Supporting Dyslexia in the Workplace
What is Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts up to 10% of the population. It makes reading, writing and spelling difficult, though this can also impact ability to retain and organise information such as reading instructions, planning and organising tasks, and can sometimes make it difficult to understand spoken language. Such tasks require significantly more brain power and energy for people who are dyslexic, making them both time consuming and exhausting!
It is essential that employers have an awareness of dyslexia and that they understand how dyslexia impacts their staff.
People with dyslexia may experience stress, confusion and frustration in the workplace as a result. Being expected to perform the same tasks to the same level, efficiency and with the same speed as peers without dyslexia not only puts dyslexics under unnecessary and unfair levels of stress, but can also impact self-esteem.
It is necessary for employers to make accommodations to support employees with dyslexia in the workplace, which helps employees to thrive and have success in their careers.
Employers should look to provide practical support such as via reasonable adjustments, as well as emotional support to ensure that dyslexic employees aren’t encountering unnecessary additional stress or overwhelm as a result of their dyslexia. Employers should also be proactive in creating an inclusive atmosphere that is supporting and accepting of individual differences, such as by normalising reasonable adjustments and offering training to staff. Inclusivity in the workplace benefits all – from individual employees to the very success of the business itself, and every measure should be taken to be accepting and accommodating of employees with dyslexia.
How Does Dyslexia Occur?
Dyslexia is a neurodevelopmental disorder, that it, is a difference in the way that the brain itself works. This means that individuals with dyslexia are absolutely not to blame for their difficulties. Their brain simply works in a different way.
Dyslexia is highly heritable, and it research has estimated that children with a parent who has dyslexia, are 30-70% more likely to develop dyslexia themselves. Other factors have been proposed as having links to dyslexia such as lack of access to reading materials during childhood. Regardless, it is important to understand that dyslexia is by no means a reflection of willingness, determination or intelligence.
In fact, individuals with dyslexia bring with them unique strengths that deserve to be recognised, celebrated and encouraged. Individuals with dyslexia who are supported to work to their natural strengths are much more likely to not only achieve success but also report a better quality of life.
Dyslexic brains excel at “lateral thinking”, that is thinking outside of the box. In fact, a dyslexic person is more likely to design a new box altogether! Dyslexic thinkers are much more likely as a result to become inventors and entrepreneurs.
Those with dyslexia are highly visual thinkers. They are typically better than most at visualising an idea and bringing it to life, whether this be visualising a building from plans alone; visualising a new invention; or even the physical movements within a dance. Those with dyslexia are typically much more imaginative.
Lastly, those with dyslexia are often excellent verbal communicators. This can be both in regards to telling a captivating story or tale, but also in explaining concepts and communicating understanding to others.
Regardless of cause, dyslexia comes with strengths and talents that deserve to be encouraged in the workplace.
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How to Get a Diagnosis of Dyslexia as an Adult in the UK
Recognising dyslexia and supporting employees through an assessment to achieve a diagnosis can be highly validating for individuals, and may support you as employers to support employees effectively. Whilst many individuals with dyslexia are diagnosed during childhood, this is not always the case. Knowing how and where to obtain an assessment for dyslexia is important for employers to be able to support your staff.
Here in the UK, GP’s are able to make referrals to specialist services that assess for dyslexia. The assessment process itself typically consists of questionnaires such as about your education history, interviews with yourself and members of your family, and tests that look specifically at reading, language, problem-solving and memory as a few examples. Please note that the process itself can be stressful, due to the length and intensive nature of the process; but also because of the amount of reading and writing required such as completing questionnaires and reading appointment letters. It is essential therefore that as an employer you support your employees the best that you can throughout this process.
Unfortunately, assessments via the NHS may also come with long waiting times such as due to funding cuts. Private assessments are also available, and some employee assistance programmes offer reimbursement towards the cost of such an assessment – though check with your EAP provider or HR. It is important for employers to be patient if an employee is struggling at work due to suspected dyslexia and is also struggling to access an assessment through no fault of their own.
Once diagnosed, recommendations may be made with regards to reasonable adjustments to help with supporting dyslexia in the workplace. They may also be entitled to extra support through Access to Work, a scheme provided by the UK Government, as well as reasonable adjustments from employers.
Supporting Team Members with Dyslexia
The first step to supporting employees with dyslexia in the workplace is to understand that symptoms of dyslexia will appear different in everyone. They may even fluctuate somewhat from day-to-day as a result of other factors such as sleep, stress and physical ill health. Understanding that all individuals with dyslexia are different and require different types and levels of support is extremely important.
It is also important that employers and those in positions of responsibility such as line mangers and people in HR, are open to and confident in engaging in discussions about dyslexia. Avoiding conversations about dyslexia, shying away from them, ending discussions prematurely to “refer” or “pass” the employee on to someone else, will all contribute to potentially making the employee feel isolated, unsupported or even rejected. The stress of this alone may make working even more difficult, exacerbating any problems.
