Dyslexia is something which has become more and more accepted and part of our working environment in my lifetime. I was diagnosed with dyslexia in primary school, so it’s something which has been a part of me and pretty much everything I do for most of my memorable life. This article is about what it feels like to have dyslexia, a question I get asked a lot. I will also set out why I think dyslexia is quite a powerful tool which, if harnessed, and used in the right way, can give us the edge at work and in our everyday lives.
What is dyslexia?
The term ‘dyslexia’ is derived from the Greek for difficult (dys) and words (lexis). It is a learning disability which anybody can get, and is thought to be genetic in origin. It is neurological and specifically relates to difficulty with language, sequencing, memory and phonological processing. Dyslexia is nothing to do with your intelligence.
How dyslexia has affected me
Every dyslexic will have different experiences and of course other natural strengths which are working alongside their dyslexia. I’ve been out of education for a while now and often wondered how my dyslexia would affect me in the workplace. Some of the key observations I’ve noticed are..
- Often I can see things from a different perspective to everyone else
- Sometimes when being given information I find it impossible to take anything in without making detailed notes
- I rarely remember someone’s name when I am introduced to them, but I can tell you the outputs of a meeting which happened months ago
- I read slowly and often miss words out or confuse similar looking words
- Sometimes I know what I want to say but struggle to turn it into words
- I am terrified of writing on a flipchart or whiteboard during meetings as I have no confidence in my spelling
Dyslexia is like a smoke screen
Exhibiting dyslexic characteristics can often hide other characteristics from our colleges. I can think of plenty of times during my English A level when I would be reading the text aloud to the class, or quoting a passage, and a simple mistake like replacing a word with a similar one by accident, would become what the teacher would focus on; not the actual point I was making. I think spelling is potentially the worst smokescreen we have to battle. I’ve lost count of all the times a spelling error has been picked upon by a senior at work; again resulting in the actual content of the document and the quality of thought behind it being by-passed by the reviewer. Dyslexia can obscure our abilities and strengths in other areas.
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life thinking it’s stupid.” Albert Einstein
Dyslexics aren’t afraid of hard work
If you went through school as a diagnosed dyslexic you will be used to being treated as different. Not only having extra classes to learn coping strategies, but also constantly being asked by teachers to try harder at your spelling tests. Even now at work I am often asked to try harder with my spelling – what they don’t realise is that I got the other 99% of spelling mistakes in my work, but missed that 1% that I just couldn’t see. At university I had to plan an extra day into my schedule for spell-checking of essays. Friends would ask why I would start working on them so early, not realising that I had a whole other process which each essay had to go through before it could be sent to a tutor. In later life, these experiences of having to really work hard to do things which other people can do so easily has given me a great work ethic. I am relentlessly persistent by default, and that can give me the edge over my peers.
The gift of dyslexia
As a dyslexic we have a different way of thinking to the majority of other people, and this can and should be used to our advantage.
We tend to be good problem solves and lateral thinkers. Thoughts process through our brain via longer pathways, giving us more opportunity to think about things from different angles. This often makes us creative and intuitive – valuable qualities for any team.
“We look at most situations and see much more of the upside than the downside. It doesn’t faze us. I’ve thought about it many times, I really have, because it defined who I am. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my dyslexia” Gary Cohn, former CEO Goldman Sachs
I believe many of my successes in life are because of my dyslexia, and not despite of it. I wouldn’t choose to lose my dyslexia if I could (or be ‘cured’ as I’ve heard people put it!). If you are reading this and have been struggling with dyslexia, or perhaps you’re recently diagnosed – welcome to one of the best clubs in the world; embrace your gift and go out there and show the world what we can do.
Apologies for any spelling errors/typos in this article.