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Think positive: why neurodiversity is all about strength

In the second part of our series tackling some of the myths surrounding neurodiversity we focus on dyslexia myths, dyslexia is estimated to affect around 10% of the population. Myth: Dyslexia is all about problems with reading and writing Fact: While it’s true that some people with dyslexia can often struggle with reading, writing and spelling, there’s a lot more to it than that. In fact, dyslexia can bring with it many advantages. For instance people with dyslexia often outperform their neurotypical peers in areas that are hugely valuable to businesses, including problem-solving and creative thinking. More than two-thirds have above-average verbal ability, making them excellent communicators, and it’s been estimated that 40% of self-made millionaires are dyslexic: think Jo Malone, Richard Branson and the Body Shop’s Anita Roddick. Myth: People with dyslexia have problems with their vision, too Fact: While it’s true that dyslexia was first identified by an eye doctor, there is no connection between dyslexia and poor vision. It’s also often said that people with dyslexia see the words moving on the page, but this is only true for about a third of the dyslexic community. It’s worth remembering that the glare from white paper and black writing can cause visual distress for many people, whether they’re dyslexic or not. At Adjust our inclusive approach is to always use a tinted grey background for notes and presentations: that’s far easier to read for the majority of people. Myth: Recruiting people with dyslexia means making difficult – and expensive – adjustments  Fact: Not true. Our advice to businesses is think about being inclusive to everyone. As part of a recent exercise with a client we suggested they give dyslexic candidates a handout listing the main interview questions. Some dyslexic people have difficulty with working memory, which means retaining verbal information and responding to it instantly can be challenging. Having a document to hand with the questions to refer to can be really helpful. Don’t forget that grey tinted background! The employer said that they found this adjustment useful for all candidates, and that this optimised their recruitment process. Myth: There’s a link between dyslexia and low IQ Fact: No, this one’s not true either. This myth has arisen because the way we test intelligence in schools tends to focus so much on reading and writing. As Jo Malone puts it, “At school I struggled. I knew I was smart, but nobody else could see it.” Test someone verbally instead of relying on reading and writing, and the results might look very different indeed. As Albert Einstein put it, “Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Want to know more? Contact us today to explore how Adjust can help your business tap into the potential of people with dyslexia                          In the first of our series aimed at tackling misconceptions about neurodiverse conditions, we focus on dyspraxia and myths. Myth: Dyspraxia is just another word for being clumsy Fact: As with other neurodiverse conditions including ADHD, autism and dyslexia, dyspraxia is a wide-ranging condition that affects different people in different ways. Yes, dyspraxia can often affects both gross and fine motor skills, but it can also affect orientation, organisational and sequencing skills. As always, though, it’s dangerous to make assumptions. Watch England rugby star Ellis Genge – who speaks openly about his dyspraxia – scything through his opponents and you’ll struggle to find any evidence of poor coordination… Myth: Dyspraxia is incredibly rare, isn’t it? Fact: Far from it. One of the reasons  we wanted to focus on dyspraxia and myths was that its such an unrecognised condition. It’s thought that dyspraxia affects around 5% of the UK population, which is as many as 3.3 million people in the UK.  Which is about the same size as the population of Wales! Dyspraxia doesn’t have the media profile that other neurodiverse conditions receive and therefore doesn’t receive the public recognition it deserves, despite celebrities like Singer Florence Welch, actor Daniel Radcliffe and legendary photographer David Bailey being dyspraxic.
“It’s thought that dyspraxia affects around 5% of the UK population, which is as many as 3.3 million people in the UK. Which is about the same size as the population of Wales!”
Myth: Dyspraxia affects intelligence Fact: This old chestnut comes up time and time again in connection with neurodiverse conditions and – guess what? – it’s simply not true. There’s no connection between dyspraxia and intelligence, and people with the dyspraxia often have attributes that make them extremely valuable to employers including great communication skills, high levels of creativity and the ability to think outside the box. Many dyspraxic people described themselves as tenacious too! Ellis Genge puts his success down to sheer determination not to let his symptoms get in the way.
