It’s fair to say that many people think they know what dyslexia is, but so many have it wrong.
Due to this general lack of understanding and occasional misrepresentation within the media, many dyslexic (neuro-divergent) individuals have concerns about discrimination and bullying in the workplace.
Many individuals are unsure of whether their work-related challenges are actually connected to their dyslexia and so there can be a reluctance to seek support.
Additionally, a major concern for many is that formal disclosure may have a negative long-term impact on their career progression.
So, what is it like to have dyslexia in the workplace?
Because of their processing differences, dyslexic individuals share a familiar skill set which includes some difficulties but also includes such strengths as creativity, big-picture thinking, innovation, entrepreneurial flare and good communication (when they feel confident).
Clearly, these skills are valuable to employers and there are certain career paths which naturally attract these individuals including engineering, science, technology, architecture and the arts.
However, if these individuals have little or no self-awareness of their processing differences they may be lacking the confidence and the appropriate strategies to realise their potential.
Also, without the essential self-knowledge and base level support, this has the potential to impact on wellbeing and can have a negative impact on a person’s mental health.
It’s important to note that individuals commonly start to experience challenges following some kind of change. This can happen following a promotion, change of processes, change of line manager or change of work location.
The fact that they are struggling to cope can often be surprising to them and they may not realise the challenges they face at work are associated with dyslexia – not least because most people simply associate dyslexia with difficulties reading and writing.
Dyslexia affects 10 – 15% of the population and many of these individuals are working in middle management, at the director level or running their own businesses. It has no bearing on ‘global ability’ or IQ.
Here are some of the more common challenges experienced by dyslexics in the workplace:
- Email management.
- Structuring written communication.
- Contributing effectively to meetings.
- Memory difficulties (short term memory and working memory).
- Staying focused (especially in shared office space).
- Reading comprehension.
- Time management and meeting deadlines.
- Planning and prioritising.
- Anxiety and stress.
What can you do if you are struggling and think you may be dyslexic?
If you are experiencing difficulties with work tasks speak with your line manager or a representative from HR and they should guide you towards the recognised process of support within your company.
The support process would typically include screening and possibly a diagnostic assessment (however this varies depending on the requirements of the organisation and the job role). This would then lead on to a workplace needs assessment.
The workplace needs assessment report would list some recommendations, most of which are usually relatively low cost, for workplace adjustments which should help you cope more effectively.
Small things like using a sans serif fonts like Verdana or Ariel can be hugely beneficial.
Changing the colour of your background can help immensely because dyslexics are often affected by colours. Text to speech software is also very valuable as it highlights mistakes.
What if I am reluctant to speak out at work?
It can be difficult to speak out about the challenges you may be experiencing. If you have concerns, do some foundation research into whether there is actually a recognised process of support within your company.
When individuals with dyslexia (and associated neuro-divergent conditions such as dyscalculia, dyspraxia and ADD/ADHD) have effective coping strategies and tools and training tailored to their needs, they can really start to work to their full abilities.
However, it is vitally important these individuals feel safe to talk, as well as being able to access appropriate support. A new initiative called Dyslexia Champions™ aims to be this, until now, missing link in workplace dyslexia support.
How can I help a dyslexic colleague?
If you want to be supportive of a colleague or member of staff, it is important to remember that every brain is different, just as every person is different.
Support will vary from person to person and ‘one size’ most definitely does not ‘fit all’ when it comes to dyslexia in the workplace.
However, if you want to be a supportive work colleague, firstly it is important to remember neurodivergence has no bearing on a person’s IQ, dyslexia is not purely about difficulties with reading and/or writing and many adults will not know that the challenges they may be experiencing are associated with a processing difference.
Also, neuro-divergent colleagues may appear to be coping, but like the graceful swan gliding along on the water, many will be frantically paddling to achieve this result. A person can only keep this going for so long before it takes a toll on them.
So, if someone starts to struggle, they ideally need to speak with someone knowledgeable who can help them access professional support but just being respectful, kind and understanding that they may need a bit more time to complete some tasks could be really helpful in the short term.
Janette Beetham is a senior consultant to the BDA (British Dyslexia
Association. She is an experienced business counsellor and workplace dyslexia/ND specialist who is a member of the Institute of Coaching and a Fellow of the RSA. Janette has experience in a wide range of areas and runs her own business, Right Resources Limited.
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