Non-reading adults need something other than "Dick and Jane" to help them gain the skills they need for employment and other adult activities.

"In the past, people thought that adults who didn't read were naturally slow learners, that they needed repetition," said Edward J. Cohen, director of multimedia application for IMSATT Corp. Experience has shown, however, that most illiterate adults develop ways to "work around their problems." Capitalizing on such innate skills helps adults to learn more easily. They also learn faster when instruction is based on their life experiences, he said.Cohen is one of many adult education experts who displayed their products in the Salt Palace this week in conjunction with the conference of the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education.

IMSATT and other companies are developing programs for what is a large market in the United States - a huge reservoir of adults who are illiterate or whose reading and writing skills fall below functional levels.

Failure of schools to recognize different learning styles is responsible for the lack of reading and writing skills many adults experience, Cohen said. Repeating the same methods to try to remedy the original failure is not effective.

Interviews with illiterate adults who wanted to upgrade their skills indicated they "were tired of reading kids' materials," Cohen said.

Overly large class sizes in schools, particularly in the primary grades, contribute to illiteracy, he said. Schools often fail to make instruction germane to students as well.

"A black woman told me she wanted to read so she could read `her' history, not the history of other people," Cohen said. Her lack of interest in the curriculum that was presented her as a child relegated to the ranks of the illiterate as an adult.

IMSATT has developed a self-paced multimedia program that helps adults learn to read and write with the aid of a computer. The program provides lessons relating to their real circumstances - reading train schedules, for instance. As they read items that have relevance to them, they develop skills, over time, that can be applied to all written materials.

Problem-solving helps adult students gain literacy skills, Cohen said, and his company's program is adapted to the learning level each student brings to the process. Solving real-life problems via video, animation, sound and graphics helps students learn to read and retain the instruction.

American businesses spend billions of dollars each year to educate employees who are illiterate or subliterate. Such programs as IMSATT's SkillWorks program are designed for use in industry, which spends billions of dollars each year dealing with illiteracy among employees, as well as by community education programs, the military, prisons or labor unions that have an interest in upgrading reading and writing skills.