Do dyslexics have good long term memory?

Dyslexia is a learning disability that affects reading, writing and spelling abilities. People with dyslexia often struggle with phonological processing, which impacts how they break down and manipulate the sounds in language. This can make learning to read difficult. Many people assume that because dyslexics have trouble with reading, they must also have poor memories. However, research shows that dyslexics’ long-term memory abilities are often unaffected or may even be better than average in some respects.

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a language processing disorder characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition, poor spelling, and decoding abilities. Dyslexia is caused by differences in how the brain processes written and spoken language. It is not caused by a lack of intelligence or desire to learn. Dyslexia impacts people across all backgrounds and intellectual levels. Approximately 15-20% of the population has some symptoms of dyslexia, including slow or inaccurate reading, poor spelling, poor writing, or mixing up similar words. An estimated 5-10% of people have more significant dyslexia that qualifies as a learning disability.

Common signs and symptoms of dyslexia

People with dyslexia may exhibit some of the following characteristics:

– Difficulty decoding words and sounding out unfamiliar words
– Struggles learning phonics rules
– Confusion about letters that look similar (b/d/p, w/m)
– Transposing number sequences and letter reversals
– Difficulty separating sounds in words (catepillar sounds like “catpilper”)
– Slow, choppy, inaccurate reading
– Poor spelling ability
– Trouble rhyming words
– Difficulty learning a foreign language
– Reliance on memorization rather than phonics
– Need to reread sentences frequently for comprehension

Dyslexia ranges in severity, so not all dyslexics will exhibit all of these characteristics. The disorder also occurs on a spectrum, with some having mild difficulties and others having more significant impairments. Early identification and intervention can help mitigate the impacts of dyslexia.

How could dyslexia impact memory?

Many people assume that reading struggles must be tied to poor memory. However, research indicates that dyslexia is a disorder specifically related to processing language, not storing or recalling information. There are several reasons dyslexia does not directly affect memory abilities:

– Dyslexia is rooted in phonological impairment. Dyslexics struggle to break down words into sounds, not memorize information.
– Memory relies on multiple brain systems. Reading taps into certain language networks, while memory utilizes separate memory circuitry.
– Short-term auditory memory is typically intact in dyslexics. They can remember spoken information in the short term as well as non-dyslexics.
– Long-term memory systems are different than short-term. Dyslexia may impact working memory related to reading, but not broader long-term storage.
– Memory and reading utilize different neurological processes. Reading uses specific phonological skills, while memory encoding and retrieval utilize distinct brain systems.

So while dyslexia impacts reading abilities, it does not necessarily affect separate long-term memory networks in the brain. Dyslexics can still encode, store, and retrieve non-language information efficiently.

Do dyslexics have poor working memory?

While long-term memory seems mostly intact in dyslexia, some research indicates working memory deficits. Working memory involves temporarily storing and manipulating information, and it is critical for reading comprehension.

Some key points about working memory in dyslexia:

– Phonological working memory impairment is frequently associated with dyslexia. This impacts temporarily storing and using sound-based language like words or sentences.
– Verbal working memory deficits make decoding words, parsing syntax, and reading comprehension difficult.
– Visuospatial working memory seems less impacted than verbal working memory. Dyslexics can temporarily store non-verbal information like shapes or locations as well as non-dyslexics.
– Working memory issues aren’t universal in dyslexia. Some studies have found no significant differences in working memory between dyslexics and typical readers.
– Working memory can improve with age in dyslexics. As their brains mature, working memory capabilities may strengthen with proper supports.
– Interventions targeting working memory in dyslexia show promise. Training working memory could boost reading comprehension.

So while dyslexia is associated with some verbal working memory weaknesses, this does not necessarily translate into broad long-term memory deficits. Targeted interventions can help strengthen dyslexics’ working memory to support reading skills.