Feedback is also useful to employees with dyslexia, to understand not only areas for improvement and to give them the opportunity to work through these with you to find other ways of working, but also to understand what they are doing well. New employees in particular may feel conscious about their work and how they are being perceived by others such as their line managers, and receiving balanced feedback can offer both guidance and assurance that they are on the right path. Having your efforts acknowledged and celebrated can be rewarding for all – including employees with dyslexia.
Feeling valued, believed in and receiving confirmation that your contribution is notable and your achievements recognised can help employees with dyslexia to feel an important sense of belonging. Feeling supported by those around you can improve resilience and help you to navigate stress more effectively, leading to a more confident, more supportive and more effective workforce.
Reasonable Adjustments for Individuals with Dyslexia
If you have an employee with dyslexia, you may feel unsure about what accommodations you can offer to support them. Here is a short list of just some reasonable adjustments you might consider to support your team:
Flexible Working – Offering flexible working hours for employees with dyslexia may support them to accommodate for fatigue due to the additional brain energy spent doing tasks such as reading and replying to emails for example. Allowing some remote working can also support wellbeing of employees with dyslexia to manage stresses.
Visual Aids – Providing infographics and diagrams with images as opposed to text-heavy documents with large amounts of information at once can help break down information such as instructions for people with dyslexia; supporting the comprehension and retention of the materials.
Assistive Technology – Investing in screen readers, speech-to-text technology and text-to-speech technology as just a few examples, can be valuable tools for employees with dyslexia. Investing in such technology will not only support an individual but any other current or future employees who may also have dyslexia.
Provide Training – Investing in training to educate yourself and your team on dyslexia and the challenges it presents, can help to create a supportive and inclusive workplace.
Mentoring – Mentoring from other employees who can offer additional support and guidance without needing to speak to a line manager, can be an informal and invaluable source of support. Mentors should be experienced in supporting colleagues particularly with dyslexia. This informal support may help to increase confidence, help employees to feel accepted without judgement or criticism, and it may help to identify and overcome challenges as they arise.
Many reasonable adjustments require little to no cost for employers, and yet can make a significant difference for employees with dyslexia.
Co-Creating Wellbeing Plans
Wellbeing plans are extremely useful tools for all employers to have in place with their employees, to ensure that they feel valued, supported and so that employees know what is expected of them and what they can expect of their employer if they are struggling. This too can be valuable for employees with dyslexia.
A wellbeing plan allows employers and employees to work collaboratively to create an individualised plan of support. Plans should look at the individuals’ strengths, their achievements and things they do successfully in the workplace, any existing measures already in place and how effectively they are serving their purpose. They can be a tool for offering emotional support as well as supporting with effective problem solving, and assessing the effectiveness of adjustments at pre-agreed intervals.
Strategies covered in wellbeing plans to support employees with dyslexia can look at; accessibility, communication (e.g. via emails and instant messengers vs calls), workload, environment, assistive technology, stress management, mentoring, training and development opportunities as a few examples. It may be important to look at whom takes responsibility for what, for example the line manager may assume responsibility for liaising with HR regarding ordering assistive software; the employee may assume responsibility for using it consistently when it arrives and evaluating the impact of using it.
Wellbeing plans should take a holistic approach and also consider the physical and mental health and wellbeing of your employees. This offers an invaluable opportunity to support and empower your employees to be proactive in tending to their wellbeing.
It is important to regularly review and update wellbeing plans. This will allow both employer and employee to make ongoing changes as necessary. A tailored wellbeing plan can help employees to feel valued, safe and confident, which will lead to success in their roles, ultimately benefitting the business.
Strengths of People with Dyslexia
As previously mentioned, there are many strengths and talents that people dyslexia possess, that deserve to be recognised and celebrated. Let us take a moment to acknowledge these with intention.
Attention to Detail – People with dyslexia can be highly detail-oriented due to their ability to visualise they often notice mistakes that others don’t. This can mean identifying problems before they occur, saving everyone time, stress and energy.
Problem-Solving – Due to their ability to visualise situations from multiple perspectives, people with dyslexia often have excellent problem-solving skills. They are also more likely to generate unique solutions that others may not have thought of.
Memory Retention – Due to the increased time, energy and focus that employees with dyslexia spend reading, their ability to later recall facts and details is excellent. As Salma Hayek, Hollywood actress once said of her dyslexia – “Some people read really fast, but you’ll ask them questions about the script and they’ll forget. I take a long time to read a script, but I read it only once”.
Time Management – People with dyslexia can display strong abilities to accurately estimate a timeframe required to complete a task, and to stick to their schedule or plan of action, making them efficient and reliable.
Creativity – People with dyslexia can visualise an end goal or end product with great accuracy, making them great leaders.
Communication – Individuals with dyslexia are often excellent verbal communicators. They can be perceived as enthusiastic, energetic, and again can enthuse a team and lead them towards success and motivate them to overcome challenges with ease.
Supporting employees with dyslexia to reach their full potential in the workplace is not only an employer’s responsibility, but an opportunity to reap the rewards of having creative, enthusiastic, imaginative problem-solvers in your workplace.
If you need any guidance or assistance, we would be delighted to assist.
We can help with;
– Advising on appropriate training progammes
– Providing workplace training
– One to one staff coaching
– Producing tools for managers and employees
– Retainer services and ongoing support