Help for Dyslexic Adults wanting to improve their Writing and Grammar

How to help Dyslexics improve their grammar and writing skills

How to help Dyslexics improve their grammar and writing skills

We are often asked for suggestions to help adult Dyslexics improve their writing skills such as spelling, grammar and organization of ideas. There are lots of helpful methods and accommodations. Here are a few ideas.

For Dyslexics it is often important to see examples and reasons for learning any new information or skills rather than just following step by step instructions.

  • For spelling and grammar you could try going to a local college and take a course(s) on “technical writing”.  A technical writer is:

“a professional writer who engages in technical writing and produces technical documentation. The Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators has defined the profession as preparing information which helps users…

“Technical writing involves the creation of useful documents that can be clearly understood by readers. Good technical writing clarifies “jargon” presenting useful information that is clear and easy to understand for the intended audience; poor technical writing may increase confusion by creating unnecessary jargon or failing to explain it. While grammar, spelling and punctuation are of the utmost importance to technical writing, style is not; it can be sacrificed if doing so increases clarity, which is considered more important to the genre.”  ~wikedpedia

Technical writing is geared for occupations such as online help, user guides/manuals, white papers, design specifications, system manuals, project plans, test plans. This type of writing is a great place for a Dyslexic to learn grammar and structure in writing because the style is very specific, concise and not “flowery”.

College level technical writing  courses  are a good resource for learning this writing style. I would suggest taking a least two or more of these courses to work towards proficiency in this writing technique. Creative writers will take repeat courses in creative writing to practice, be critiqued and develop good writing skills to improve their stories or poetry. Dyslexics can also take online courses but I think the classroom can be very beneficial for feedback and hands on attention which is important to Dyslexics.

Because technical writing is for documenting information and instructions it can also be good practice for a Dyslexic learning to create a sequence of steps leading to a conclusion which is very difficult for many “big picture to details” Dyslexics.

Before taking the course try to find a teacher who is a “big picture” thinker.  Interview them or talk to other students who have taken their courses. Questions to ask: Does the professor use “mindmaps” to lay out lessons, favour explaining the “whys, whats and how”, gives lots of examples of the writing assignments, and uses big picture teaching methods. REMEMBER:  if they teach in a step by step sequential manner a Dyslexic will often be lost and frustrated.

If a Dyslexic takes one course they might have found it somewhat or very confusing – unless they get a very right-brain thinking teacher who thinks like them. They shouldn’t give up. The first course will help with the big picture of the technical writing style and the next and maybe third course will probably work well for the Dyslexic student wanting to learn how to write well. I realize this is a lot of dedication and most people probably don’t want to do more school but it will help tremendously.

  • Another great way to practice good grammar and writing style is with public speaking. There is a website by a Dyslexic professor who discovered public speaking and it changed his life. I would check it out, maybe contact him for suggestions and find a course on public speaking. It will also help massively for a Dyslexic’s work in communications with people. His website is:
  • Learn to mind map which will help with all facets of a Dyslexic’s work life and help them  write better. Tony Buzan’s website is great for information:

  • There are computer programs available to help a Dyslexic improve their writing and spelling by using spell and grammar check software. For example:

  • Dragon Naturally Speaking is speech recognition software. You speak, it records and prints the text on your computer screen. This program helps a Dyslexic turn their thoughts into text. Often Dyslexics are very articulate but cannot write because they lose their ideas in the effort of trying to remember proper spelling and employing the physical action of handwriting or typing.

One thing to remember – part of the process with speech recognition software is training it to a person’s voice. This is done by using a head set with mic and reading a passage out loud that the software provides in the program. There are a number of reading choices.

The problem with this method is Dyslexics have difficulty reading aloud so the program will not train properly to their voice. The program cannot recognize their words when the Dyslexic reader hesitates, mispronounces or says the wrong word. The answer is to download and print the reading sample they chose.  Make sure to increase the size of the font and double space it. Then practice reading it in a normal voice until they are not hesitating or mispronouncing words. I wish I had a quarter for every parent of a Dyslexic student or adult Dyslexic who told me the program doesn’t work for them and gave up on it. They don’t realize the need to practice saying the passage aloud so the program gets a clear impression of their voice.

If you have something to share that you have found works for Dyslexics improving their spelling, grammar and writing I hope you will add it the comment section.

Thanks for your interest!
Karey Hope deGraaf
Dyslexia Victoria Online

Karey Hope deGraaf of Dyslexia Victoria Online

How to Teach Dyslexic Students Fractions

My husband, Howie and I were tutoring a Dyslexic 9 year old girl a few months ago. She was having difficulty understanding fractions.  The method her teacher was using confused her. The exercises our student was working with set problems up this way:

The problem with these two dimensional diagrams is they are as abstract as the numerical image 1/4. For a Dyslexic student including the little girl we were working with these both meant nothing to her. They are symbols for something real – portions or parts but the child does not know that.