Visual and spatial memory strengths

Although dyslexia impacts language processing networks, it seems to leave visual and spatial memory systems intact or possibly enhanced. Some key evidence regarding visual-spatial abilities in dyslexia includes:

– Multiple studies show dyslexics outperforming non-dyslexics on visual and spatial memory tasks.
– On visual memory tests, dyslexics recall complex scenes, objects, and faces better than typical readers.
– Dyslexics also excel at spatial awareness and manipulation tests requiring 3D mental rotation and navigation.
– FMRI scans show dyslexics utilize different brain systems for visual-spatial processing, relying more on right-hemisphere networks. Enhanced development in these right-brain areas may account for visual-spatial strengths.
– Ability to mentally rotate objects correlates with the severity of reading disability. More impaired readers show greater spatial processing abilities.
– Spatial advantages are supported by the “functional isolation” theory, proposing that dyslexics develop enhanced skills in non-impaired neural systems.
– There are still inconsistencies in research findings, with some studies finding no visual-spatial differences. More research is needed in this area.

Overall, evidence indicates visual and spatial memory are intact or potentially strengthened in dyslexia, allowing efficient processing and recall of non-verbal information.

Memory for semantic information

Semantic memory involves the storage and recall of general world knowledge – facts, concepts, word meanings, etc. Research indicates dyslexics can develop normal or even excellent semantic memory stores:

– Compared to phonological deficits, semantic knowledge is a relative strength for dyslexics.
– Vocabulary knowledge predicts reading comprehension ability in dyslexic children, supporting the importance of semantic memory.
– Dyslexics perform comparably to non-dyslexics on measures of vocabulary size and depth.
– On semantic tasks like verbal fluency, dyslexics generate appropriate labels and categories, indicating intact semantic networks.
– Longitudinal studies show semantic knowledge gradually improves over time and with reading experience in dyslexic children.
– Exceptions exist – some studies show subtle weaknesses in semantic processing speed and automaticity. However, semantic memory itself seems largely unaffected.
– Early oral language interventions may help strengthen semantic development. Dialogic reading improves conceptual knowledge.

Overall, dyslexics are able to acquire general real-world knowledge and semantic information effectively through means other than written text. With proper alternative exposures, they build robust semantic memory networks.

Episodic and autobiographical memory

Episodic memory involves remembering personal experiences and specific events, while autobiographical memory is the recollection of personal facts and information about one’s life. Research shows dyslexics have intact skills in these long-term memory domains:

– Multiple studies have found no significant differences between dyslexics and typical readers on episodic and autobiographical memory tests.
– Dyslexic children and adults provide comparable episodic memories of childhood events, visits to the doctor, school activities, etc. Accuracy and detail are similar.
– Autobiographical memory and recall of personal facts also seem unaffected, though few studies have specifically examined this system.
– One study found adults with dyslexia had equal or better episodic memory for details of a story. However, they recalled the episodes in a less logical sequence.
– Differences in episodic memory seem tied to reading, with dyslexics showing weakness on tasks requiring memory for written stories. Their recall for oral stories is equivalent.
– Episodic memory deficits, when present, seem linked to broader cognitive impairments, not dyslexia specifically. They are more prevalent in dyslexics with ADHD.

Personal memory for experiences and events appears to develop normally in dyslexia, allowing robust episodic and autobiographical memory networks, provided experiences are encoding through multisensory means.

Procedural memory

Procedural memory involves unconscious memories for skilled actions, like tying shoes or riding a bike. Research suggests procedural memory is an area of relative strength for dyslexics:

– A meta-analysis found dyslexics significantly outperformed controls on procedural learning tasks like mirror tracing or Tower of Hanoi puzzles.
– Studies show similar or superior procedural learning abilities across verbal, perceptual, and motor domains in dyslexic children and adults.
– Dyslexics display procedural learning advantages on tasks requiring sequencing, repetition, and implicit pattern recognition.
– Multiple training trials result in comparable or greater performance gains for dyslexics versus non-dyslexics.
– Studies propose dyslexics may develop enhanced procedural memory networks to compensate for impairments in other areas like phonological processing.
– However, findings are mixed, with some studies finding no procedural learning differences. More research on various procedural memory tasks is needed.

In summary, many dyslexics show procedural learning strengths, allowing them to implicitly acquire and perform skilled tasks at a high level. Their procedural memory systems seem able to operate independently of phonological weaknesses.

Memory advantages in specialized fields

While dyslexics may struggle in traditional academic settings, some evidence suggests they excel in fields tapping into their visual-spatial and procedural memory strengths.

