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More then words: Dyslexia Understood

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. Here at Adjust we focus on Neurodiversity and the Workplace. Neurodiversity means that there can be significant differences in how we process information, problem solve, communicate and think. At Adjust we like to think of Neurodiversity as a “celebration of individuality”. We exclusively focus on the Neurodiverse conditions of autism/Asperger’s, dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD. This blog will focus on ADHD. ADHD stands for “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder”. The NHS defines ADHD as “Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioural disorder that includes symptoms such as inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness” However at Adjust we feel that the language surrounding the diagnostic label of ADHD is outdated, negative and does not focus on any of the strengths that ADHD can bring. This negative language can lead to damaging stereotypes and myths. At Adjust we want to bust some of the myths and stereotypes around Neurodiversity and focus on the strengths that are often overlooked. Myth: ADHD is a condition that affects “young hyperactive, naughty boys” Fact: Many women and girls with ADHD are undiagnosed because of the damaging stereotype that ADHD is primarily a young boy’s condition. It should also be noted that many boys and men are also going undiagnosed due to not fitting this damaging ‘hyperactive, naughty’ stereotype. As a result, many undiagnosed adults especially women with ADHD are not receiving the support that would enable them to reach their true workplace potential. We talked to Claire Ryan to about her journey from childhood to getting a diagnosis of ADHD as adult and the impact that the condition has had on her life. Here she recounts her story: Growing up I was described as having ‘too much energy’ but also as ‘lazy’. My school reports were full of comments such as ‘Claire is capable but needs to apply herself’. ‘Claire needs to focus on her work, not what is going on around her’. Thing is, I was trying really hard, but the constant negative feedback made me feel like I just wanted to give up. When I was 12, my parents sent me to a Convent Boarding School in the hope that the discipline would do me some good. I was never in trouble during school hours, but I was still never the student everyone thought I ‘should’ be.
Growing up I was described as having ‘too much energy’ but also as ‘lazy’
After school was a different matter altogether. I was suspended during my first year there because, in truth, I was bored. The lack of structure, guidance, activities and stimulation was exactly the opposite of what I needed. I was also never forgiven for this and for the remaining 4 years, I was always ‘that kid’. I have always struggled with focus, either being able to focus completely, or not at all. This meant school work took so much longer as my mind and body battled with my willpower. I couldn’t revise for my GCSE’s, I literally had no idea how to, nor the focus to but managed to leave with 9 GCSE’s including 2 A*’s. My childhood had been overrun by a constant daily internal battle and this continued into my adult life. When my children began gathering diagnoses I had some lightbulb moments. This led to me ask for a referral in order to seek some answers. I went to my GP and asked to be referred to the Maudsley Hospital in London for an ADOS assessment. I knew I was different and thought I might have been autistic, although that never felt quite right. It took 18 months before I was seen by the team at the Maudsley and I arrived terrified, armed with a pile of school reports and questionnaires which my parents had filled in. It became clear quite quickly into the assessment that they did not think I was autistic, but they completed it and asked me to wait outside whilst they discussed their findings. When I went back into the room, they said ‘you do not meet the criteria for an autism diagnosis, but you do for ADHD’. I felt nothing but relief. Pure relief that someone had finally recognised my struggles, that I wasn’t ‘that kid’, that I was actually trying really hard even if the adults around me hadn’t ever seen it. I hoped this would be a huge turning point in my life and accepted the offer of medication without hesitation. I spent the next few months re-evaluating my past and re-assessing my self esteem and confidence. They had always been low, but now I felt I had the answer to so many ‘why’s’.
When my children began gathering diagnoses I had some light bulb moments. This led to me ask for a referral in order to seek some answers.
