Taking charge of dyslexia in the workplace
Shame is a powerful emotion. And so is fear. You may think they are uncommon feelings in the workplace, but right now there is a one in 10 chance that a colleague is experiencing these disabling emotions.
And the reason? Their dyslexia has been misunderstood, particularly at school, resulting in life experiences that have challenged their self-esteem and identity.
To those of us who might take for granted our ability to peruse a report or express our ideas in an email or document, it is hard to imagine how these seemingly simple tasks can produce such an emotive reaction from so many dyslexic people. But for those whose dyslexia has been misunderstood either in school or elsewhere in their life, the feelings are very real, and understandable.
Richard Taylor, co-founder and co-director of the Weta companies, regularly comes into contact with people struggling with the feelings dyslexia evokes. “Only a few weeks ago I met a young man whose parents brought him to the workshop to see what we could do. He had been labelled in degrading ways in terms of his ability, when actually his motor skills, visual and creative skills were amazing.
“It’s tough at that age, but what I tried to make him understand is how important it is to believe in his own unique capabilities. When he leaves school it will become apparent that he is actually in a unique position to make the most of his exceptional creative view of the world,” he says.
The story is just one of many that Taylor offers when talking about dyslexia, a topic he is deeply passionate about, and its sentiments are echoed by other high profile New Zealanders who experience dyslexia.
“I hid the fact that I had issues with writing and spelling for 37 years, out of shame and fear of being judged a dummy, an idiot, lazy or stupid. At high school, to cover up my issues I just pretended I didn’t care and teachers told my parents I was lazy and didn’t try. You get the picture,” says Paul Reid, CEO of the New Zealand MetService.
Fortunately, for young New Zealanders and those already in the workforce who have dyslexia, a global step-change in thinking is underway. Instead of pigeon-holing dyslexia as a disability, the new thinking focuses on increasing understanding which helps employers to notice the difficulties (or preferences) a staff member has and to adjust their actions in response.
This simple “notice and adjust” approach empowers employees to achieve their potential and demonstrates an employer’s willingness to support genuine needs. This leads to increased job fulfillment for dyslexic employees, and for the employer, an enhanced bottom line.
At its essence, dyslexia is the disparity between thinking skills (which are usually strong) and basic skills such as reading and writing (which can often be weak in comparison). This is a consequence of how the brain is wired, and a strong preference as to where it processes information.
In fact, leading dyslexia researcher Sally Shaywitz, founder of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity has shown that dyslexics tend to have strengths in higherlevel thinking processes, learning capacity, creative problem-solving, thinking ‘outside the square’ and empathy. She also found that dyslexics excel when focused on highly specialised areas, ranging from medicine and law to science and architecture.
Dyslexics also have great skills in entrepreneurialism. Research from the United Kingdom shows that 35 percent of US entrepreneurs and 20 percent of UK entrepreneurs are dyslexic.
With such strengths to offer, the challenge for New Zealand employers is to find the right way to harness the potential benefits. For Taylor, the emphasis for a good employer needs to be on changing their approach to working with dyslexic employees in order to help them flourish.
“You need to identify exactly what attributes you want in the person you hire. If you expect a more traditional, linear thinking mode you will need to put more support around a dyslexic person to help them achieve that.
“Awareness is critical. You need team leaders who can identify the signs of dyslexia and make simple adjustments so the employee feels valued and empowered. This will involve good peer support and making sure that the challenges you set dyslexic employees are testing, but not outside the realm of their capability,” he says.
These sentiments are echoed by Reid.
“Dyslexia has helped me be a good leader because I’ve learnt to communicate ideas, issues and concepts in different ways. I have had to adapt to succeed but I believe this has actually made me a stronger leader,” he says.
“For example, in moments of crisis, I can take a lot of verbal information, process it, draw conclusions and make decisions on the spot. I deal in concepts rather than in details and I can give a one hour presentation without notes. I spend a lot of time walking around the business talking to people, and I often use the telephone to discuss business matters, rather than email.”
