The Struggles of a Dyslexic Adult
Dyslexia is a life-long persistent neurodiversity. It is not a learning difficulty that can be cured or ‘snapped out’ of. So often when I hear individuals considering and discussing dyslexia this understanding is limited to the stereotypical young school child who struggles to read and write. This apparent ‘illiteracy’ is both misleading and reductionist. Not only does dyslexia present with a much greater symptomology, its effects and consequences amongst adults can frequently be overlooked and potentially neglected. Subsequently, this post aspires to take a holistic stance, raise awareness and shed light on the impact of dyslexia in adulthood.
Being a dyslexic can be turbulent and bruising. Even the most mundane and, on occasions, the most random daily tasks can be a real pain in the metaphorical backside. One evening after work I sat down and made a list of all tasks, routines or chores I found difficult; regardless of how bizarre they may seem. This rather unsurprisingly long list included: proofreading, remembering spellings, dates and times, processing auditory information, reading difficult text, reading/comprehending unfamiliar words, understanding public transport timetables, habitually procrastinating, filling in forms and to be honest remembering things in general. For myself, everything just takes slightly longer to process, understand and recall. Without making written lists, notes or setting reminders I will lose track of tasks I need to do or dates I need to remember and snap back into a world of procrastination and a haze of confusion. When living with dyslexia time becomes your enemy.
Explained on their website, the NHS thoroughly outlined the difficulties dyslexic adults can face during their day-to-day. Notably, these can including difficulty in expressing one’s self via written work, difficulty with note-taking, organisation and meeting deadlines, poor spelling and memory, hesitant and slower pace of reading and deficits n self-esteem and self-confidence. Due to these difficulties and deficits, many dyslexic adults have ritualistically developed their own coping strategies in order to mask their struggles and/or improve their weaker, and often perceived weaker, skills. This ‘trial and error learning’ involves attempting and testing out multiple strategies to help improve weaker skills. Identifying the ‘right’ strategy in not always an easy or linear process. It can take weeks and even months of rejecting unhelpful strategies in order to find the proverbial ‘golden ticket’. All ‘coping strategies’ are unique to each dyslexic; as we all learn in differing ways. As an exemplar, it took several weeks following my dyslexia assessment and help from a study support mentor to help me develop an effective method to remember spellings of words I used frequently. Over two years on, this method of breaking long complex words into small more manageable words remains invaluable. Like a child in a sweet shop, or myself in a Harry Potter shop, these coping strategies and general life hacks are there for the taking. Grab your olds favourites, experiment with new flavours and tailor methods that suit you as an individual. Given its massive importance, I have dedicated a whole blog post specifically to discussing these coping strategies.
For almost a year now I written, researched and read, greatly about dyslexia. One of the most prominent and overriding themes discussed is that being dyslexic makes many feel like an idiot, moron and a somewhat inferior human being. Whenever I read passages to this effect I find it highly relatable, yet very upsetting. I cannot emphasise enough that dyslexics are not idiots or lesser beings. Dyslexics majorly score highly on general intelligence tests, obtain excellent jobs and lead fulfilling lives. Within the dyslexic world it is crucial to focus on and emphasise key unique strengths. For example, many dyslexics are highly creative individuals who can ‘think outside the box’, where others simply can’t. The dyslexic brain is just as competent as any other. Amongst all the cognitive processes that are continuously taking place, dyslexics simply may need information explained and presented to them in different ways. In a nutshell, dyslexics just learn and process information differently to non-dyslexics.
When I considered the affects dyslexia can have upon adults, the main concern that came to mind was the world of work. What support is available to a dyslexic employee? Can a dyslexic individual be turned down for a job, regardless of how qualified they are, because of their dyslexia? Due to the importance of this questions and the sheer volume of literature that was available during my researching phase, the remainder of this post will be dedicated to discussing the ‘dyslexic employee’.
