The first Neurodiversity & Employment Symposium featured the following dyslexic speakers:
- Jay Hobbs, Director of Thriving Now
- Jemima Hutton, founder of Dyslexia Demystified
- Katie Small, Department of Child Safety
- Will Wheeler, CEO of Dyslexic Evolution
- Shae Wissell, CEO of Dear Dyslexia and a qualified speech pathologist
Roughly 10% of the Australian population has some form of dyslexia, with 4% reporting extreme challenges. In a country of 25 million people, that’s a significant percentage.
Shae Wissell is a doctoral candidate researching dyslexia as a hidden challenge in the workplace at La Trobe University. She revealed statistics from her research at the conference.
- 73% had lower than average mental health and well being outcomes;
- 66% didn’t feel good about themselves;
- 73% had little or no energy to spare;
- 62% report a lack of self-confidence; and
- 46% of dyslexics interviewed had attempted suicide.
In addition, when it came to disclosing their diagnosis of dyslexia, there was significant variation in the number of people who were willing to disclose dyslexia to family, friends and work colleagues.
- Family: 90%
- Friends: 80%
- Work Colleagues: 57%
Will Wheeler, who runs the Dyslexic Evolution company, conducted his own qualitative LinkedIn survey among 70 dyslexic professionals.
The survey revealed the various struggles faced by dyslexics from the workplace. Some comments include being judged on writing ability than their strengths or not having the time to complete their thoughts.
In addition, at least 40% of dyslexic professionals interviewed are afraid to take promotions in the workplace in case they would not be able to manage their writing-related challenges.
How can Employers Help with Challenges
Dyslexia comes with many strengths. For Jay, he loves being a “helicopter” looking above and seeing issues through the big picture. The “big picture” approach also helps with making connections across different concepts.
Many dyslexics also have strong analytical and pattern matching ability, creativity in problem solving and the ability to connect with others. All of these issues are strengths and some of the attributes that have contributed to Jay’s success as a Psychologist.
So which is it is Dyslexia a significant challenge or a significant advantage? ‘Like the duck rabbit optical illusion it depends on your perspective but it is important that we accept and acknowledge both says Jay.
Employers can help their dyslexic employees on challenges relating to reading and writing, sequencing and organising abilities. Strategies may include:
- Getting instructions recorded in writing;
- Recording instructions on the phone;
- Watching a video to understand the task;
- Setting down routines and processes for writing;
- Breaking the whole task into chunks;
- Using visual reminders of processes;
- Taking regular short breaks;
- Preparing the materials for the work;
- Getting an overview of the total workload; and
- Setting reminders on the phone to complete tasks.
Above all, employers should actively educate themselves on dyslexia and co-occurring conditions. This is something that Thriving Now can help with say’s Jay. Jay’s tip is for dyslexics to get an executive assistant to help proofreading their writing and encourage check-ins regularly with their managers.
Katie Small, who now works at the Department of Child Safety, mentioned her learning style focuses on a combination of listening and visuals. By listening to the material first, before mapping it to a visual, she was better able to absorb the content.
Jemima summed up the sentiment about living with dyslexia today: “In 2019, it’s not okay to be dyslexic. It’s very shameful. It’s not okay.”
Will relates the story of going to many diversity & inclusion conferences, only to feel excluded by those events because of how the information is being presented.
“They are showing me instructions on how to go online and give feedback on the conference, but then the information is gone. It’s really frustrating when I’m sitting there and wondering what’s going on?”
Many of the speakers expressed the frustrating myths around their disorder. Katie confessed to enduring the constant dilemma of whether to disclose at every job she applied to.
Even “volunteer roles” could subconsciously discriminate against people with dyslexia. Jemima recalls how she applied for a volunteer role at a well-known ambulance service. When the form came to the disability, she ticked the box that said she had a disability. She disclosed her dyslexia.
But the interviewers questioned her ability to read and write up patient reports, and she ultimately missed out on the position.
“I’m never going to tick the “I have a disability” box again,” she says.
Jemima has now started her own business, Dyslexia Demystified. She presents at schools in Victoria about dyslexia, to empower young people with dyslexia to realize and achieve their goals. She hires a mix of neurodivergent people, such as autism and dyslexia, to help her run workshops.
To maximise their communication strengths, Jemima communicates via text message to her autistic employee, while the same employee will send back audio voice recordings.
According to Jay, the biggest challenge to overcome is to encourage more dyslexics to speak more openly about their experience, especially in the workplace.
For years, dyslexia was never recognized as a challenge in school and work.
Through open and honest disclosure, dyslexics will not only get the support they need, but also acceptance of who they are. But employers can also help to create environments to help them excel.
“So many people privately tell me about my dyslexic difficulties, but not publicly. Aussies with dyslexia, come out. Let’s all do it together,” says Jay.
Ultimately, the world of work is changing. Dyslexic people have skills in demand. By changing perceptions of dyslexia, people can play to their strengths and minimize their weaknesses to contribute to the workforce.
If your interested in attending the Neurodiversity & Employment Symposiym in Sydney on the 22nd of November 2019 please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will keep you updated.