Reid believes that business owners or employers need to rethink traditional principles and rules to help dyslexic employees, and to allow them to help themselves.
“Employees with any form of dyslexia can be of great use to organisations as long asyou don’t put them in the wrong job and expect them to undertake tasks that they cannot perform. It’s about horses for courses and matching skills to strengths.
Reid says many dyslexic adults can work very hard at hiding their weaknesses, instead of using their significant abilities to add value to the business. Employers can lift productivity by helping them identify, and play to their strengths.
“It’s great to see a new model emerging that is based on attitude, where knowing the questions to ask is more important than knowing the answers, and where people areconstructively speaking out. Good communication and understanding strengths and weaknesses is essential for supporting employees, especially those affected by dyslexia,” he says.
Where to learn more
Tips for harnessing the benefits of dyslexia
• Attitude is everything, and it counts from top to bottom. Make an effort to understand the strengths that Dyslexia can offer and do not confuse weakness in basic skills with a lack of intelligence, ability or commitment.
• Accept the challenge to review your company style guides and fine tune them to suit the needs of dyslexic people. It’s not only them who benefit, everyone gains when things are communicated in a way that is clear, concise, well-planned and combines a mixture of words and visuals.
• Focus on communication. Deliver information and instructions orally or visually wherever possible, rather than writing things down. Encourage others to do the same because it is often quicker, more efficient and engages people more effectively in the business at hand
• Value visual information as well as the written, and include diagrams and pictures in presentations and reports.
• Always give an overview and explain the big picture.
• Ask for ideas verbally in meetings instead of always seeking written responses.
• Ensure support structures are in place for dyslexic employees if you expect themto deliver work in a traditional, linear fashion.
This blog provides a list of books that specialists in dyslexia, hyperlexia child development and other relevent topics have recommended or have written. I am continually adding titles to this list as I find them on-line or when attending talks. So, do revisit this blog. While I have not read all those listed I do include a brief description of each book. Hope this information is helpful to you.
Integration of Infant Dynamic and Postural Reflex Patterns: Svetlana Masgutova. This title may sound intimidating. However, it is worth spending time with this information. About four years ago I discovered the work of Svetlana and her associates. Through her we unearthed the fact that some of my reflexes (like crawling on my stomach) were not properly developed when I was in utero or during the first three years of my life. Svetlana Masgutova’s Neuro-Sensory-Motor and Reflex Integration Method for Children and Adults increased my ability to both read and comprehend. I strongly recommend that anyone with a dyslexic, hyperlexic, autistic, aspergers child research this approach. Changes occur. And, I recommend that this be one of the first steps to take with a dyslexic/hyperlexic. I can say that having my reflexes now functioning at full capacity changes much for me in my ability to read and comprehend.
Smart Moves: by Carla Hannaford. I have used many of the approaches that Ms. Hannaford recommends with very positive results. Some of them are:
- Dietary awareness, drink enough water, less sugar intake, etc
- Help the brain to perceive events less stressful by doing physical exercises
- Create a less stressful environment for people with learning difficulties
Brain Gym: Paul E. Dennison (a dyslexic) and Gail E. Dennison. This book outlines in easy to understand form activities for Whole Brain Learning. This approach was very helpful to me in mastering some of my dyslexic characteristics.
Visualizing and Verbalizing: For Language Comprehension and Thinking: Nanci Bell. Ms. Bell is one of the founders of Lindamood Bell. This company has an excellent assessment process to determine dyslexia and hyperlexia as well as programs to improve dyslexic and hyperlexic conditions. I took the Visualizing and Verbalizing course – seven weeks, five days a week, four hours a day and moved my comprehension skills from Grade Three level to Grade Nine. This outfit is very professional.
Overcoming Dyslexia: by Sally Shaywitz. This book has been out for sometime and is considered an important resource by most. Most of the findings are based on research. I have heard Dr. Shaywitz speak several times. She has followed several dyslexics from a young age to maturity. Her focus is very scientific.
