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Friday, June 22, 2012

Dyslexia in the Workplace

Fear of discrimination by managers and bullying by colleagues prevents many people from disclosing the fact that they have dyslexia. (Trades Union Congress UK). Estimates vary, but 5 to 15 percent of Americans - 14.5 to 43.5 million children and adults - have dyslexia. The British Dyslexia Association estimates that ten percent of the population are affected by dyslexia to some degree.
Dyslexia is a neurological genetic condition that can make reading, writing, spelling and auditory processing difficult. There is no cure for dyslexia. Researchers have not yet been able to agree on what causes dyslexia. One theory suggests dyslexia is caused by a difference in the way the brain functions. Though most people handle language in the left hemisphere of the brain, a person with dyslexia tends to use the right hemisphere for dealing with language (which is best at handling space and patterns). It has been suggested that this, to some extent, can be remedied by teaching the brain to use the left side of the brain. Another theory suggests that dyslexia is caused by a malfunction of the inner ear. This malfunction causes signals sent to the brain to become "scrambled".
Famous and successful people had dyslexia: Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, and Walt Disney. People with dyslexia can be good lateral thinkers, problem solvers and communicators and often are strong in practical and creative areas. Many dyslexics excel in lateral thinking, are creative and innovative, and are aware of links and associations that may escape the more linear thinker. They often have good powers of visualization, excellent practical skills, and an untaught intuitive understanding of how systems work.
Employees with dyslexia tend to write down inverted phone numbers and financial figures. They can spend a long time trying to interpret a memo. They hide their illiteracy and get other people to read and write for them. Many can suffer headaches from trying to read accurately. They can find it difficult in formulating their own thoughts rapidly enough to take part in discussions. For managers, the loss of productivity can be enormous if the condition goes undetected and strategies not implemented to assist the employee.
Dyslexia can be a 'hidden disability' and can go unnoticed in early years and continue through adulthood. Many people with dyslexia are unaware of their condition and are likely to be anxious, frustrated and suffer from low self-esteem at work. Though when diagnosed, the majority of dyslexic adults are relieved to discover their condition. It answers the questions they lived with for so long on as to why they had difficulties in school.
Over the years dyslexic individuals have learnt how to adapt to their condition by adopting strategies or avoiding situations in the workplace where they know they have problems. Their coping strategies can be challenged when there are organisational changes or an increase in workload.
Many employers are not doing enough to tackle the condition at work. Managers who do not appreciate the link between dyslexia and common performance problems can often judge dyslexic employees unfairly.
Employers can assist staff who have dyslexia by giving advance notice of tasks whenever possible; offering support with new or difficult tasks; avoiding lengthy written explanations and presenting complex written instructions in flow charts, to name a few.
In today's busy work environment, many employees are challenge with 'competing priorities'. This situation poses more increased stress for the dyslexic employee; therefore, the manager should offer help with prioritising and organizing the workload. By taking the initiative in understanding this 'hidden disability' and utilising the strengths of EVERY employee, workplaces will be more productive.
Symptoms of Adult Dyslexia:
  • Reading and spelling problems.
  • Doesn't like reading books.
  • Avoids tasks that involve writing, or else gets someone else to do the writing for them.
  • Better than average memory.
Supporting People With Dyslexia (and these can also help other employees)
  • Provide equipment and materials to make work easier (e.g., coloured paper, text-to-speech software, voice dictation systems);
  • Avoid lengthy written explanations
  • Be aware of font size and style (use Verdana in written communication)
  • Use voice mail as opposed to written memos.
  • Giving summaries and/or key points.
  • Give clear concise and direct instructions
  • Allow an employee to work from home occasionally.
  • Provide a quiet working environment
  • Avoid harsh criticisms or careless remarks that could undermine confidence.
  • Be patient and supportive!
Dr Dion Klein is a writer and speaker on corporate health issues and is the Managing Director of Healthy Worksites, a company specialising in corporate wellness strategies and team building programs for the public and private sector. Go to for more information.

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