Understanding dyslexia in the workplace
Rosie Clarke, our Head of Inclusion & Diversity Services (North), explains what dyslexia is, her personal experiences and how employers can support those with dyslexia in the workplace.
Keep reading to learn more.
Dyslexia is a term that most people will be familiar with, they may even feel like they know what it means. But in my experience, dyslexia is deeply misunderstood and misrepresented.
I’m Rosie, Head of Inclusion and Diversity Services (North) and I was diagnosed with dyslexia when I started high school at 12 years old.
I’m in my 30s now so I’ve had lots of time to understand this diagnosis and change my mindset from a stigmatising negative label to something I am proud of. But it hasn’t been an easy journey.
In this blog, I want to share with you some information about dyslexia, my experiences, and from a professional point of view what we can do to build inclusive workplaces for dyslexic people.
What is dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a Specific Learning Difficulty, sometimes referred to as a Learning Difference. It is not the same as a Learning Disability in the way it impacts individuals, but it is considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010.
Dyslexic people process language, particularly written language, differently. It doesn’t mean they cannot read or write.
However, some people will find this extremely difficult. Others may be slower to process the written word but not have significant difficulties with reading or writing.
Dyslexia also has other common symptoms in addition to language processing. According to the British Dyslexia Association signs of dyslexia in adults include:
- Confusing visually similar words such as cat and cot
- Spelling erratically
- Finding it hard to scan or skim text
- Needing to re-read paragraphs to understand them
- Finding it hard to listen and maintain focus
- Finding it hard to concentrate if there are distractions
- Feeling sensations of mental overload/switching off
- Having difficulty telling left from right
- Getting confused when given several instructions at once
- Having difficulty organising thoughts on paper
- Often forgetting conversations or important dates
- Having difficulty with personal organisation, time management and prioritising tasks
- Avoiding certain types of work or study
- Finding some tasks really easy but unexpectedly challenged by others
- Having poor self-esteem, especially if dyslexic difficulties have not been identified in earlier life
For example, I have hyper-sensitivity/overstimulation to touch, light and sound. This trait is most commonly found in autistic people but is not unusual for all neurodivergent people.
How does dyslexia impact people at work?
There are obvious impacts such as the speed that we can process information or work through reports and emails. But, reasonable adjustments lessen the impact of these.
The more difficult impacts are things such as low self-esteem, burnout, organisation and time management skills.
Over the years I have learned many coping mechanisms for keeping myself on track and managing my mental health. However, there are always times when things become overwhelming and my coping mechanisms no longer support my needs.
For example, I have been putting off writing this blog for weeks. Because the idea of getting my thoughts down on paper is overwhelming me and therefore, I keep “running out of time” each day.
I feel like I have planned the time but then the mental health impacts take over and my time management is no longer effective.
In a worst-case scenario, I could become burntout just at the thought of missing the deadline for this blog. Seems silly and trivial. But it’s not in my world.
Because processing language takes such a huge effort for my brain, I get stuck in a cycle of wanting to do my job well (low self-esteem) and not wanting to write the blog (overwhelming anxiety about language) and it goes round and round and round.
(I am currently writing this 4 mins before the end of the day on deadline day – but I have written it which is a win for me, even if it was planned into my diary 2 weeks ago!)
Dyslexia and stress at work can be linked closely together, it’s important to keep up to date with your colleagues to check in with them and how you can help.
Understanding dyslexia discrimination
The world we live in is ableist, it is built on ideas, ways of working, and practices that centre around the neurotypical/non-disabled person’s way of seeing the world.
Because of this, disability discrimination happens frequently. Often without people even noticing. Dyslexia is a disability under the Equality Act 2010 which means that if a dyslexic person is treated differently, unfairly, or in a way that disadvantages them they could be experiencing disability discrimination.
To avoid dyslexia discrimination at work, employers should make sure they are providing reasonable adjustments for dyslexic employees and customers.
How to deal with dyslexia at work
Here are some tips on how to deal with dyslexia at work.
- Be aware not everyone is comfortable with disclosing dyslexia at work but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be dyslexia friendly. The more you do shows how you value dyslexic people and will encourage disclosure.
- Ensure there are reasonable adjustments for dyslexia in the workplace.
- Talk to colleagues about the power of neurodiversity and how all brains are valuable brains.
- Adapt your communication styles such as having verbal meetings and written notes.
- Offer support on an individual basis and don’t make assumptions about how each person is impacted by their dyslexia.
- Raise awareness through training to break down the myths.
How Inclusive Employers can help
I am always happy to be asked to come and share my experiences in a webinar or a training session. We also have other consultants who have expertise in this field who can provide training and awareness-raising.