It is a misconception that those who learn to read as an adult are less proficient readers than those who learn as children. While children often have an easier time learning language skills than adults, every person has the same potential for reaching their goals regardless of age. In fact, adult brains are much more flexible than was previously thought.
Research has shown that adult brains undergo considerable changes through the introduction of literacy skills. Scientists tracked changes to participants’ brains throughout the course of a 6-month literacy program. Through fMRI scans, they found several areas of the brain showing differences far beyond those observed in their control group that received no literacy instruction. Particularly notable areas of change included the cerebral cortex and the occipital lobe. The cerebral cortex plays a significant role in memory, attention, thought, and language, while the occipital lobe plays an important role in visual processing. Both of these areas play distinctly important roles in reading by allowing us to visually process words and connect them with the context and meaning associated with them. Some of these changes manifested in the form of increased connectivity between brain regions, leading to better performance.
The study also found that illiterate adults may display brain abnormalities similarly to people diagnosed with dyslexia. After six months, they found that learning to read had removed these abnormalities. This is an incredible example of the adult brain’s ability to adapt.
If you know someone who struggles with learning to read, remind them that your brain is never too old to make a change!