Dyslexia at Work
Updated: Oct 20
The British Dyslexia Association describes dyslexia as
a combination of abilities and difficulties which affect the learning process in one or more of reading, spelling and writing. Accompanying weaknesses may be identified in the speed of processing, short-term memory, sequencing, auditory and/or visual perception, spoken language and motor skills. It is particularly related to mastering and using written language, which may include alphabetic, numeric and musical notation.’
This learning difficulty, although not readily discovered, is becoming quite prevalent in the stages of a growing child. Bells only start to ring when parents or educators realise their children or students do not fit into the mainstream educational curriculum, showing signs of restlessness, hyperactivity, and slowness in the uptake of learning, such as reading and spelling. This is when a child is referred to an educational psychologist for an assessment.
The degree of dyslexia varies, and some coping strategies will often be recommended to assist a dyslexic child. While it can be argued that a dyslexic child will have a more demanding learning curve than their peers, this does not mean they will lag. In reality, many have become successful individuals in their own ways, like Sir Richard Branson, the late Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
As an industrial organisational psychologist, I am always intrigued by what that would mean for a dyslexic adult in the workplace. This interest stems from my own experience as a dyslexic adult. Indeed, when children are assessed as dyslexic, appropriate arrangements will be accommodated, such as providing additional time to take examinations to ensure they are not disadvantaged. However, in the working world, accommodation might not even exist and be provided. I suspect that most adults are often unaware that they have dyslexia. Even if they knew, the fear of telling their employers might, in their views, jeopardise their careers. So then, what help can be given to dyslexic adults?
As dyslexia is a form of disability in a way, perhaps dyslexic adults can rely on legislation that prevents discrimination at work, such as the Equality Act 2010 in the UK. However, such protection does not seem to be available, especially in the discrimination legislation in most Asian countries. I suspect this could result in talent being disadvantaged because organisations are not obliged to treat and assess them on equal standing as those who do not have dyslexia. On the other hand, the fear of letting the prospective employer know about one’s dyslexia could also be equally problematic because, without proper support, individuals who have dyslexia will have to hide their condition and will be putting more effort into achieving their work.
Hence, these dyslexic adults will try to cope with work using some form of strategies that enable them to cover any traces of their dyslexia. How about those who do not know that they have dyslexia? These people might be going through a vicious career cycle and not knowing why they cannot excel even when they have tried their utmost. I am not saying dyslexic people need to be given privileges. Still, I believe there is a need to create an awareness in the general working community that there are, among them, people who are struggling and might need help.
In a turbulent time like now, where economic uncertainties see the departure of talents either by redundancy or talents choosing to leave, I suspect in the latter scenario that a small percentage of those who choose to go could be dyslexic. While I cannot confidently say the reasons for their departure, as stated earlier, if someone has dyslexia and knows that no legislation protects him from discrimination in the workplace because of their learning difficulty, an easy choice could be leaving rather than raising the issue with the organisation.
What, then, can organisations do to ensure they do not miss out on this group of talent? Be aware of what dyslexia is and have a dyslexia assessment incorporated into the selection and recruitment process. When an organisation finds out that a potential employee has dyslexia, appropriate support should be provided to ensure the individual excels in the work but not to pass such talent by because of his learning difficulty.