Dyslexia And Graph Comprehension: How to manage?

Last Updated on October 3, 2023 by Editorial Team


Learning difficulties like dyslexia in which reading, writing, and spelling of basic words is a struggle often make educational and career aspects of affected learners full of obstacles. In today’s world of multimodal learning, institutions are becoming more inclined toward incorporating visually processed information such as graphs, tables, charts, and diagrams both in academic and non-academic settings. 

Graphs are a visual display of data that facilitate convenient understanding and present comparisons which make their use prevalent in all sectors. Interpreting graphs for learners with dyslexia can be a struggle due to their impairments in processing information across various modalities. 

Understanding Graphs for individuals with Dyslexia

There are various factors that are generally involved in the understanding of graphs and their interpretation. To comprehend graphs correctly, the pictorial properties of the graph such as the axes, the specifiers, the labels, and even the background affect its interpretation.

Other properties such as the ability of the graph viewer, their language processing ability, and other cognitive processing abilities influence understanding graphs. Some of the key factors involved in the interpretation of graphs by individuals with dyslexia include:


1. Linguistic Challenges 

In an investigation[1] on assessing graph comprehension in students with dyslexia, it was found that young adults with dyslexia were slower in interpreting graphs than other students. They took much longer viewing the linguistic subregions of the graph such as the questions and answers attached and the total viewing time for both linguistic and nonlinguistic which includes the patterns of the graph was significantly longer than other students. This implied that students with difficulties consumed more time and struggled to understand all properties of the graph, be it the visual representation, or the tasks and questions attached to it. 

2. Working and visual sequential memory 

Cognitive processes like working memory and visual sequential memory are central to graph comprehension. Since our working memory stores only a limited amount of information at a given time and on top of that, students affected by dyslexia have found[2] to have lower span impairments of the same, the multiple properties of graphs can potentially be a burden to students. This will also be taxing to their memory and require them to split their attention. 

3. Symbol decoding

Due to defining difficulties of dyslexia[3] such as difficulties in decoding abilities and accurate or fluent word recognition, students may struggle with interpreting and working their way through the symbols, keys, and scales used in graphs. Representations in graphs are mostly symbolic and may require students to decode them and interpret what they stand for, landing them in a difficult situation. 

Tips and strategies to improve graph learning skills

Graphs are a fundamental tool in various fields of study, including mathematics, computer science, engineering, and social sciences. They can represent complex relationships and patterns, making them a powerful tool for data analysis and visualization. 

However, understanding and interpreting graphs can be challenging, especially for those who are struggling with a learning disability like dyslexia. To improve graph learning skills, it’s essential to develop a strong foundation in graph theory, algorithms, and visualization techniques. Hence, here are some tips and strategies to help you enhance your graph learning skills:

1. Memory Aids 

Since a major challenge is to remember and retain information, memory aids can be helpful in improving graph learning skills and understanding the same better. Making notes beforehand of what symbols signify and cues around the graph paper can be a way to keep information handy so there is less load on the working memory. 

2. Incorporating Fun Activities 

Visual representations of data like graphs are already an interesting way of learning yet it can be complicated for students with difficulties. To lighten the stress and pressure of excelling, students can be engaged in fun activities inside or outside of the classroom. This could involve using blocks to represent data, using beads or seeds, and other kinds of concrete items to familiarise students with the concept of a graph. 

3. Manipulatives

Manipulatives are objects that can be moved and arranged to illustrate concepts and ideas. For individuals with dyslexia, manipulatives can be a valuable tool for improving graph comprehension. Dyslexia can make it challenging to understand and interpret visual information, but manipulatives can provide a tactile and kinesthetic experience that engages multiple senses, helping kids with dyslexia make connections between abstract concepts and real-world examples. Hence, by manipulating physical objects and visualizing relationships, people with an LD like dyslexia can build a deeper understanding of graphs and improve their ability to analyze and interpret visual information.

4. Chunking Method

Chunking is a technique that involves breaking down information into smaller, more manageable pieces, or “chunks.” For people with dyslexia, chunking can be a powerful tool for improving graph comprehension. By breaking down complex graphs into smaller, more digestible pieces, they can focus on one element at a time and build a more comprehensive understanding of the graph as a whole.

Chunking can also help them identify patterns, trends, and relationships between variables, making it easier to draw conclusions and make predictions based on the data presented in the graph. By using chunking as a strategy for approaching graphs, individuals with dyslexia can overcome some of the challenges presented by their condition and develop a stronger foundation in data analysis and visualization.

Verdict: Is comprehending graphs difficult for individuals with Dyslexia?

Dyslexia, the learning difference associated with difficulties in reading, writing, spelling, and identifying words fluently can often lead to various struggles in academics. Graph learning can, in some cases, be one of them. Due to deficits in working memory and visual sequential memory, slower processing skills, and difficulties in decoding, students are perplexed about maneuvering the multiple facets and elements in graphs. 

But, it is a difficulty that can certainly be overcome with work and practice. Some helpful strategies to achieve proficiency in graph skills can be paying special attention to the specific needs of the individual and putting in a little extra time and effort. By incorporating strategies targeting resolving these issues, students can effectively learn how to work their way through graphs. This needs to be done from both ends, students and teachers, by finding their way of learning through creative methods.


  1. Kim, Sunjung & Lombardino, Linda & Cowles, H. & Altmann, Lori. (2014). Investigating graph comprehension in students with dyslexia: An eye tracking study. Research in developmental disabilities. 35. 1609-1622. 10.1016/j.ridd.2014.03.043. 
  2. James H. Smith-Spark & John E. Fisk (2007) Working memory functioning in developmental dyslexia, Memory, 15:1, 34-56, DOI: 10.1080/09658210601043384
  3. Snowling, M. J., & Hulme, C. (2012). Annual Research Review: The nature and classification of reading disorders – a commentary on proposals for DSM-5. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 53(5), 593-607. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7610.2011.02495.x

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