My husband, Howie is the math person between the two of us and went to work showing her physically what these two dimensional abstract images meant. He started with oranges. When demonstrating math concepts with real objects always make sure you have one whole of the object being used as you show the parts. If there is no complete object in view a Dyslexic child tends to lose the concept being taught.

Use several examples of fractions of things until they start to understand what the concept of a fraction is. They need to connect the abstract language of math with the concrete ideas it represents.

Now let’s go back to the exercise with the squares. Once Howie had our student understanding he was talking about parts he took two pieces of paper and drew a four part  rectangle on both of them. One piece of paper was coloured yellow. He cut this rectangle into four pieces. The first piece of paper was blue ( she had Irlen Syndrome and blue was the best colour for paper and acetates for her – see our website for informationIRLEN SYNDROME & DYSLEXICS ) so that her ability to see the paper clearly was not an issue – text on white paper is hard to see for those with Irlen compounding problems with learning fractions. Then he started to put one or more of the yellow pieces on the blue squares talking about whether they were one, two, three or four quarters. She got it immediately and actually moved onto adding fractions that session. She left with a smile on her face and her mom felt relieved. She was also able to do the exercises using  two dimensional squares for school and understand what she was doing so her answers were correct and not guesses.

What was accomplished with this process was filling the needs of a Dyslexic requiring meaning and connection to what is real. Dyslexics don’t easily follow sequences well and anything they learn has to be fully understood. They will generally not follow how a square divided up in portions on a flat piece of paper means because it doesn’t connect to anything real to them. Provide physical demonstrations, connect them to the diagram and now you have meaning.

So when you are having difficulty teaching Dyslexics to connect the dots of a concept make it real and then connect it to abstract written languages such as words, arithmetic and math. We have also found this helps kids who do not have Dyslexia.

Karey Hope
Dyslexia Victoria Online


“WHAT IS DYSLEXIA?” Dyslexia Victoria Online is introducing videos on Dyslexia Awareness, Teaching, Accommodations & Resources

We are introducing a series of videos about Dyslexia awareness, teaching and learning strategies, accommodations, computer programs and resources for children and adults. If you are interested please email us at:”.

We are also planning to have some webinars and involve people in the discussion portions of the webcast.
We welcome you to join us!

Cheers! Happy New Year!
Co-founder of Dyslexia Victoria Online

Making White Boards with Different Colored Backgrounds for Dyslexics and Irlen Syndrome Sufferers

We have found a common problem with the Dyslexics we assess and tutor. They often have an issue with black text on a white background. The text is not stable so they have difficulties looking at and reading anything that is written on white. This includes white paper, computer screens & “white” white boards.  The name of this condition is Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome or Irlen’s Syndrome. Below is a quote from an Irlen’s site

What is the Cause of Irlen Syndrome, and Why do Colors Help?

    “Although the exact cause of Irlen Syndrome has yet to be established, it has been shown to be a visual-perceptual problem, most likely originating either in the retina of the eye or in visual cortex in the brain. The following is a hypothetical explanation, based on current research into this syndrome.

   In the visual system, there are two separate visual processing pathways, the Magnocellular, or Fast, and the Parvocellular, or Slow.  The Fast pathway does not see colours, and is responsible for discerning movement, depth, and high contrast images.  The Slow pathway determines colour, fine details and resolves low contrast images.  The Fast pathway is also responsible for inhibiting the slow pathway when the eyes are moved, so that the image of what was previously being looked at does not persist.  It appears that in people with Irlen Syndrome, the Fast pathway is disabled to some extent.  This seems to affect the ability of the Fast pathway to inhibit the Slow pathway, which in turn results in images persisting when the eyes are moved. As a result, the brain perceives overlapping images. In severe cases, when the brain tries to interpret these images, it perceives images that aren’t there. The individual may “see” letters moving on the page, blurring, or forming strange patterns. In less severe cases, the misperceptions do not occur or may be suppressed, but the brain expends more energy in processing the images than is required by most people, resulting in headaches, eyestrain, and/or fatigue. These problems generally get worse the longer a person tries to read, or do other visually intensive activities.

