Fortunately, there’s been growing interest from educational and scientific researchers for understanding how people can compensate for some of the academic challenges of dyslexia.


A recent study by Drs. Rebecca Wiseheart and Lori Altmann (Int J Lang Comm Dis 2017) had a nice review of compensating factors as well as providing some new research data about oral fluency among college-attending dyslexic students.


“In recent years, dyslexia has been reconceptualized as the combined sum of risk factors and protective factors. A number of protective factors have been investigated including verbal intelligence, vocabulary knowledge, morphological awareness, executive functions, and social-emotional resilience…Vocabulary knowledge has been implicated as a protective factor that allows some individuals to achieve good reading comprehension, despite poor phonological processing and word-reading abilities. Poor working memory, on the other hand is considered a risk factor in dyslexia. Working memory deficits in dyslexia are documented throughout the lifespan, even among high-performing college students. An outstanding question is understanding the effects of dyslexia, beyond reading, is whether sentence processing weaknesses persist into adulthood.”

Findings and Conclusions

  •  High-achieving dyslexic college students had the same high rates of receptive and expressive vocabulary as their non-dyslexic college peers
  • As a group, spoken sentence formulation (when given target words to include in sentences) was more or less accurate and slower among high-achieving
    dyslexic students
  • The inaccuracy of dyslexic students was related to verbal working memory overload, rather than verbal knowledge
  • Strong vocabulary was able to compensate for weaknesses in working memory among high-achieving dyslexic students.

University Students with dyslexia

Our Comments:

These findings are relevant from a number of perspectives. First, the study reinforces the importance of vocabulary for dyslexic students. Even though vocabulary may be a relative strength in early K-12 education, its benefits extend beyond language understanding and expression. Having more words to select from may smooth spoken fluency and accuracy and compensate for challenges in working memory that persist into adulthood and higher education.

This situation also points out why even among high achieving dyslexic people, abilities can be underestimated by slowness in responses or errors in expression. Working memory challenges are also often given too little attention in the understanding of dyslexia, but understanding the need to give people a little more time to express themselves and present information in small bits (chunking) can increase the likelihood of success for all students.

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