Some examples:

– In creative professions, dyslexics show innovative design abilities using vivid mental imagery and visual-spatial skills. Many prominent architects, artists, and designers have learning disorders.
– Dyslexics are often drawn to hands-on careers like engineering, construction, or manufacturing trades, applying procedural memory for skilled technical tasks.
– Entrepreneurs with dyslexia credit their disability with developing alternative problem-solving approaches and persistence.
– In medicine, dyslexic doctors may utilize visual and procedural abilities for surgery or dentistry requiring motor coordination and 3D mental manipulation.
– Dyslexics gravitate toward fields like information technology, using spatial visualization for coding and pattern recognition for data analysis.

By identifying and nurturing their strengths, dyslexics can find success in various specialized careers or advanced fields of study. Their intact – and sometimes enhanced – memory abilities in visual, spatial, and procedural domains supports achievement.

Memory challenges dyslexics may face

Despite intact functioning in many long-term memory systems, dyslexics do face some memory challenges:

– Reading difficulties – Since reading is slower and less automatic, dyslexics have trouble getting information into memory through written text. Oral presentations or visual media often work better.
– Working memory deficits – Even if long-term storage is intact, deploying and manipulating information in working memory during learning can be challenging. External aids help, like taking visual notes.
– Retrieval fluency – Dyslexics may possess vocabulary knowledge in long-term memory but have trouble rapidly retrieving specific words. They benefit from more time to respond.
– Multi-step memorization – Keeping track of sequential steps and details is difficult if working memory is taxed. Breaking tasks into smaller chunks is beneficial.
– Phonological processing – Turning written information into phonological codes for storage can be impeded due to sound-based difficulties. Multisensory techniques, like simultaneously hearing and seeing content, help.
– Fatigue – Memory failures increase when dyslexics experience cognitive fatigue from decoding demands. Adjusting the pace and schedule of learning activities can offset this issue.
– Emotional impact – Memory problems lead to frustration for dyslexics. Reducing performance pressure and taking advantage of strengths improves motivation and success.

Targeted supports like assistive technology, learning aids, and tutoring in weak areas gives dyslexics the tools to succeed in spite of potential memory obstacles.

Educational and career implications

Understanding memory abilities in dyslexia has important implications for how parents and teachers can best support students’ long-term success:

– Tap into visual and spatial strengths – Use concept maps, videos, illustrations, models, diagrams, and interactive visual media to engage these skills. Hands-on, tactile projects also build procedural memory.
– Prioritize meaning over decoding – Focus on comprehending overall concepts rather than getting bogged down in decoding every word. Discuss topics orally to aid semantic learning.
– Provide memory supports – Allow time, notebooks, recorders, assistive technology, etc. to supplement working memory weaknesses so students can demonstrate their broader knowledge.
– Teach study strategies – To facilitate encoding and retrieval, teach visual imagery, mnemonic devices, concept mapping, repeated practice. This boosts storage and recall.
– Offer memory accommodations – Provide cues, notes, outlines and extended time on exams so students can overcome retrieval fluency lags and demonstrate full knowledge.
– Nurture strengths – Guide dyslexic students toward careers matching their skills. Develop talents in art, design, construction, engineering, entrepreneurship, skilled trades, medicine or STEM.

Capitalizing on memory strengths while accommodating weaknesses allows dyslexics to fully exhibit their capabilities, excel academically, and pursue rewarding careers aligning with their talents.


In summary, while dyslexia causes deficits in literacy development and some aspects of verbal working memory, broader long-term memory systems remain largely intact and can even be enhanced in visual-spatial and procedural memory domains. Dyslexics may employ compensatory strategies that selectively strengthen memory in areas not impaired by their language processing difficulties. Research shows they recall semantic, episodic, and autobiographical information comparably to non-dyslexics. Furthermore, they demonstrate markedly superior visual, spatial, and procedural memory, suggesting overdevelopment of right hemisphere brain systems. These intact memory abilities can serve as a scaffold for achieving academic and career success with proper supports for reading and written language challenges. While dyslexia impacts literacy development, its effects on long-term memory are nuanced, with relative weaknesses in some areas and remarkable strengths in others. With targeted interventions leveraging their memory assets, dyslexics have high potential to learn, excel, and utilize their unique skills.

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