How Does Dyslexia Affect Situational Awareness?

Last Updated on October 3, 2023 by Editorial Team


Are you someone who requires extra hard work just to get something done? Or you might require some extra time to get aware of your surroundings. People with dyslexia often find themselves dealing with these situations. A common notion around dyslexia is  ‘an inability to read’. However, dyslexia is more than just an inability to read. Dyslexia is a constant cycle of struggling with rapidly processing information, interpreting the meanings, and performing the basic functions that are generally related to reading or writing. 

Situational awareness is an active process of perceiving and comprehending one’s surroundings to get the hang of current happenings and anticipate future events. Dyslexia does not directly affect situational awareness. However, it indirectly impacts the ability to be fully aware of the surroundings. It takes more effort and focus for people with dyslexia to comprehend their surroundings due to their limited reading speed or working memory and become aware of their current situations. 

Individuals with dyslexia often have low situational awareness due to the slow processing of environmental cues and working memory. Situational awareness requires focusing on more than one stimulus at a time and comprehending them simultaneously. Individuals with dyslexia struggle with divided attention resulting in decreased situational awareness. 

In this blog post, we will better understand how dyslexia can affect different areas of life and what challenges people with dyslexia can face when it comes to situational awareness. 

Situational awareness challenges faced by people with dyslexia 

Individuals with dyslexia will surely reach their destination; it will require extra time and effort, but they will. Similarly, they will get the hang of their surroundings but with more effort. Let’s discuss the major challenges that individuals with dyslexia face that result in affected situational awareness. 

The challenges involve- 

1. Reading speed 

Reading speed 

The words like ‘was’ and ‘saw’ are very different, but individuals with dyslexia often struggle with distinguishing similar-looking alphabets and words. They will identify the difference but with extra time and with more effort. Also, the print size of words also affects the reading speed of individuals with dyslexia. Hence, situations, where individuals with dyslexia have to read something to get aware of their surroundings, are always a challenge. For example, reading locations, directions, etc. 

A study by Cornelissen et al. (1991)[1] demonstrated a decrease in reading errors as the print size of alphabets or numbers increases in reading-disabled children. 

2. Writing and spelling challenges 

The similar-looking words or phonemes are again a challenge for individuals with dyslexia to write and spell. However, dyslexia also affects overall writing and spelling abilities. These challenges can result in slow responses to environmental cues which can further hamper situational awareness among individuals with dyslexia. 

For instance, more than 50% of individuals with dyslexia have phonological defects whereas the majority of individuals have difficulty in the area of phonology[2].

3. Information processing (comprehension and integration)

 Information processing

To read, write, or spell, one must process that information and produce relevant output that makes sense. It involves integrating multiple pieces of information from different sources to make a meaningful output. Processing, comprehending, and integrating information requires active and quick manipulation, which can be a challenge for individuals with dyslexia. Studies[3] have shown that these challenges are due to neurological and developmental delays and also could lead to visual deficits in people with dyslexia. 

4. Spatial processing 

Spatial processing involves constantly integrating, manipulating, and comprehending the information to formulate 2D or 3D images in space. It requires active cognitive abilities to quickly perform the task and get the outcomes, which people with dyslexia struggle with. Therefore, individuals with dyslexia often lack in manipulating environmental stimuli which are required for reaching outcomes and getting aware of environmental situations. 

A study[4] has shown that adults and high-school children with developmental dyslexia performed less successfully as compared to control groups on mental rotation, spatial word problems, visual memory, and visual logical matrices.  

5. Working memory 

Working memory is a workbench for our consciousness that actively and simultaneously integrates and collects information from long-term and short-term memory to make sense of our physical world. It requires quick and efficient cognitive processing and attentional resources. Challenges in rapid working memory often make it harder for individuals with dyslexia to understand situational cues. 

Various studies[5] have identified the relationship between the working memory sub-system and reading ability. Results have shown that children and adults with dyslexia show significant difficulties in working memory, especially in the phonological loop.

6. Divided attention 

 Divided attention 

Multitasking requires performing more than one task at a time by manipulating multiple situations. Individuals with dyslexia often struggle with multitasking, resulting in decreased situational awareness. For instance, in a study[6] with young adults with dyslexia, less effective divided attention was observed on the serial reaction time and tone counting task

Areas of life affected

It is not only the academic domain that is affected due to dyslexia. Rather, academics are only a part of life affected due to dyslexia. In reality, dyslexia is associated with every aspect of our life. For instance, if academics guarantee you a good professional job, you will find dyslexia affecting you there. Or you might plan a road trip with your friends; you will struggle with multiple elements due to dyslexia. 

Let’s briefly see what other areas dyslexia affects and hinders social awareness. The areas include- 

  • Personal situations 

People with dyslexia often struggle with reading, writing, and spelling, which ultimately affects their expression of thoughts and creative expression. Also, when surrounded by external stimuli, they often require more time to organize their thoughts to get a picture of their current surroundings. 

  • Professional situations 

Professional scenarios require constantly dealing with written or spoken material to get the hang of the work and communicate effectively. People with dyslexia struggle with getting job-specific tasks done and understanding their surroundings, like instructions or protocols to be followed, which provides cues related to professional work and ethics.  