    Bright lights, fluorescent lights, or glossy paper will often make the problems worse, as the extreme contrast will increase the problem of persistent images.  Irlen Syndrome manifests itself most strongly when reading words or music, because of the repetitive patterns on the page. When the eyes scan across the page, the patterns of words on the page and persistent images will jumble in a manner that is difficult for the brain to interpret properly. In the Irlen Method, the individual is assesed with a wide array of colour filters, singly and in combination, to find the most suitable colour.  The colour filters appear to act by blocking some of the light which would normally activate the Slow visual pathway, in effect taking over the inhibitory role of the Fast pathway, and thus appear to reduce or eliminate the persistent images.  The filters stop the confusing signals from being sent to the brain, and the individual will see the page more normally and easily.  This treatment may also be helpful to individuals who experience other related problems, such as faulty depth perception or night driving difficulties.”

“White” white boards are often very difficult for Dyslexic students. The boards are a great tool for mind mapping, drawing out explanations of new concepts for them, brain storming and more visual/kinesthetic teaching methods which are ideal for Dyslexics. The whiteness of the board however for Dyslexics experiencing Irlen Syndrome can be very difficult for them to see writing on.

We have been looking for products to make non-white boards for home, classrooms, and personal use. We have found a chalkboard paint in many different colours and a sealer that goes over paint and creates an erasable marker board. Perfect for creating a background surface that is the student’s Irlen colour.

Hudson Chalkboard Paint (

Walls Love Ink Sealer (

Check out their websites and ideas.  We found all kinds of possibilities on their sites and googling images for chalkboard or white board projects.

Also I found a recipe to make your own chalkboard paint in any colour your want on Martha Stewart’s blog.

Custom Colors How-To

Start with flat-finish latex paint in any shade. For small areas, such as a door panel, mix 1 cup at a time.

1. Pour 1 cup of paint into a container. Add 2 tablespoons of unsanded tile grout. Mix with a paint stirrer, carefully breaking up clumps.

2. Apply paint with a roller or a sponge paintbrush to a primed or painted surface. Work in small sections, going over the same spot several times to ensure full, even coverage. Let dry.

3. Smooth area with 150-grit sandpaper, and wipe off dust.

4. To condition: Rub the side of a piece of chalk over entire surface. Wipe away residue with a barely damp sponge.

So we are going to start making small chalk and erasable boards for our Dyslexic Irlen sufferers, 24″ x 30″ non-white erasable or chalk boards or as big as needed, paint entire walls to really great creative. Dyslexics are extremely inventive so they will probably love a project like this and a great background to work on schoolwork!

Cheers!  Happy Holidays!!
Karey Hope deGraaf
Co-founder of Dyslexia Victoria Online

2 + 2 equals 22

Karey and I were driving to nearby Victoria yesterday to view the venue we were considering using for our Second Annual full day Dyslexia Awareness Workshop. The one we did last February was so successful we had we were happy to do it again, especially because of all the new things we have discovered since last year.

The drive to view the place took us about an hour so we took that time to sort of roll some ideas around.  Karey and I spend a lot of time researching new techniques to help teach Dyslexics. While doing so we find information concerning studies about Right and Left Brained thinking and related topics. Karey had her laptop open to an article about how the Right Brain and Left perceive information differently. At first I thought this was just stuff I already knew and sure enough, most of what we talked about was familiar to both of us. Then I had an epiphany. Well maybe not an epiphany but I did make a connection I hadn’t thought about before.

As I have mentioned before I don’t consider myself  Dyslexic but I am very Right Brained and as a result I share many views about the difficulty of understanding abstracts with Karey, who is Dyslexic.  Karey mentioned something from the article she was reading about “2 + 2” and how this concept is perceived differently by the Left and Right brain. Can you imagine that, the Left and Right brain can actually come up with different answers to the question: what is 2 plus 2?

The mono-semantic nature of the left brain is consistent with its syntactical and arithmetical functionality. Broca’s area, or the language processing center of the brain, is a complex of nerve cells that structure a thought into a syntactically correct sentence. Broca’s area is predominantly in the left hemisphere, even for left-handed people. The scattered and poly-semantic thinking of the right brain is not very good at producing language or arithmetic. To the left brain, 2+2=4. To the right brain, maybe it is 4, maybe not. The right brain will eagerly search for scenarios in which 2+2 does not equal 4, and might be disappointed when it doesn’t find any.
Brack—March, 2005.

To just about everybody it is  well accepted that 2 plus 2 equals 4, but maybe not. One of the things I sometimes point out to people at our workshops is an example of how abstract our English language is. When we print the symbol 2 on a chalkboard or Smartboard we usually say this is the NUMBER 2. It is not the number 2 but rather the NUMERAL 2 and it represents a group of 2 things. Sure this is a tiny little distinction but an important one.  There is a very real difference between a symbol that refers to something and the actual concept described. So let’s look at the equation 2 plus 2.

When you add two groups of two things of course you are going to come up with four objects. But that Right Brain of mine went a different way. If you actually look at what the equation is says, put the symbol 2 and put it with the other symbol 2. So, 2 plus 2 equals 22. Does seem like a little thing to you? Yes it does and most teachers would have hard time accepting the logic of what I just described. So what is my point?

