As we continue with Dyslexia Awareness Week, I had the opportunity to talk with others about their experiences of living with dyslexia.
Today, I spoke with Laura. She courageously opened up about her struggles and how they affected her, especially pre-diagnosis. After being diagnosed in her 20s, Laura has learned strategies to manage without even realising it. However, now she has the ability to use her strategies alongside other forms of support that help her to thrive on a personal and professional level.
While she talks about her obstacles, we also discuss her strengths and unique skills that dyslexia brings to the table. Laura offers advice to others with dyslexia and how employers can help support their employees with dyslexia to help them thrive at work.
Read more on Laura’s story and the advice she wants to give others this Dyslexia Awareness Week:
Can you provide an overview of what it's like to live with dyslexia on a daily basis and how it affects various aspects of your life?
Living with dyslexia has become second nature to me now, but when I am struggling with a task at work or at home, I do have to remind myself that I process information differently and that there are ways I can help myself accomplish tasks, sometimes I need to tackle them in a different way, and also that my struggles are valid.
I was diagnosed with dyslexia pretty late on in my 20s while I was at university, so I feel like I had already learned many coping strategies and ways of masking my struggles.
Due to the nature of dyslexia, it affects people differently. The main areas I struggle with are slow reading speed, misreading information (letter jumbling), struggling to process or understand information if it is presented in a certain way, and absorbing large amounts of information in word/text format.
I am much more of a visual learner, and if I get given a brief which is pages long, I get overwhelmed, so I have to try to break down the information I have been given and reformat it into a way I can process better. For example, if I have a large spreadsheet, I find tracking information by line difficult as it all blurs into one - so I use colour and separation to help identify the key information I need or have to work on.
Being in an industry and job where a lot of my communication is via message or email, I have inbuilt double and sometimes triple-checking emails/ messages to make sure they make sense and that my sentences are in a logical order and not back to front.
Dyslexia can manifest differently in individuals. What are some of the challenges you've encountered in reading, writing, or other areas, and how have you learned to overcome them?
I had little interest in reading as a kid and struggled with spelling (I used to hide my spelling tin from my mum), I thought it must have been that hard for everyone but didn’t realise my brain was processing the information differently. Unfortunately, due to a lack of understanding, I was written off as one of the “thick kids” and put in the bottom sets for things like reading and writing, which, looking back, seemed counterproductive, especially as I was a well-spoken bright kid with lots of things to say.
I definitely struggled with any form of timed tests or exams. When my dyslexia was finally diagnosed, I was able to get support for those situations and, in some tests, get additional time.
I found that coloured overlays helped me process words better and use mind maps as a form to get my thoughts out or plan a project or assignment.
There are definitely way more tools and resources available now than there were, say, 20 years ago. I often use read-aloud when digesting information at work, or I sometimes use a program to annotate my typing so that I can get the words out. My brain doesn't have to play catch up with typing on the page.
I try to break up tasks so that I can process them better and more efficiently.
Organisation is something ironically that is a big part of my job now, but has taken me many years to become efficient in and utilise tools and apps that help me keep on top of my daily and weekly tasks.
Dyslexia is often misunderstood. What are some common misconceptions you've encountered, and how do you educate others about the condition?
I think many people think that because you have dyslexia and your brain works in a different way, you must be thick, stupid, or slow in some cases. For example,
“if she is a slow reader, she must be stupid”, when, in actual fact, I was desperate to read when I was younger, but the words blurred into each other, and letters were all jumbled up, so it was exhausting to spend time reading.
I think even now, people don’t fully understand what it means, and even if they do acknowledge it, they don’t think about how to make the workplace more accessible for people with dyslexia.
I have found I needed to push for additional help and access to the right programmes and support.
Hopefully, as awareness and education progress on dyslexia, it will be celebrated instead of misunderstood. Highlighting the importance of realigning your way of thinking and tapping into and embracing people’s differences and skill sets.
Could you share some strategies or techniques that have been particularly helpful in managing dyslexia-related challenges in your everyday life?
There are a lot of programs especially to help computer users, and I particularly find the read-aloud feature and the dictation integration on the Mac really helpful for work.
But I can also imagine that there are many I don’t know about. A little homework assignment for me 🙂
Access to work was really helpful in coming to assess me in my workplace when I was really struggling.
Dyslexia can impact reading and writing skills. How do you approach reading and writing tasks, and are there specific tools or technologies that have been beneficial?
Grammarly is my best friend, and by using it, I know what to look out for in emails, practice and draft important emails or pieces of writing. It really helps me to have that time to check over information and re-word it if needed.
I’m no longer afraid of asking for a call or more information on a brief if it does not make sense to me, as I find talking something through much easier to digest than just written instructions.
Dyslexia is often associated with unique strengths, such as creativity and problem-solving abilities. Can you describe some of these strengths and how they have benefited you in your career?
It took me a while to understand and discover that even though I had some limitations, I also excelled in other areas.
Being a very visual person means I can see things visually, and this definitely helps me excel when being creative.
I have had to find ways of coping with my dyslexic limitations (differences), so that has definitely helped me become more resilient and adaptable to new situations.
I have always felt comfortable communicating face-to-face with people because it is my preferred way of communicating and learning, so it helps in building good working relationships.
Organisation and time management can be challenging for individuals with dyslexia. How do you stay organised and manage your workload effectively at your job?
Timekeeping is still something I struggle with, in all honesty. I am the friend who is always a bit late to everything. I have definitely improved from my younger days, and now, having a family, I have had to adjust to keeping to other people’s schedules, such as school and nursery.
From an organisation perspective, I have just learnt what works for me by trial and error. Having a job where I need to be organised helps, as I have found the right tools to optimise that and aid me in sticking to timelines.
Dyslexia awareness is essential for creating a more inclusive society. What advice do you have for individuals and organisations looking to promote dyslexia awareness and support in the workplace and beyond?
I think awareness starts with acknowledging dyslexia early on, talking more about it openly from primary school throughout education. I think once we can make it an open conversation and educate kids from an early age, it becomes something people may identify with and have easy routes to help.
It also educates neurotypical people on how to help those with dyslexia.
Can you share a personal success story or a moment of pride related to your career, where you overcame dyslexia-related challenges to achieve your goals?
I have been proud of many accomplishments in my life. Still, I think those in education have been the biggest struggle to obtain, so I am really proud of the A I got in Spanish at GCSE and achieving a 2:1 honours for my degree at university.
Overall, I am proud of myself for the career I have experienced so far and how I manage and thrive with dyslexia.
Dyslexia Awareness Week aims to increase understanding and support. What advice would you give to individuals and organisations looking to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for people with dyslexia?
Look at how your employees best work and learn. With that information, try to think beyond the neurotypical person and get advice on how to make your company and work environment more Dyslexic (neurodivergent) friendly and accessible. Because making a few changes or letting employees know about the support available could make all the difference.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
To embrace your differences and not be apologetic or ashamed, if people react weirdly to you being open about your differences; that is their issue and not yours.
To hear more stories this Dyslexia Awareness Week, read Courtney’s story on her experience of living with dyslexia.