The Schwab Learning Website, http://www.schwabfoundation.org, lists six books that a parent, Darla Hatton, thinks is most useful for others suddenly faced with the challenges of dyslexia, be they a parent, teacher or dyslexic.
The Schwab Learning Center offers this list:
Parenting a Struggling Reader: by Susan L. Hall and Louisa C. Moats. Their book explains how school systems work along with practical guidance
Wrightslaw: from Emotions to Advocay: by Pam Wright and Pete Wright. I haven’t read the book but from experience with my dyslexia and hyperlexia, there is much credence in giving focus to emotional issues as part of the process of handling both conditions towards a positive result.
One Word at a Time: by Linda G. Tessler. A dyslexic’s story: She’s a PHD and dyslexic.
Dyslexia Wonders: by Jennifer Smith. It’s a child’s point of view.
Instructions and Assessment for Struggling Writers: edited by Gary A. Troia. It describes several best practices for teaching writing.
Other sources offers these book on dyslexia:
Dyslexia in the Workplace : Diana Bartlett, Sylvia Moody (Paperback, 2005)
Dyslexia for Dummies: World of Dyslexia says: this books indicates how to spot the signs and get the proper treatment. This friendly guide shows parents how to identify the signs of dyslexia, choose among dyslexia treatment options, and find an individualized education program for their child. They’ll also find practical tips on assisting with homework, helping a child build self-esteem, and easing the transition to high school and college.
100 Ideas for Supporting Children with Dyslexia : Per World of Dyslexia: this book provides one hundred excellent techniques to support the learning development of dyslexic children. This handy paperback guide includes lists that range from identifying the needs of individual pupils and their learning styles to developing pupils reading, writing, numeric and communication skills
How to Reach and Teach Children and Teens with Dyslexia: World of Dyslexia says this book is a comprehensive, practical resource giving educators at all levels essential information, techniques, and tools for understanding dyslexia and adapting teaching methods in all subject areas. Over 50 full-page activity sheets that can be photocopied for immediate use and interviews with students and adults who have had personal experience with dyslexia. Organized into twenty sections, information covers everything from ten principles of instruction to teaching reading, handwriting, spelling, writing, math, everyday skills, and even covers the adult with dyslexia.
Patricia Oetter, an OT Therapist, during a lecture at PEN (Parents Education Network in San Francisco) re-iterated several times her concern that boys in our school systems are lacking experiences they need for development. The reason? It seems the schools learning systems are focused on a girl’s point of view. As a result the experience of risk is diminished, an important component for young boy’s growth. She recommended three books that are helpful in raising boys:
Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph and Paul Stanish
Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson,
The Trouble with Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do, by Peg Tyre
Primal Teen by Barbara Strauch At a recent PEN speaker’s panel this book was highly recommended by a Resource Specialist.
Update as of 9.10. At a recent PEN Speaker Series discussion, the speaker Claudia Koocheck, Head of School at Charles Armstrong, in Belmont, CA recommended these two books for parents of children with learning challenges.
- Mindset, The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, (2006), Random House Publishing Group, New York. It describes how kids perceive themselves.
- Brooks, Robert and Goldstein, Sam (2003), The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence and Personal Strength in Your Life. New York Contemporary Books/McGraw Hill.
Update: 11.10 I attend a talk by Katherine Ellison whose new book, Buzz, has just been published by Voice, Hyperion, New York. The topic: Attention Deficit Disorder. I highly recommend it. There are excellent explanations of the challenges and useful solutions she discovered with her son who is ADD. Ms. Ellison is also ADD.
Dr. Daniel Korb, a developmental and behavioral pediatrics specialist recomends books by Carol Gray. These social story books describe a situation, skill, or concept in terms of relevant social cues, perspectives, and common responses in a specifically defined style and format. http://www.thegraycenter.org.
Finally, I am continuing to evolve this site, including incorporating dyslexic and/or hyperlexic information that others have to share. Yes, I am looking for your ideas. Send them via the Comments below.
Information on this blog is intended to complement, not replace, the advice of your own physician or health care professional.