  • Safety situations 

Individuals with dyslexia face challenges while reading road signs, directions, maps, or safety instructions, which limit their actions and can also put their safety at risk[7]

Strategies to help people with dyslexia with situational awareness 

Some strategies that can help with overcoming situational awareness challenges for individuals with dyslexia are- 

1. Visual cues 

 Visual cues

Visual cues are any stimuli that indicate the bigger picture that needs to be pondered on. Incorporating visual cues into the daily routine will help to process the environmental stimuli better and faster. In a study[8], children with dyslexia were provided with visual cues like highlighted texts along with text-synchronized audio. The results of the study indicated that children with dyslexia found it easier to read the highlighted text with audio synchronization compared to normal text. 

2. Incorporate the use of technology in daily life. 

Advanced technology developed especially for individuals with dyslexia works according to the needs and requirements and aids them in better understanding and processing environmental cues. Situational awareness applications and games can lead to better attention and working memory. Advanced applications assist individuals with dyslexia with reading and spelling things to a larger extent. 

3. Flashcards/ visual mapping 

Flashcards/ visual mapping

Visual mapping, like flowcharts, tree diagrams, task cards, etc., is easy to understand and process. Using flashcards or visual maps in daily life helps to get the hang of daily life activities and process them faster. Using visual mapping tools and resources, individuals with dyslexia can better process the information and pay attention to it. Visual mapping can help individuals with dyslexia with brainstorming, concept mapping, and planning. 

4. Using multiple senses 

Incorporating multiple senses while dealing with daily life situations makes it easier for the brain to process the information and comprehend the meaning. According to Margaret Byrd Rawson, former President of IDA, individuals with dyslexia should have lots of practice in their hands, eyes, ears, and voices working together to organize conscious thoughts and improve learning retention. 

5. Mindfulness 

Practicing mindfulness or focusing on the present stimulates the brain and helps effectively process incoming information. Mindfulness declutters the mind and makes it easy to understand and manipulate situational information for better understanding. In a study[9] researchers demonstrated that mindfulness activities improve sustained attention and reading skills of children with dyslexia.  

6. Exploring the surroundings 

Exploring the surroundings gives a better idea of the environment and develops a sense of knowing that helps the brain process information quickly. Also, making the surroundings friendly and easy to navigate helps individuals with dyslexia find their way around. 

7. Spatial games 

Spatial games 

Spatial games and activities help individuals with dyslexia better understand 2D or 3D spaces and how to manipulate them efficiently and quickly. Spatial games have demonstrated improved spatial abilities like spatial visualization and mental rotation tasks. 

Final words 

Dyslexia is more than a reading disability; it affects multiple areas of life. Dyslexia indirectly affects situational awareness, making it difficult for individuals with dyslexia to constantly and effectively manipulate their surroundings and find meaningful outcomes. 

Multiple challenges, like reading speed, spatial processing, working memory, multitasking, etc., affect the situational awareness of people with dyslexia. However, with the right strategies, awareness can be expanded, and individuals with dyslexia can lead a normal life. 


  1. Mansfield, J. S., & Legge, G. E. (2005). The effect of print size on reading speed in dyslexia. Journal of research in reading, 28(3), 332.
  2. Mundy, I. R., & Hannant, P. (2020). Exploring the phonological profiles of children with reading difficulties: A multiple case study. Dyslexia, 26(4), 411-426.
  3. Martos, F.J. (1995). Speed of Visual Information Processing in Developmental Dyslexia. In: Leong, C.K., Joshi, R.M. (eds) Developmental and Acquired Dyslexia. Neuropsychology and Cognition, vol 9. Springer, Dordrecht.
  4. Giovagnoli, G., Vicari, S., Tomassetti, S., & Menghini, D. (2016). The Role of Visual-Spatial Abilities in Dyslexia: Age Differences in Children’s Reading? Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 207447.
  5. Shiran, A., & Breznitz, Z. (2011). The effect of cognitive training on recall range and speed of information processing in the working memory of dyslexic and skilled readers. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 24(5), 524-537.
  6. Lewandowska, M., Milner, R., Ganc, M., Włodarczyk, E., & Skarżyński, H. (2014). Attention Dysfunction Subtypes of Developmental Dyslexia. Medical Science Monitor : International Medical Journal of Experimental and Clinical Research, 20, 2256-2268.
  7. Tejero, P., Insa, B., & Roca, J. (2018). Difficulties of Drivers With Dyslexia When Reading Traffic Signs: Analysis of Reading, Eye Gazes, and Driving Performance. Journal of Learning Disabilities.
  8. Ikeshita, Hanae & Yamaguchi, Sho & Morioka, Toyoshi & Yamazoe, Takashi. (2018). Effects of Highlighting Text on the Reading Ability of Children with Developmental Dyslexia: A Pilot Study. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning (iJET). 13. 239. 10.3991/ijet.v13i09.8736.
  9. Tarrasch, R., Berman, Z., & Friedmann, N. (2016). Mindful Reading: Mindfulness Meditation Helps Keep Readers with Dyslexia and ADHD on the Lexical Track. Frontiers in Psychology, 7.

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