Adult Dyslexia: Employment and Training

Jane Kirk and Gavin Reid
University Of Edinburgh, Scotland, U.K.

The Adult Dyslexia for Employment in Practice and Training (Adept) research project was commissioned by The U.K. Secretary of State for Education and Employment acting through the Employment Service. The aim of the project is to identify affordable, up-to-date, good practice in relation to assessment and remedial help for adults whose employment prospects are impaired by dyslexia.

A research team from the University of Edinburgh was selected to carry out the research beginning in January 1999. This research was commissioned by the Employment Service for a number of reasons: firstly, to respond to the increased awareness of the difficulties experienced by clients, professionals, employers and dyslexic adults in relation to dyslexia. Secondly, to acknowledge the lack of clarity, in terms of research and practice, of the nature of dyslexia. Thirdly, to evaluate assessment and support strategies currently available for adults. Fourthly, to address the training needs of professionals so that confidence could be generated among professionals involved in supporting adults with dyslexia.

Considerable focus was given to the role and working practices of Employment Service Occupational Psychologists as some of the principal responsibilities regarding assessment are currently causing this group to re - examine their role and training needs. The vital part other groups of professionals play in the support process also was taken into account.

The research team attempted to find solutions to the following questions:

  • what is dyslexia?
  • how can it be most effectively assessed?
  • what is the rationale and theoretical support for such an assessment?
  • how does a dyslexia diagnosis differ from a workplace assessment, are there any common elements?
  • how can the dyslexic person be most effectively supported following an assessment?
  • considering the time constraints and the range of expertise required from staff engaged by the Employment Service, how can the assessment of dyslexia be both efficient and cost effective?
  • what are the training implications of staff involved with interviewing, screening, assessing, tutoring and supporting dyslexic adults in employment?

Issues concerned with dyslexia and employment involve a range of different groups: Employment Service employees, adults with dyslexia, Careers service, private sector training companies, independent dyslexia organisations, enterprise companies as well as some individuals. The methodology of the study was determined by the need to involve all these groups in order to obtain as much information and evidence of good practice as possible. It was decided to carry out the research in three ways: firstly, to engage in a literature search which was conducted under the following headings:

  • Nature of the problem
  • Agencies and professionals
  • Training opportunities
  • Links with education
  • Role of Occupational Psychologists
  • Employment and Employers
  • Issues relating to adult dyslexia

Secondly, in order to obtain wider and more personal views a national survey was carried out. The survey comprised two different questionnaires: one for psychologists and one for professionals involved in support.

The survey enabled the participants to respond directly and individually to key issues in assessment and support of dyslexic adults. Many of the responses were incorporated in the main recommendations of the report. Some of the key points in relation to the survey included:

  • The need to obtain clarification of the concept of dyslexia
  • The need for clear guidelines on approaches to assessment
  • The need to link assessment with support and provision.

Overriding these aspects is the need to establish and monitor professionally recognised training in dyslexia, from both theoretical and practical perspectives.

The third method of obtaining information to help to mold the recommendations was through focus group meetings. Over 200 people attended focus group meetings in eleven locations throughout the U.K.


A considerable number of implications can be drawn from the results of the research outlined above. While our research demonstrated substantial commitment and evidence of many instances of good practice, a number of shortcomings were revealed. Four main issues of concern were identified:

  • Unclear routes to referral
  • Lack of uniformity in screening methods
  • Need for appropriate tests to be used by Occupational Psychologists
  • Nature and length of post-assessment support

In these ways the research showed that there are significant shortcomings in the existing arrangements.


The main points and recommendations to emerge from the research are highlighted below:

  • A broad definition of dyslexia was used incorporating aspects such as organisation, memory and motor factors as well as literacy.
  • It is estimated that 4-10% of the general population is dyslexic.
  • Dyslexia in adults is more difficult to diagnose than in children.
  • It is important that guidelines are provided to all who conduct initial screening to ensure uniformity.
  • Initial screening should inform on the adults positive coping strategies and not be merely a checklist of symptoms.
  • Developmental information on the adult should be obtained through the use of a structured format.
  • An assessment should include implications for the dyslexic individual in relation to workplace aspirations.
  • An interview can be seen as a form of informal screening.
  • Computer screening techniques have been developed and are still undergoing further development. There is strong evidence to suggest this can be a useful and effective future technique.
  • It is important that the psychologist conducting an assessment has knowledge and experience of both adults and dyslexia.
  • Learning Styles and metacognitive aspects should be considered in the assessment.
  • People with dyslexia vary in their use and the success in which they use compensatory strategies.
  • Many of the difficulties associated with dyslexia are situational, the work context is of crucial importance as difficulties can vary depending on the workplace.
  • An assessment should consider cognitive factors and the workplace.
  • An I.Q. test is useful because it provides a profile of abilities. In the case of dyslexia the profile is usually uneven highlighting strengths and limitations.
  • Diagnostic procedures should include measures of literacy attainment, possible reasons for under performance, evidence of difficulties associated with dyslexia, information on learning styles, workplace assessment.
  • It is important to consider job requirements and the difficulties experienced by the individual and to attempt to match these two factors.
  • The term remediation or remedial help is inappropriate for adults. We prefer to use the term support to describe the help offered to adults with dyslexia.
  • The support offered should aim to facilitate autonomy in learning in order to lessen any dependency the adult may have on tutors who provide support.
  • Support should also focus on the development of self esteem and self confidence in the workplace.
  • If tuition in reading is appropriate and offered it should focus on top down strategies aimed at reading in context and for meaning.
  • The learning objectives in a support package should be short term, achievable and practical.
  • The recognition of an individual's learning style is important and can be used to help that person learn more effectively.
  • Monitoring and 'trouble shooting' may be more effective than continual intensive support.
  • It is important that at least one Occupational Psychologist in each region is trained to an advanced level in the area of dyslexia in relation to assessment and recommending and evaluating appropriate support.
  • It is important therefore that efforts should be made to raise awareness of dyslexia and employment issues among the public at large and with employers.

There are a considerable number of individuals and groups involved in the field of dyslexia - many of whom have their own, and often competing, agendas. It was for that reason that the consultative process for this research was wide. We feel that a constructive commitment to consultation within and between these groups is crucial and that consideration of the recommendations for assessment, support and training resulting from the study will achieve this and benefit adults with dyslexia now and in the future.


Reid, G. and Kirk, J. (2000) Dyslexia in Adults: Education and Employment. John Wiley and Son, Chitchester, England