The Dyslexic Employee
Due to the lack of knowledge and misunderstanding that surrounds dyslexia, employers may misguidedly think they are hiring a person who cannot read, write or spell. Consequently, some may consider hiring a dyslexic as an ‘occupational hazard’. Unsurprisingly, I strongly disagree with this. I am a great and firm believer that if that dyslexic person is suitable and qualified for that role then they should be rewarded and considered. Within the Equality Act (2010) dyslexia is a recognised, diagnosable and quantifiable disability. Thus, in contemporary British society and the eyes of the law, employers cannot discriminate against the neurodiverse. An ongoing government scheme launched in the noughties seeks to improve the work prospects for the disabled. Titled the Disability Confident Commitment, employers that are members of the scheme aim to offer, and sometimes guarantee, disabled individuals an interview if they meet the key criteria for a job role. Subsequently the job market ought to become more inclusive, accessible and understanding of those who disclose having a disability.
You’ve filled out the application form, completed the interview with flying colours and secured yourself an awesome job. What’s next? A concoction of excitement, fear and nerves mull over as you arrive for your first day. It is totally your decision as to whether you disclose to your employer that you have a disability and/or neurodiversity. This can be done as early as the application and followed up during the interview process. A massive benefit of informing your employers is that a major part of the Disability Confident Commitment scheme involves companies being dedicated to provide disabled employees with reasonable adjustments. Vitally, these ‘adjustments’ are alterations and agreed changes to ones work life to help that individual to carry out their role effectively, efficiently and comfortably. The British Dyslexia Association strongly emphasise the importance of adjustments being unique and tailored to individual’s needs. In addition, adjustments should work alongside an individual strengths and minimise challenges they may face within the working environment. Centred specifically for a dyslexic employee, excellent adjustments can include: tasks to be noted/written down, to be provided verbal and written instructions, time to proof read and check work, the use of memory aids such as calendars and planners and constructive feedback from managerial staff and colleagues.
Psychologist Nancy Doyle particularly focused on the stress dyslexia can cause individuals at work. Within her highly intriguing article the author outlined that this dyslexic ‘work-related stress’ can be linked to a fear of failure, worries over being viewed as different to others and a lack of tailored reasonable adjustments alongside the expected difficulties dyslexics can present with. Notable difficulties can include a slower processing speed, struggles with reading and writing and deficits in memory. Taking all of these into account it is very clear and understandable why dyslexics can become highly stressed and anxious in the working environment. In addition to work stressors, Doyle explains that most dyslexics have to compensate for weaker cognitive and literacy skills. Because of this, dyslexics may have to work harder in order to reach the same level of efficiency or work performance as those who are not neurodiverse.
Since my introduction to the world of fulltime work nearly two years ago I have developed a number of strategies to asset me in my work life and reduce work related stress. Due to my struggles with working and auditory memory/processing, I meticulously plan out my day with tasks that I need to complete. My desk is covered in post it notes and lists in order to help me prioritise my workload. Moreover, I have created my own file with typed written instructions of how to do various work-related tasks. Recently I have started using Google translate. I copy and paste emails I may be struggling to understand and process which I then click to be read out loud to me. Following my diagnosis back in 2017 I have been open and forthcoming to family, friends, colleagues and employers about having dyslexia. Although it has been somewhat uncomfortable and embarrassing outlining what I find difficult and why, this ‘disclosing process’ has been beneficial. Crucially, I have been able to explain to others what help I may require in certain situations or whilst completing certain tasks. Without being aware of this, individuals would not know how to support me or even be aware that I was struggling. Interestingly, many individuals have not been particularly concerned when I have disclosed my dyslexia. Instead, I have briefly outlined what I may find challenging and they have merely asked how they can help. Thus all the anxiety of telling that person was quickly ebbed away, as following this brief conversation, we both returned to what we were working on. Consequently, being dyslexic does not have to be this big dark secret one keeps to themselves.
Being a dyslexic adult in the modern day world can be pretty bloody terrifying. There are so many areas of one’s life that can be affected, which unfortunately are often overlooked. Crucially, it is essential for dyslexics to recognise what areas or skills they individually struggle with. From here individually tailored coping strategies and adjustments can be explored and made. Whether these are developed for ones work or personal life, or both, these can be vital in helping individuals to lead a fulfilling and rewarding life. In conclusion, I hope this post has assisted in promoting understanding and awareness of the world of a dyslexic adult and impacts it can have.