“people with the dyspraxia often have attributes that make them extremely valuable to employers including great communication skills”
Myth: We can cure dyspraxia Fact: There’s no cure for dyspraxia and crucially we are not looking for one. Neurodiversity is the celebration and acceptance that we all think differently. At Adjust we passionately believe that the more employers understand neurodiversity and play to the strengths of their employees, the more productive they will become. However, simple workplace adjustments like providing clear signs in your office, more desk space, mind-mapping software and the time to plan a working week can really ensure you are supporting employees with dyspraxia to reach their full potential in the workplace. Want to know more? Find out how Adjust can help your business tap into the potential of employees with dyspraxia  Here are five ways employers can ensure that employees with autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can make the most of their skills and strengths in the workplace. Lack of awareness is one of the first problems any employer needs to address. We usually start a piece of consultancy work by talking to the employee’s line manager. What are the gaps in the line manager’s knowledge, and how can we address them? How much do they understand about neurodivergent conditions and what adjustments they can put in place? Something as simple as remembering to give clear, unambiguous instructions – no figures of speech, please! – can make a big difference.
“Lack of awareness is one of the first problems any employer needs to address”.
Second, it might sound surprising, but sometimes neurodivergent employees themselves can benefit from knowing more about their own condition. As Claire, who has ADHD, puts it, ‘Tuning in to my specific needs meant I could set up structures to help with organisation. Now, as the pressure increases, I don’t lose skills I might previously have lost due to anxiety.’ Better understanding – perhaps with some support and guidance from a neurodiversity specialist coach – is the first step towards the employee recognising their own strengths, and the support they may need.
“Individuals themselves can benefit from knowing more about their own condition.”
Third, provided the employee is happy for the information to be shared, it can make a huge difference to make colleagues aware of their condition and what it means in the workplace. Trying to conceal a condition can sometimes cause more stress and anxiety. Here’s Andrew, who is autistic: ‘Now I’m able to speak freely about my needs, I can manage them better. I may ask not to participate in group work for example, or I can ask to sit at the back of the room. I’m able to be a bit kinder to myself.’  We supported one employee with dyspraxia to create a fact sheet with information about their condition, strengths and adjustments and they then shared this with their colleagues. Another employee with dyslexia contributed to an awareness training session, that was delivered to their colleagues.
“Provided the employee is happy for the information to be shared, make their colleagues aware of their condition and what it means in the workplace.”
That links to the fourth area, workplace culture. In the corporate world, there is sometimes an expectation that people will work long hours, and still be in the office at 8pm. That can be challenging for people with neurodivergent conditions. Like lots of people with ADHD, Claire tends to focus very intensely for short periods of time. She leaves the office at 3pm. It’s easy to see how that could lead to resentment amongst her colleagues, unless they’re in full possession of the facts. So for instance a Lunch and Learn session can be an excellent way of providing understanding to wider staff teams so that there is no resentment to employees being treated differently.
“Lunch and Learn sessions can be an excellent way of providing understanding to wider staff teams.”
Finally, and perhaps most important of all, is the physical environment. Employees with neurodivergent conditions can often struggle in an open-plan office, so we work with employers to find practical ways to mitigate that. Could they be allocated a desk in a quieter corner, rather than by a door or printer or somewhere else that people tend to congregate? Could they wear noise cancelling headphones, or use ear defenders?
“Employees with neurodivergent conditions can often struggle in an open-plan office.”
At Adjust, our work is all about maximising productivity. We want to get to the point where an employer will focus on the fact that an individual excels at bringing in new business and celebrate that, rather than, say, trying to force them to be better at admin. That’s a waste of energy. Put people in the right role, one where they can make use of their strengths, and everyone will reap the benefits. If you are an employer, and you want to find out more about Neurodiversity, and how the strengths of employees that think differently can enhance your business, contact us today. Neurodiversity Understood.