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Welcome to this year's Dyslexia Awareness Week! The theme for 2021 is ‘Invisible Dyslexia’, as people who have dyslexia often feel as though their struggles are unseen.

Dyslexia is a neurological learning difference that impacts a person’s ability to process information. Each person is different, so everyone experiences dyslexia differently, but it can affect reading and writing abilities, memory, coordination, and organisation skills.

Although dyslexia can be challenging, many people with dyslexia have especially strong reasoning, visual, and creative skills.

Colleague stories

Marie Richardson, one of our People Business Partners, has been kind enough to share her experience of dyslexia, to explain a little bit about how it affects her in the workplace.

I was diagnosed with dyslexia in my mid-twenties, when I started struggling with aspects of a new role at work. A formal assessment really helped me to identify my strengths, as well as any areas that I found more challenging.

For instance, I find retaining and processing information quite challenging. To use an IT analogy, many people can store 30 GB, whereas I can only store 15 MB. If I need to take in more information, my brain automatically deletes the oldest files or memories.

So, if we have a conversation for 30 minutes at the beginning of the day, by the end of the day you’ll probably remember most of what we’ve discussed – whereas I won’t be able to recall the conversation and will need to rely on notes, as it has been deleted from my short-term memory.

Dyslexia also impacts my ability to take down names or telephone numbers. I know the association between a letter’s sound and its shape, but it takes me longer to access that information. So, if you say S-A-R-A-H quickly, I’m probably still trying to work out how to form the letter S, while you’re already at the end of the word!

On a positive note, I have a really good vocabulary. You can’t look up how to spell a word if you can’t work out what letter it starts with, so I use a thesaurus to look up a similar word I can spell (rather than a dictionary) and therefore learn other words too!

Overall, I find that being dyslexic can be frustrating at times, because so much of what we call ‘intelligence’ seems to be based on how much a person can remember, rather than their actual skills (think about exams at school and how much easier they’d be if you have a good memory).

However, with a bit of support from colleagues, such as spelling words slowly and summarising previous conversations if I can’t immediately recall them, I don’t think it has a significant on my ability to do my role – in many ways, it helps me do it better!

We have also heard from Helen Halliday-Huitson, our Information Governance Officer, about her experience of dyslexia.

Hi, I’m Helen. As well as working as an IG Officer, I am also an artist and have sold a number of my paintings.

I was officially diagnosed with dyslexia when I was 41, during my first year at Durham University where I was studying health and human sciences.

I had always suspected it, but being a child of the ’70s and ’80s, I was never diagnosed and instead placed in “remedial classes” and the lowest academic sets. I was always more creative than academic, but even then my GSCE results meant I was destined to go on a YTS Scheme. I chose to do floristry instead.

Dyslexia has had a profound impact on my life and has attributed to low self-esteem, which I try to combat every day. I have worked out coping mechanisms for myself, like most dyslexics, and have pushed myself to keep achieving. My proudest moment was when I graduated with a 2:1 after completing a dissertation about “Dyslexia as a Concept of Disability”.

Not all dyslexics can or want to achieve a degree, but all have strengths which need to be harnessed and encouraged. I am a great drum-beater for dyslexics everywhere.

We’d like to offer huge thanks to Marie and Helen for sharing their stories!

We can learn from Marie and Helen’s experiences and support our colleagues by asking how their dyslexia impacts the way that they process information, and supporting them in the ways they find helpful.

Signs of dyslexia and how you can support someone

These are some of the ways that dyslexia is experienced by adults, although this varies from person to person:

Reading or writing more slowly.

  • How you can help: allow more time for these tasks; use supporting technology such as different coloured backgrounds, text, or overlays; print out longer documents; and consider font and text alignment.

Finding it difficult to skim read.

  • How you can help: clarify questions or key words prior to reading; break the reading into smaller chunks; keep written communication brief; offer a ruler to help follow the text; don’t ask someone to read something while you wait.

Confusing visually similar words.

  • How you can help: make a list of similar words that are regularly confused so they can be checked in written work and have others proof read important documents.

Having difficulty spelling.

  • How you can help: provide a thesaurus rather than a dictionary to help find words; when spelling out loud, spell slowly so they have time to write it down and don’t assume they’ll be able to spell sections, for instance if spelling ‘Richardson’ don’t say ‘R-I-C-H-A-R-D’ and then ‘son’.

Finding it difficult to concentrate or focus.

  • How you can help: create focus time away from telephone calls and switch off notifications to support the completion of tasks.

Struggling to remember dates or conversations.

  • How you can help: encourage using a calendar; follow a conversation up with a summary email; when discussing a previous situation, provide a quick summary first.

Finding it confusing when they are given lots of instructions at once.

  • How you can help: write down instructions and break them into smaller chunks using bullet points.

Struggling to organise their thoughts on paper.

  • How you can help: encourage them to try mind mapping or bullet points and offer to identify paragraph headings.

Finding organisation and time management challenging.

  • How you can help: offer regular check-ins to provide support. Simply writing a list is not always enough as someone may forget to check it, or by the time they’ve reached the bottom they may not be able to recall what tasks were at the top.

Everyone is different. Consequently, the best way that you can support someone with dyslexia is to not make any assumptions and instead ask them about their personal experience and how they would like to be supported. If they are unsure, you can explore different ways of working together!

Find out more about dyslexia

If you would like to learn more about dyslexia, the British Dyslexia Association is hosting a free webinar on Thursday 7 October at 7.00-8.00pm, discussing solutions for the day-to-day problems that are often invisible to others.

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