Dyslexia. It’s one of those words which we hear fairly regularly and most of us think we probably know what it is.
But if someone asked you for a definition of the word, what would you say? Maybe that someone who has dyslexia can’t read very well? Or letters and words get jumbled in their heads?
That is part of the story but by no means the full story. In reality, no two people with dyslexia are the same and therefore our personal experience of dyslexia is as unique as we are.
What is dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a neurological difference and can have a significant impact during education, in the workplace and in everyday life.
The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) adopts the Rose (2009) definition of dyslexia as a learning difficulty, which is distinct from and occurs across the full range of intellectual ability.
People with dyslexia process information in their brains in a different way to people without dyslexia. Many of us struggle to process and remember the information we see and hear.
There is a common misconception that dyslexia only affects the ability to read and write. In reality, dyslexia can affect memory, organisation, time-keeping, concentration, multi-tasking and communication.
Dyslexic people can experience processing overload and ‘zone out’, and often use time management tools such as the ‘Pomodoro technique’ or colour coded calendars to help manage this.
What dyslexia feels like
Many dyslexic people have developed coping mechanisms, some of which are subconscious, to compensate for, or even mask dyslexia. However dyslexic people have to work harder than others to overcome daily challenges.
Our brains work harder when they already have reduced processing ability and this can leave us physically and mentally exhausted.
When tired our dyslexic 'symptoms' are more pronounced because we don't have sufficient energy to employ our usual coping strategies and our processing capacity can hit a wall.
Information overload, can be conscious or sub-conscious. Sometimes we will feel overwhelmed with information, and at other times we might simply stop processing information and not be aware of it.
How to support people with dyslexia at work
Colleagues and managers can support us by being clear with instructions, particularly verbal, which may need repeating. Where possible verbal instructions should be followed up by being written down.
Barbara says: ‘When I am presented with materials that have not been circulated in advance of a meeting, I can find this extremely stressful, especially if this happens continuously throughout the day. It also can exclude me from decision making and contributing fully.’
Jonathan says: ‘It can be hard to keep up when people in a meeting are talking about a document that everyone is looking at individually, and the conversation jumps around the document. It can lead to dyslexic staff being excluded from discussions if it’s not clearly stated what page you are on and which paragraph.’
‘It can be upsetting and counterproductive if people are perceived as ‘not having paid attention the first time’ when this is simply about an inability to process and retain information in the way that other people do.’
‘Correcting people’s spelling or drawing attention to inconsequential mistakes in discussions about draft documents is not productive. Consider sending such corrections after the meeting if you have to. Belittling people for something that they cannot prevent, and which might not have significant bearing at that time does not make you look exacting and meticulous. It makes you look smug, hurtful and unkind.’
Am I dyslexic?
The BDA describes possible signs of dyslexia in adults, many of whom are undiagnosed. It is often the signs unrelated to the processing of information, not just the written and phonological aspects of dyslexia, that prompt people to wonder if they may be dyslexic.
Often parents of children who are diagnosed with dyslexia, recognise symptoms and coping mechanisms in themselves when their child is diagnosed.
Reasonable adjustments in the workplace
Reasonable adjustments can include:
- allowing extra time and factoring this in to planning work
- a different start and finish time
- preferred ways of communicating
- more regular breaks
- a specific desk chair, mouse or keyboard
- flexibility for any appointments you need to attend to stay well at work
At the HRA we ask people to send out reading materials and presentations in plenty of time ahead of meetings to allow people to process the information before the meeting.
The HRA is also committed to ensuring that staff who need to print documents to access them can do so in their regular base, whether at home or in the office.
Managers and colleagues can and should play to people’s strengths. People with dyslexia are often strategic, ‘bigger picture’ thinkers and some dyslexic people excel in areas such as reasoning and creative thinking. Dyslexic people are also less likely to judge others, more accepting of difference and are more likely to question ‘norms’ and their unique thought processes can help find innovative solutions.
Health and Accessibility passport
The HRA’s Health and Accessibility passport was created to support staff with workplace adjustments.
The passport is a place to record any adjustments, which have been agreed with a line manager, to help staff work comfortably, effectively and with dignity.
These might relate to health, mental health, a physical or sensory impairment, neurodivergence, or other life circumstances which might require flexibility at work, such as caring responsibilities.
We recommend that people discuss and update their passport every six months.
Neurodiversity Teams channel
Dyslexia is a neurodiversity. We have a Neurodiversity (ND) Teams chat channel where anyone with an interest in neurodiversity (such as ND colleagues, or partners and parents of ND people) can share information, tips and experiences.
Disability Staff-led Interest Group (SIG)
Our Disability SIG also welcomes neurodivergent colleagues. The group:
- aims to make the HRA a more inclusive workplace for staff with long-term health conditions, neurodiversity and disabilities
- meets monthly for peer support and to talk about working at the HRA with long-term health conditions, neurodiversity and disabilities
- has representation at the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Steering Group to:
- share members’ opinions and feedback
- make the HRA a better place to work for everyone, not just people with a formal diagnosis
- aims to improve awareness of hidden disabilities
Dyslexia Awareness Week and resources
During Dyslexia Awareness Week this year, the British Dyslexia Association focused on the theme of ‘Uniquely You’: as each person is unique, so is everyone's experience of dyslexia.
For more information on dyslexia, including advice on how to create a dyslexia-friendly working environment, and information for those living with dyslexic adults or children, you can find out more on the British Dyslexia Association website.
You can also find out more about dyslexia and learning strategies for people with dyslexia on the Davis Dyslexia Association International website.
Public Involvement Manager
Deputy Director Approvals Service