How to Manage a Person With Dyslexia
Getting the Best From People Who Struggle With Words
Have you ever wondered why a team member who is intelligent and full of good ideas seems to take forever to read documents, and writes reports and messages that are often riddled with errors. You may have assumed that he either rushes things or doesn't check through his work enough. But had you thought that he may be dyslexic?
In this article, we explain what dyslexia is; we reveal some of the challenges faced by a dyslexic person; we look at some of the skills and strengths that she can bring to the workplace; and we explore how you can support her, so that she can thrive and succeed in your team.
What Is Dyslexia?
The word "dyslexia" is derived from Greek and means "difficulty with words." People with the condition have difficulty processing and remembering information that they read and hear. But dyslexia has no bearing on intelligence. It's a lifelong, generally genetic condition that affects between 10 and 15 percent of the population in the U.S. (about 10 percent in the U.K.).
No two dyslexics will have exactly the same set of symptoms but, according to the American Medical Association, they will experience some of the following:
- Reading and writing skills below the level expected for their intelligence.
- Problems with learning the meaning of words.
- Impaired ability to recognize sounds and to link them with symbols.
- Slow recognition of written words.
- Trouble writing down ideas.
- Poor spelling.
- A tendency to transpose letters and numbers.
- Confusion of left and right.
- Trouble with coordination and poor spatial reasoning.
- Family history of dyslexia or learning disorders.
- Poor time management, planning and organizational skills.
- Low self-esteem and high levels of stress.
If you recognize any of these characteristics in a team member, or even in yourself, there are many sources of help and information. Good places to start are the websites of The American Dyslexia Association (ADA) and the British Dyslexia Association (BDA). Both of these organizations offer work-based training and support in line with current legislation.
Some dyslexic people are reluctant to disclose their condition. They may worry about how it could impact their employment and career prospects, for example, or out of shame at their difficulty in reading and writing.
People with dyslexia in the U.S. are protected against discrimination by the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990, and those in the U.K. are covered by the Equality Act 2010. This means that employers need to make "reasonable adjustments" in the workplace so that dyslexic team member have the same opportunities as anyone else. We look at "reasonable adjustments" below.
Wherever you work in the world, talk to your HR department for more information about what legislation applies to your organization.
The Strengths and Advantages of a Dyslexic Team Member
It is worth reiterating that, just because someone has dyslexia, it does not mean that he is in any way less intelligent than his colleagues. In fact, chances are, he brings creativity, insight and powerful problem solving skills to your team.
According to Ronald Davis, author of the 2010 book, "The Gift of Dyslexia," dyslexics think "outside the box" and often excel in entrepreneurship, science and inventions. Polar explorer Ann Bancroft, industrialist Henry Ford, and billionaire businessman Richard Branson all fit this pattern. Other famous and high-achieving dyslexics include physicist Albert Einstein, artist Pablo Picasso, movie director Steven Spielberg, and five-time Olympic gold medalist rower Sir Steven Redgrave.
With effective support, someone with dyslexia can be a valuable asset to your team. The way that she perceives the world is unique and can be a catalyst for innovation and success. But Davis also warns that, if not handled properly, the challenges faced by dyslexics can lead to low self-esteem, stress and even depression, which can exacerbate their condition.
Chances are, as the manager of a dyslexic person, you will have challenges to deal with. Changing his role or duties could cause him problems as he tries to adapt to new processes, for example, so you may need to provide additional training.
Similarly, introducing new technology can mean that you have to help her to adopt new ways of working. However, some new technology may really benefit her, and boost her engagement and productivity. We outline some of the assistive technology that's available below.
Managing a Team Member With Dyslexia
Dyslexia can be very frustrating for your team member and for you as his manager. But there are many simple and inexpensive tips and strategies that you can use to support him, and to get the best from him.
If a team member asks for help managing her dyslexia, talk to her privately about her needs. Then talk to your HR department to make sure that your organization complies with legislation, and to find out what resources might already be available.
Here are some practical steps you can take to manage a dyslexic team member successfully:
1. Adapt Your Communication Style. Take your cue from your dyslexic team member and find out his preferred communication and learning styles. Because of his difficulty processing information, he may prefer you to demonstrate any tasks or activities that you want him to do. Or, he might respond better to information that is presented verbally and/or visually.
For example, if he is a visual learner, you can highlight the important points in documents, and use Mind Maps, Flow Charts and diagrams. He may also prefer to receive information by voicemail rather than email or instant messaging.
2. Make Workplace Adjustments. Reading is frustrating for many dyslexic people, because letters can appear to dance around the page. So, if you are handing out printed materials, using a colored background on them can be enormously helpful. Your dyslexic team member can tell you what background colors and contrast works best for her.
People with dyslexia need precise, clear instructions, and it's better to give these in a quiet location and to follow them up with a written reminder.
An instant spell checker for computer work is a real bonus, as he can concentrate on writing without worrying excessively about making spelling mistakes.
Check out the ADA and BDA websites for information about a range of hardware and software to help people with dyslexia. For example, digital voice recording devices are great for taking notes or recording meetings. There is software that enables people to make notes alongside what they're recording, and speech recognition software allows people to dictate their work into a microphone to be automatically typed up by their computer.
3. Build Positive Working Relationships. Chances are, some of the methods you use to support someone with dyslexia will impact other team members. Arrange training to help everyone on your team to understand dyslexia, and explain why certain adjustments are needed. With understanding comes acceptance, and the likelihood that your people will also do their best to help and support her, too.
4. Focus on Strengths. Your dyslexic team member is likely creative and curious, and will often come up with innovative solutions to problems very quickly. So, to enable him to shine, give him the tools to manage things that may be challenging for him, such as time management and organization. For example, providing an electronic appointments diary with an alarm feature and using visual wall planners can help him to work effectively. And encourage him to use To-Do Lists and Effective Scheduling to help him to manage his day.
Some of the strategies outlined in our article on Managing a Person with ADHD might also be useful here.
5. Give Feedback and Set Boundaries. You want to support your dyslexic team member, but don't lose sight of the fact that she has a job to do. Let her know what you expect from her. Give clear deadlines, goals and objectives, and specific feedback on improvements that she could make.
Dyslexia affects a person's ability to process information, particularly when reading and writing. It's a lifelong condition that is often diagnosed in childhood, but is sometimes not recognized until later in life.
People with dyslexia often say that they find it difficult to get their ideas down on paper. When they are reading, the words get "all jumbled up" and they have to read the same passage over and over again to make sense of it.
Dyslexic people can struggle with being organized and managing their time effectively. But they can also have above-average creativity, insight and problem solving skills.
You can create a supportive and accepting environment for a dyslexic team member by adapting your communication styles and by providing appropriate resources. Ask what works best for him. For example, simple adjustments like giving instructions slowly and one at a time, and creating a daily plan or To-Do List, can be extremely helpful.
Talk to your HR department if you have any concerns or questions about the condition or how it affects your team.
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