When Dyslexics Become Good Readers

What Brain Science Tells us about Dyslexia and the Reading Brain

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.