top of page

Can it ever be “Too Late to Remediate?”

We live in a world that requires reading to participate at the highest level. Restaurant

menus, Internal Revenue Service EZ forms, and the instructions on an ATM are all

written at a tenth-grade reading level. Technical school manuals scale at a tenth to

twelfth-grade level. Where does that leave the 10% of adults who are self-identified as

having limited reading ability? Is it too late for them to improve their literacy skills?

Angela Wilkins, past president and a founding fellow of Orton-Gillingham Academy was

fond of the phrase, “It’s never too late to remediate.” By that, she meant that

improvement in language abilities could be realized at any age, even into adulthood.

Putting her own words into action, Ms. Wilkins began teaching incarcerated men at a

local prison in 2015.

Sally Shaywitz, in her seminal work, Overcoming Dyslexia writes, “There is no deadline

or age limit for when a person can learn to read.” Dr. Shaywitz goes on to give the

assurance that research attests to the human brain’s ability to reshape itself in mature

adults just as it does in children. She reports that with a structured, research-based,

systematic approach delivered with appropriate intensity, older disabled readers can

and do significantly improve their skills.

What, exactly, does it look like to teach an adult to read? Cindy recently accepted an

adult as a tutoring student, whom we will refer to as Alan. Retired from his first career,

Alan wished to attend technical school for skilled trade training. But the reading load

seemed too heavy, and with no strategies for decoding unknown words, he delayed

enrolling. Alan’s encouraging wife supported his desire for improved reading skills and

searched until she found Cindy, a tutor willing to take on an adult student.

Lessons began with the basics of consonants vs. vowels, basic vowel sounds, the role

of digraphs and blends, and a rapid presentation of common ways to divide words into

syllables and the six syllable types. This foundational information was quickly

assimilated by Alan, who has excellent cognitive abilities. For him, this is not all new

information, but it was previously disconnected information instead of parts of a

system that can be used to unlock words one bit at a time. After some lessons on

vowel teams, suffixes, and prefixes, Greek and Latin roots will round out Alan’s


Although it is early days, significant improvement has already been noticed by Alan.

He is living proof of Ms. Wilkins mantra, “It is never too late to remediate!”


Shaywitz, Sally, 2005. Overcoming Dyslexia, pages 288 - 293. New York: Vintage


Wilkins, Angela. 2021. “Structured Literacy Heals: A Story of Hope and Comfort in a

State Prison Classroom.” The Examiner, Vol. 10, No. 1, Spring 2021 | International

Dyslexia Association

13 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page