agencies:

Skills for Life, the national strategy for improving adult literacy and numeracy skills:

National Institute of Adult Continuing Education:

Learn Direct:

Learning and Skills Council:

18 To some extent this is likely to have been due to staff in adult literacy classes lacking the means to identify adults with dyslexia. Since LADS Plus provides a solution to this problem, it may facilitate the development of teaching and support facilities for adult dyslexics in such classes.