Managing Dyslexia in the Workplace
It is virtually impossible to find a job which does not require some level of reading, writing and remembering, or some use of the computer. Adults with dyslexia sometimes also struggle with time management and organisation at work. Planning and organising, setting out timetables, distinguishing between the important and the urgent, remembering appointments, passing on telephone messages from memory and meeting deadlines can be exceptionally difficult for many people with dyslexia. Some people may get bogged down, overwhelmed by the workload and stressed. However, there are ways round these difficulties and some are outlined below.
It is very important that the initial job training provided takes into account the specific needs of the adult with dyslexia. This requires flexibility in the approach to training, provision of information in alternative formats, multi-sensory learning techniques, more time and repetition of information when necessary.
Reading for work, or study, is more pressurized than reading for pleasure. It is important to get the facts right, to remember the relevant information and understand what the writer is saying. It is important to get comfortable – have the right light and a quiet place. Have pencils and highlighters to hand.
A useful method for reading is the SQ3R. This method, which was first developed by Francis Robinson in the 1960s, has been used for many years. SQ3R stands for Scan, Question and 3 R’s – Read, Remember, Review.
- Scan – look through the text quickly for key words, not ignoring any illustrations, diagrams or graphs. Important information is often highlighted in a text box or in bold or italics.
- Question – ask yourself what information you hope to get from your reading.
- Read – read the text fully.
- Remember – write down the main points.
- Review – read again to check if you have remembered correctly.
The section on computers and technology provides information on useful technological aids for reading.
Next to reading aloud, writing is probably the activity most disliked by adults with dyslexia. Obviously, different types of writing tasks will need different levels of skill, but many can be handled with a bit of thought and creativity from the worker and flexibility on the part of management. Many letters, memos, invoices, bills, appointments, orders and acknowledgements can be dealt with by creating a template or form letter. Try, wherever possible, to have relevant words and phrases stored on your computer or written in your personal notebook, so that you can include them in correspondence. If there are words which you have trouble spelling and which you need in your work, then these can be added to your personal list.
Writing a report to present to your manager, or submitting a thesis at college can be much more challenging, but there are ways of coping. Perhaps the hardest part is getting started.
- Make a PLAN. Decide what you want to say.
- Set deadlines for yourself.
- Allot time for reading and research; writing; revision; printing and time for unforeseen events such as computer or printer breakdown. Write your plan down on a time sheet and stick to it.
- Organise your thoughts. Reports or essays have a recognised format: Introduction; Discussion; Presentation of facts; Conclusion; Recommendations; and References.
A variation of this format will give you a structure on which to write your essay or report. When you break a job down into separate parts it becomes easier. You can take one bit at a time. Start with even one sentence for each idea. You can expand on it later. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar at this stage. That can be checked later using the spelling and grammar check on your computer. If a particular section is hard to write, try talking it out – to a friend or on tape. Check carefully from time to time that you are sticking to the topic and not going off into other issues.
The section on computers and technology provides information on useful technological aids for writing.
It is often said that with dyslexia it is not so much that people learn slowly but that they forget quickly. It is true that people with dyslexia often struggle to remember names, dates, and facts. Stress and anxiety can make this difficulty worse.
Memory is very complex and we have different memory ability for different stimuli. Some people with dyslexia have very good visual memory and poor auditory memory, so they will remember information better if it is presented with colour, diagrams and visual images. Other people with dyslexia may have poor visual memory and good auditory memory, so they will find it easier to remember what they hear, rather than what they see. People who are more kinaesthetic or active learners will remember better by practicing and doing an activity, rather than just reading about it or watching it.
The following tips may be helpful for learning and remembering information:
- Choose the right time of day when you know your memory is at its best.
- Choose the right place – comfortable and free from distractions.
- Link facts to other details you already have stored, or which interest you. For example you may have enjoyed the film “West Side Story”. This could be used to help remember the plot and characters in “Romeo and Juliet”.
- Make links for yourself, e.g. your bank PIN might be 2375, you could remember “I was 23 when I first visited London and my friend Betty lives at 75 Main Street”.
- Store information in small chunks, it is easier to remember than in large units, e.g. break a phone number into sections rather than trying to learn it whole.
- Use mnemonics, a rhyme or phrase which helps you remember something. For example remembering the verse “30 days hath November, April, June and September” could help you avoid the embarrassment of making appointments for April 31st. Make up your own rhymes or phrases. They can be personal, funny or even rude.
- It is very hard to remember things which you don’t understand so it’s worth taking some time to make sure you are fully familiar with what you want to memorise.
- It is easier to remember things which are unusual, so focus on any odd or interesting features.
- Attach colours or pictures to information if that works for you. You could highlight facts or key words in different colours and then visualise the page with the different colours.
- Draw a concept/mind map or diagram showing the key ideas; you may find that you can visualise the map and retrieve the information more easily.
- Most importantly revise the information you want to remember. If you don’t, you may forget most of it within a few days.
People with dyslexia are often very creative in working out strategies which work for them. Mobile phones are a real boon to adults with dyslexia, as names, addresses, phone numbers and other brief details can be kept to hand. Calculators and other applications on mobiles are also very convenient.
Organisation and Time Management
Here are some strategies for getting organised:
- Make a list.
- Better still, make a couple of lists.
- Write down everything you need to do today for work.
- Write down everything you need to do today for yourself.
- You could divide your daily diary into two columns, one for work and one for personal items.
- Put a red mark beside all the really urgent items, e.g. if you have to go to a meeting, or take your child to the dentist then it has to be done today. This is urgent.
- Make sure you know what is urgent for you and what is important.
- Do not spend time deleting old files on your computer when a report is required for tomorrow’s meeting. That may be important but it is not urgent.
- Review your “To Do” list twice a day – at lunchtime and before going home.
- Update your list when a new task arises, otherwise you may forget it.
- Enjoy crossing off the tasks you completed at the end of the day.
- At the end of the day start your new list for tomorrow with the tasks you didn’t do today.
- Keep a diary with all your appointments. Don’t have two diaries with some appointments in each. It is not easy to concentrate on a demanding job at work if you have an uneasy feeling that it’s your turn to collect your child from school but you are not sure.
- Get into the habit of checking your diary every morning, and again at lunch time. It is surprising how many people with dyslexia forget about appointments.
- Put a year planner on your wall in a prominent place.
- Mark in holidays, birthdays and important dates such as meetings, deadlines for projects etc. on it and look at it often.
- Use post-it notes if you find them helpful but try to reserve them for reminding yourself of unusual or very urgent things. A forest of post-it notes on your desk or wall can be confusing rather than helpful.
- Try to keep your files and paper under control.
- Try to get by with three paper trays on your desk, one labeled “Do Today”, one labeled “Do Soon” and one labeled “Filing”.
- Be ruthless about disposing of unwanted paper – either file it or bin it.
- The filing tray should be emptied every Friday.
It is worth remembering that sometimes when you feel overwhelmed with work it is because you are overwhelmed. The workload is too great for any one person. People with dyslexia often feel that any difficulty they encounter is their fault and that others would cope better. If you find yourself in this situation do talk to a colleague or friend and approach your manager or employer about possibly adjusting your workload.