Dyslexia is the most prevalent difference within the range of neurodiversity. It is estimated that between 10% and 15% of the population have dyslexia.
Within Prospect’s membership there are many highly successful people who are dyslexic and who contribute greatly to the organisations that employ them.
|Visual short-term memory||Verbal short-term memory|
|Getting the big picture||Getting the details|
|Lateral thinking||Following sequences|
Characteristics, strengths and difficulties
As explained by the British Dyslexia Association (BDA), people with dyslexia often exhibit a range of skills. These include 'big picture' thinking, problem-solving and lateral thinking abilities, an instinctive understanding of how things work, originality, creativity and exceptional visual-spatial skills.
The BDA also says: ‘Contrary to popular misconception, dyslexia is not only about literacy, although weaknesses in literacy are often the most visible sign. Dyslexia affects the way information is processed, stored and retrieved, with problems of memory, speed of processing, time perception, organisation and sequencing.’
Dyslexia is thought to be the result of a weakness in the ability to hold speech sounds in short-term working memory, which is the underlying factor that causes the varied and often complex symptoms that dyslexic people experience, including the difficulties with reading, writing and spelling that so many people associate with the condition.
Not all dyslexics have literacy difficulties; high-ability dyslexics can be found working successfully in occupations where they need to have well above average levels of literacy – many writers, publishers, senior civil servants, university academics and journalists are dyslexic.
People with dyslexia are often characterised by unexpected inconsistencies in the way they work. They may be managers, professionals or specialists who are normally high performers and can have good literacy skills but who, for instance, have difficulty in remembering the names of some of their colleagues or find it a challenge to note down all the points discussed at a meeting. These are likely to be talented people who have found ways to overcome many of the challenges they are presented with, but who nevertheless still have underlying differences associated with the way their brains are ‘wired’.
Another characteristic difficulty for people with dyslexia, linked to their inefficiency in verbal short-term memory, is remembering spoken information, such as a list of directions, names or telephone numbers. They may also have difficulty in holding on to several pieces of information while undertaking a task – for example, participating in a meeting while taking notes. Organisation, sequencing and time management and lack of verbal fluency are other areas of difficulty. Where literacy has been mastered, residual problems often remain such as erratic spelling (which can be managed using spell-checking and other software), a slowness in extracting the sense from written material, and difficulties with structuring and writing more complicated pieces of written work. These difficulties can be easily overcome by the provision of appropriate reasonable adjustments.
Some people who are dyslexic have excellent three-dimensional awareness and visualisation skills. This can be a great asset, with notable architects, racing drivers and other sports competitors being dyslexic. Conversely, other people with dyslexia mix up left and right and can have difficulty in finding their way to places or navigating around an unfamiliar building. Further information can be found via the links below.
As with other neurodiverse difference, dyslexia can be regarded as a ‘hidden disability’ and covered under the disability provisions of the Equality Act 2010.
In the workplace
People with dyslexia will have built up their own compensating strategies, but there are particular workplace barriers which will cause them difficulties, including their employer’s emphasis on any of the potential difficulties outlined above. These difficulties will be exacerbated if the individual is feeling stressed, and poorly-executed organisational change is often a trigger for problems – for instance, because an individual has not had time to revise their compensating strategies.
Problems that some dyslexic people face within the workplace, particularly if they have not been diagnosed with dyslexia, might inappropriately lead to action being taken against the employee for perceived poor performance.
Representatives who suspect that a member may be affected by a neurodiverse diffrence should raise it with the employer, in consultation with the member, with a view to getting the employer to pay for a professional assessment.
As explained in the TUC guide Dyslexia in the Workplace:
“Another major difficulty for representatives is the fact that many employees are anxious about revealing their dyslexia, and this frequently means it is misunderstood as lack of capacity, commitment or carelessness, and managed punitively as a capacity or misconduct issue.
“Addressing the challenge of reconciling their members’ legitimate fears of disclosure, whilst ensuring they benefit from the protection of the Equality Act (EA) and the benefits of reasonable adjustments (RAs), remains a major challenge.
“Representatives should provide a safe space for members to discuss, disclose, and make informed decisions. Discussion needs to balance the need to control and manage the process of obtaining RAs, and the other protections afforded by the EA, with many dyslexic employees’ understandable reluctance to disclose their dyslexia.
“Realistically, the process must be confidential to the representative and member, with no commitment to disclose. They should discuss whether there are dyslexia-related performance problems and if so what is management’s position on these. Where the member is coping well, and receiving positive feedback and appraisal from managers, then disclosure is much less necessary than if they are already receiving criticism about their performance.
“Whilst ignoring dyslexia-related performance problems is understandable, it can also be dangerous. Without the specialist support provided by reasonable adjustments, difficulties will persist; indeed the stress caused by criticism will make them worse. This (all too frequent) scenario frequently culminates in disciplinary processes where positions have become entrenched, and a belated disclosure of dyslexia is seen by many managers as an excuse for poor performance, rather than a legitimate request for RAs.”