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Celebrating Autism

We posted a blog last year called Neurodiversity Understood: An introduction focusing on neurodiversity and celebrities – including those with dyslexia. Following on from the success of that blog we’ve choose to focus specifically on dyslexia and today we highlight 5 dyslexic celebrities who shine in their chosen field because of their dyslexic strengths. At Adjust, we are working to highlight the various strengths associated with dyslexia that are often overlooked. We hope this blog shows you there is more to dyslexia then a difficulty with reading and writing. We use these celebrities to show how many people with dyslexia are great communicators, determined, problem solvers and can perceive the world differently leading to innovation and creativity. Can you think of ways that these skills could be useful in your organisations?

Jennifer Aniston

Over 2/3 of dyslexic people have a higher than average verbal ability which can mean that many dyslexic people are excellent communicators, which is a handy skill for an actor or actress. Many actors and actresses have to be very determined to succeed in their chosen field and determination is an asset many dyslexic people talk about having due to overcoming difficulties and barriers in life that life can present for dyslexic people. Friends star, Jennifer Aniston is dyslexic and has certainly used her excellent communication skills to her advantage, she was interested in drama at school from a young age and this was encouraged by her parents who were also both actors. Determined to make it as an actress Jennifer took many part time jobs including telemarketer, bike messenger and waitress. In fact, working part time as a waitress may have had some part in helping her land her world famous role as Rachel Green. Jennifer Aniston’s most successful character -Rachel Green – can be found endlessly on repeat on a tv channel near you, at any hour of the day, anywhere on the planet!

Jo Malone

A recent study showed that as many as 40% of self made millionaires were dyslexic. Many people with dyslexia are creative, good at problem-solving and naturally focus on the bigger picture and these skills lend themselves well to starting a business. A great example of a successful dyslexic entrepreneur is highly regarded perfumer, Jo Malone. After being caught copying during a test in school, a teacher made her stand on a chair in front of the class, as she told her ‘Jo Malone, you will never make anything of your life.’ The businesswoman remembers thinking that she would prove her wrong – and she did! Jo Malone offers some fascinating insights into dyslexia when she was interviewed for desert island discs and describes how her senses are heightened in the area of smell. This ability to experience the world from a different perspective, allowed Malone to focus her attention on being able to follow a formulation by smell alone when creating scents. Combining her heightened sense of smell with entrepreneurial skills that many dyslexic people possess, Jo Malone founded her company in 1983 and went on to sell her company to cosmetics giant Estee Lauder in a multi-million dollar deal.

Will Smith

As discussed above many actors and actresses are successful due to their superior verbal abilities. Will Smith is another example of an individual who has used these skills to pursue his acting career. Will Smith also describes how he also has pattern recognition ability and the ability to see things differently. As a dyslexic, he is always looking for patterns in different projects. Will Smith is quoted as saying: “Every Monday morning, we sit down – ‘OK, what happened this weekend, and what are the things that resemble things that have happened in the last 10, 20, 30 weekends?’ It is so much fun to look at something everyone’s looking at to see if a different pattern comes out for you.” The way that Will Smith has discovered he sees the world differently is one of the great skills many dyslexic people possess.

A.A.Gill

It is a common belief that people with dyslexia can’t be writers. A.A. Gill is someone that proved the critics wrong. Learning his art by ear, Gill was a famous British writer and critic, known especially for his food and travel writing. Working primarily as the restaurant reviewer for The Sunday Times, Gill was also published in Vanity Fair, GQ and Esquire, as well as writing books. A. Gill highlighted his dyslexic problem solving ability, by recording his speech, and then having an assistant put it into writing. His writing style has been highly commended because of its unique, conversational style.

Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg is an actress, singer-songwriter, comedienne, author, talk show host, and political activist. Hugely successful and wildly popular, Goldberg is best known for her roles in Ghost and Sister Act and has been on our screens since 1982. On her dyslexia, Goldberg famously said ‘the advantage is that my brain sees and puts information in my head differently, more interestingly than if I saw it like anyone else’ – an ability to see the world differently is a common theme throughout all the successful dyslexic’s that we’ve discussed today. If you are an employer, and you want to find out more about dyslexia, and how the strengths of dyslexic candidates can enhance your business, come along to our Neurodiversity Works course in London or Manchester. If you or one of your employees has been identified as having dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD or autism, you may have heard about workplace assessments. A workplace assessment, sometimes called an employment or employee assessment, is a session where an employee, employer and an assessor will meet together in person and an assessor will ask questions about the employee’s role, in order to find ways to best support the employee at work. A written report is then given to the employer, with details of relevant adjustments that can be made. A workplace assessment is not a ‘test’ of the employee or employer but designed to create a more positive working environment for the employee, their manager and their colleagues. What are the benefits of a workplace assessment? Making your organisation inclusive starts with understanding the individual’s strengths, skills and challenges. If you’re an employee, a workplace assessment offers you support that’s specific to you and your job. If you’re an employer, the assessment should mean a healthier, more productive employee, and means you’ll meet your requirements under the Equality Act. Businesses and organisations can pay for an assessment, either independently or through the government’s Access to Work scheme. Is a workplace assessment the same as a diagnosis? A workplace assessment usually takes place after a person has been identified as having a neurodiverse condition. Sometimes, depending on what age a person received their diagnosis, advice about Reasonable Adjustments at work will have been included in their diagnostic report. However, many people who are neurodiverse are diagnosed as children or students, so a workplace assessment will give employees and employers the best understanding of what adjustments may be needed  in their role. What should I provide for a workplace assessment? Employers should provide a copy of the employee’s job description, and any other helpful information. For employees, a copy of your diagnostic report, if you have one, may be helpful. Questions for the employee and employers will be sent two weeks before the workplace assessment. What happens during a workplace assessment? A workplace assessment through Adjust lasts around four hours and takes place on site. It involves the employee, their line manager, any relevant colleagues, and, if desired, an Occupational Health worker or Union Representative. What sort of adjustments might be recommended from a workplace assessment? Most typical adjustments are cheap, simple and can benefit anyone at work. They can include:
  • Equipment or software such as ergonomic computers or furniture for dyspraxia, or, for dyslexia, software designed to help with reading and writing. For anyone who is neurodiverse, productivity software can help with memory and organisational skills.
  • Environmental adjustments For autism or ADHD, this might mean a move to a quieter or less cluttered work environment. For a person with dyspraxia, this might mean more desk space for a coordinated task, or being moved away from trip and spill hazards.
  • Adjustments to a person’s role Flexible or remote working, or job-sharing can help those who are neurodiverse manage their time better, manage work stress and delegate the more challenging aspects of their role.
  • Coaching/Mentoring See below
What happens after an assessment? The Adjust assessment report will be submitted five working days after an assessment visit. The organisation will also receive a follow up phone call to make sure everything in the report has been clearly understood. What’s the difference between a workplace assessment and coaching or mentoring in the workplace? A specialist neurodiversity coach or mentor may be recommended to an employee following a workplace assessment. A workplace assessment takes place once and introduces an employee to ways of working, software or equipment that will help them in their role. Coaching or mentoring usually takes place over a longer period and gives an employee more detailed strategies around particular aspects of their work which they may benefit from developing, such as self-confidence, interpersonal or organisational skills. Contact us today for a conversation to see if a workplace assessment is right for your neurodivergent employee and for more information including costs, booking and availability. Last year, we shared a post focusing on neurodiverse celebrities – we got such a great response we decided to do another post focusing on celebs! At Adjust, we know how valuable the differing skill sets that accompany neurodiversity can be, and that neurodivergent individuals can be highly beneficial to workplace teams. And, today, to mark autism awareness week we’re continuing our mission. With a focus specifically on autism and Asperger’s, allow us to celebrate four more hugely successful individuals…

Daryl Hannah

“I was about 11 when I understood that movies weren’t something that just happened in reality and someone caught it on camera,” says Hannah. “Once I realised that it was actually a job I could have, I actively pursued it.
Perhaps best known for her roles in Blade Runner, Kill Bill and Splash, Daryl Hannah was diagnosed with autism at a young age, when the condition was not as widely recognised as it is today. In fact the doctor that diagnosed Hannah said she should be institutionalised – a decision her mother thankfully overruled. Finding a creative outlet in acting, Hannah pursued the field until she found success, creating a public facade to help her through the more intimidating aspects of a life in the public eye. Hannah made her first movie in 1978, and is still acting today.

Susan Boyle

“Asperger’s doesn’t define me. It’s a condition that I have to live with and work through, but I feel more relaxed about myself. People will have a greater understanding of who I am and why I do the things I do”
We all remember Simon Cowell’s reaction when Susan Boyle walked on stage. The Scot entered Britain’s Got Talent, and was introduced to the show with a dialogue describing her life at home with her cat, and the admission that she’d never been kissed. They quickly went on to some humiliating shots of the audience rolling their eyes, before her voice changed their minds. The British papers continued to run stories about Boyle’s ‘strangeness,’ however, despite her talent. Although wrongly diagnosed with brain damage after complications at birth, Boyle discovered in 2012 that she in fact has Asperger’s. Following her time on Britain’s Got Talent, Boyle went on to become one of the UK’s bestselling female artists. Clearly, her diagnosis didn’t hold her back.

Dan Aykroyd

‘I have Asperger’s – one of my symptoms included being obsessed with ghosts’
Actor, writer, and celebrated ghostbuster, Dan Aykroyd has been – through his roles – many things to many people. What you may not know, though, is that Aykroyd has Asperger’s. Diagnosed as an adult, Aykroyd visited his doctor on the insistence of his wife, who had taken note of some of her husband’s quirks. Far from hindering Aykroyd’s career, however, his Asperger’s was a credit to his creativity. It was due to the condition that he developed an obsession with ghosts, for example, leading to one of his greatest commercial successes… Who you gonna call?

Chris Packham

“If there were a cure for Asperger’s, I don’t know if I’d want it. Humanity has prospered because of people with autistic traits. Without them, we wouldn’t have put man on the Moon or be running software programs. If we wiped out all the autistic people on the planet, I don’t know how much longer the human race would last”
Chris Packham is an example of another person that didn’t learn of their diagnosis until later in life. Discovering he had Asperger’s in his forties, Packham had already enjoyed success as a broadcaster. Packham attributes his encyclopaedic knowledge of nature and wildlife to his being autistic. Upon learning he had Asperger’s, Packham embarked on the creation of BBC documentary ‘Chris Packham: Asperger’s And Me’ – an in-depth view of what it’s like to be autistic – and something we highly recommend watching. To educate your team on the benefits of having an autistic colleague consider booking a place on our brand new course “Neurodiversity Works”. We look forward to speaking with you soon.