Claire describes her experience of having ADHD at work: I flitted from job to job until my current job, which I have been in for 16 years. In previous jobs, I didn’t feel stimulated enough, engaged on a mental and physical level or challenged to push my abilities. I found study difficult, but mainly because I just wanted to do the job. Reading has always been tricky as my mind wanders off and I could read the same paragraph 5 times and still not know what it said, however I managed it and gained the qualifications I needed. At work I found organising incredibly difficult, especially the admin side of my role. Myth: People with ADHD can’t concentrate Fact: Many individuals with ADHD describe going into “hyper focus” when concentrating. Claire explains more, and describes some abilities associated with ADHD that are often overlooked. If I am interested and mentally engaged, I hyper focus at work which means I don’t act impulsively, I don’t make quick decisions, I check and recheck because I have always understood how important this is to get right. Tasks took me longer to complete than others due to the checking needed and I also think has lead to me being a ‘perfectionist’ in all areas of my life. Anxiety was with me all day, every day and the mental effort it took to do the best job I could, resulted in me finishing work at 3pm absolutely shattered. After my son was born, I reduced my hours and only worked 3 days per week. This helped a lot and gave me the time to do household/family things that needed to be done. In my mind, it was either a work day, or a home day and I couldn’t mix the 2, or catch up in the evenings. My routine was so important to me to ensure I didn’t burn out, but I felt ridiculous trying to explain this to my family. I didn’t really understand why, so how could I expect them to?
If I am interested and mentally engaged, I hyper focus at work
Many people with ADHD do not feel confident to be open with their employer about their condition. This is always a personal choice and Claire describes her experience: I wasn’t going to tell my Manger about my ADHD, I didn’t see the point. Ten years after I was diagnosed, I needed to change my medication which led to a period of crippling anxiety, requiring time off work. When I returned, I decided to be honest about why I had been off, because I wanted them to know that I don’t have a mental health condition, I have ADHD. My Manager was quite nonchalant about it and didn’t seem to be surprised. I was clear that I didn’t want or need adjustments and if I messed up, I wanted it to be viewed as being my responsibility, not my ADHD. I might review that one day and if it ever happens that I do mess up, who knows?! I am incredibly tough on myself and my performance at work. I am also a perfectionist and I would imagine others with ADHD might answer this question very differently. I don’t have to worry about being distracted, sensory issues with a uniform, or being in a difficult workplace. I have very supportive colleagues and am part of a fantastic team. I am lucky in my current role that I have found my perfect fit. This may not be the case for everyone, my reasons for not seeking adjustments will be very different from those in other situations. Myth: There’s no benefit to getting a diagnosis of ADHD as an adult Fact: Getting a diagnosis, and the relevant support can be life changing – Claire describes her experience: The biggest differences were medication and beginning to really understand myself. My new found awareness meant I could keep a check on things I might struggle with, or those which I might need to focus more on. Medication was life changing. I described it to my Husband as ‘my brain has let out a big sigh and relaxed for the first time in my life’! It was quite alarming to realise that I had never ‘relaxed’ before and it was welcome experience. I have been able to multi task at work better and because I was now tuned into my specific needs, I was able to set up structures to help with organising. As the pressure increases, I don’t lose skills I might have lost previously due to anxiety. Now I structure and then restructure to fit the demands. Things don’t take as long as I find reading easier now and I don’t need to check and re-check as much. As I manage my own time at work, I don’t have to ask for adjustments. I do a lot of admin at home so I can take longer if necessary, It rarely is now. I still hyper focus all day and I still forget to eat during my working hours. I still feel exhausted from all the mental effort too, but I feel proud of what I am achieving and confident I am doing a good job.
Medication was life changing. I described it to my Husband as…’my brain has let out a big sigh and relaxed for the first time in my life’
We hope that reading about Claire’s personal journey has been insightful and has helped you learn more about ADHD in adults. Everyone is different, so others with ADHD will have other experiences and a different journey. If you are an employee with ADHD and want to have a confidential discussion about openness and support available in the workplace, feel free to contact us. If you are an employer, you can contact Adjust to ensure you are making the relevant workplace adjustments for employees with ADHD. We offer training and consultancy to provide you with the tools to retain, recruit and develop your employees with ADHD. 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.