Right Brained individuals and dyslexics think on lots of different levels, they are always looking for connections to ideas. Processes can be improved, ideas can be looked at from different directions and many times a concept that seems pretty obvious to some people are not obvious to others. Right brained thinkers always look for these connections, they can’t help it.

This is a great ability when “out of the box” thinking is required which is often in the real world outside of school. But if a Dyslexic student looks at “2 + 2” and thinks “22” and they can if they misunderstand the instructions, they are marked wrong. Some of these children will bravely argue a point like this and get shut down. This can be confusing to them on one level but can also shut them down in the classroom to the point they start believing they are stupid. In the UK this is called RSI which stands for Repetitive Statement Injury and means if something is said enough times to someone they start to believe it’s true.

Thank goodness for Left and Right brained thinkers; different answers to the same question can just be considered creative.

Happy trails!
Howie deGraaf
Co-founder of Dyslexia Victoria Online

A Typical Confusing Day in the Life of a Dyslexic

I was recently sent a “funny” email. The author  was poking fun at attention issues that older people can experience. What I found so fascinating about this piece is that it describes my life as a Dyslexic as far back as I can remember.

Robert Burns’ poem, “Ode to a Mouse” has a line in it –

‘The best laid schemes of mice and men
Oft go awry,’

Okay, the poem is about other things but taken out of context of the poem, I think it really applies well here.

I always have to write lists and keeping looking at them and marking off those I have actually finished.  And hopefully I don’t get side-tracked making my list look pretty, more efficient, divided up into different types of tasks, on different coloured paper, using many different coloured felt pens to make things stand out, a fancy book to put them, a system to decide when to do the tasks and what order……. sigh…

For example, I took way too long looking for clipart to express visually what I think the theme of this blog entry is. I am always told I can’t just keep it simple. Oh well, this is my life and I love to play with pictures and words.  As do many Dyslexics!

The other problem is I often lose my lists and then I have to make a new one….sigh again…

Anyway here is the email. Let me know, if you are Dyslexic or think you are, do you recognize yourself?

Thank goodness there’s a name for this disorder. Somehow I feel better, even though I have it!!
Recently, I was diagnosed with A.A.A.D.D. –
Age Activated Attention Deficit Disorder.
This is how it manifests itself:

I decide to water my garden.
As I turn on the hose in the driveway, I look over at my car and decide it needs washing.
As I head towards the garage, I notice post on the porch table that I picked up from the postman earlier.
I decide to go through it before I wash the car.
I put my car keys on the table, put the junk mail in the recycling box under the table, and notice that the recycling box is full.
So, I decide to put the bills back on the table and take out the recycling
But then I think, since I’m going to be near the postbox when I take out the recycling paper anyway, I may as well pay the bills first.
I take my cheque book off the table and notice that there is only one cheque left.
My extra cheques are in the desk in my study, so I go into the house to my desk where I find the cup of coffee I’d been drinking.
I’m going to look for my cheques but first I need to push the coffee aside so that I don’t accidentally knock it over.
The coffee is getting cold, and I decide to make another cup..
As I head toward the kitchen with the cold coffee, a vase of flowers on the worktop catches my eye – the flowers need water.
I put the coffee on the worktop and discover my reading glasses that I’ve been searching for all morning.
I decide I better put them back on my desk, but first I’m going to water the flowers..
I put the glasses back down on the worktop, fill a container with water and suddenly spot the TV remote control. Someone left it on the kitchen table.
I realize that tonight when we go to watch TV,I’ll be looking for the
remote, but I won’t remember that it’s on the kitchen table, so I decide to put it back where it belongs, but first I’ll water the flowers.
I pour some water in the flowers, but quite a bit of it spills on the floor.
So, I put the remote back on the table, get some towels and wipe up the spill.
Then, I head down the hall trying to remember what I was planning to do.
At the end of the day:
The car isn’t washed
The bills aren’t paid
There is a cold cup of coffee sitting on the kitchen work-surface
The flowers don’t have enough water,
There is still only 1 cheque in my cheque book,
I can’t find the remote,
I can’t find my glasses,
And I don’t remember what I did with the car keys.
Then, when I try to figure out why nothing got done today, I’m really
baffled because I know I was busy all bloody day and I’m really tired.
I realize this is a serious problem, and I’ll try to get some help for it,
but first I’ll check my e-mail…..
Do me a favour. Forward this message to everyone you know, Because I can’t remember who the hell I’ve sent it to.
Don’t laugh – if this isn’t you yet, your day is coming!!

Co-founder of Dyslexia Victoria Online