by Olive Hickmott and Andrew Bendefy

In a nutshell

1. What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a type of reading difficulty that results from problems in acquiring literacy skills. Any diagnosis of dyslexia means, by definition, that someone is of at least adequate intelligence. Dys_lexia literally means ‘difficulty with language’. Dys_calculia is ‘difficulty with numbers’. This topic focuses on dyslexia, but most of the information and techniques are equally valid for dyscalculia.

  • Dyslexics are often highly intelligent, but have been labelled ‘stupid’ at school.
  • In a work environment, people with dyslexia often find that they cannot contribute to their full potential if there is a lot of reading and writing to do.
  • Dyslexia is a behaviour – it is something that a person does – and people with dyslexia or dyscalculia can learn new ways of doing things that are more successful in getting them what they and you want.

A person can learn to use their brain differently, so they no longer have dyslexic symptoms.


2. Typical symptoms

The symptoms of dyslexia vary considerably from person to person, but the overall effect is that the person becomes bewildered and confused. Among common symptoms are

  • The person has no concept of visualising words
  • Letters jump around on the page or swap places
  • Words that don’t create a mental picture are skipped
  • Everything goes blank
  • The person feels sick
  • Letters and words appear backwards.


3. Benefits of dyslexia

Famous people with dyslexia include Alexander Graham Bell, Charles Darwin, Leonardo da Vinci and Winston Churchill. Like many dyslexics, these successful people all tended to

  • Be different – and not mind about it
  • Question the status quo
  • Have vivid imaginations
  • Visualise things in a creative or different way.


4. The vital role of visualisation

One way to solve a problem is to think about it from several different perspectives, turning it around at several different angles or even combinations of angles. Unfortunately, with written words, trying out other perspectives just does not work. However, children between three and six years old who stumble with words don’t realise that trying new perspectives by flipping them around isn’t going to help.

  • The best spellers and readers visualise words – FACT
  • You can learn to improve your visual skills in less than an hour – FACT
  • If letters move on the page while you are trying to read, this normally indicates a learned behaviour; you can teach your brain to hold them still in a few minutes, even with imaginary spray glue – FACT
  • Until you visualise numbers, mental arithmetic will be very difficult if not impossible – FACT


5. The role of beliefs

What you believe about yourself – that is, who you think you are – shapes your identity, and this has a profound impact on how you experience life.

  • If you say ‘I am dyslexic’, this is how you define yourself.
  • If you say ‘I have dyslexia’, you are implying that you can change.
  • If you decide to change, it helps to examine the secondary gains which having dyslexia may offer.
  • It also helps to think back to the time you acquired those negative beliefs – was there an authority figure who unfairly put you down?


6. The role of state

Your state is your way of being at any given moment and includes your energy level, the way you hold and use your body and the way you think.

  • Your state has a big effect on the impact of dyslexia, so managing your state is a vital tool.
  • Even people who have few problems reading or writing will find it easier if they are not stressed.
  • NLP and Emotional Intelligence techniques can teach you how to manage your state.


7. Improving your visualisation skills

Poor readers or spellers never realise they can visualise static pictures and that they need to.

  • Even if you don’t think you can see pictures, you can recognise people you know, so you must store pictures somewhere!
  • There are exercises that will help you to improve your skills.
  • You can improve visualising skills and your memory at the same time by remembering lists of pictures.


8. Reading and spelling

In order to read, you need to use static visualisation for the words. The best way to learn this is to practise a simple visual spelling strategy. This will help you read more easily, and the bonus is that you get to be a better speller as well!

  • First, ground yourself, so you get a sense of calm and stability.
  • Start with short, three-letter words: hold an image of a cat in your mind’s eye, and write ‘cat’ on the side of its body.
  • Next, look at the mental image and read the word in reverse order.
  • Sound the word out while looking at your internal image.
  • Move on, gradually working with longer and longer words, and with words that do not have a mental picture associated with them.
  • This will also help your reading, but if words or letters still jump around, use imaginary spray glue.


9. What people say

KT, who wanted to become a primary school teacher, had difficulty with comprehension, short-term memory and spelling. After two hours’ practice, she mastered visual spelling. KT and others who have practised these techniques say things like

  • This is so easy, no longer the hard work it used to be for me
  • I can now see every word that is being said and I can spell them too
  • What I love about this is that it works; it’s nothing like the way I have been taught before
  • This is so easy, isn’t it cheating?


10. What does a manager need to know?

Given the statistics, you are bound to interact at work with dyslexic people, even if you do not know they are, or could be, labelled dyslexic.

  • Dyslexics are often great at being able to see different perspectives on a challenge you might face. Find out the skills your employee excels at and help them to maximise these – just as you would with any other employee.
  • The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 requires employers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to reduce or remove any substantial disadvantage caused to a dyslexic person (employee or job applicant) by any of the employment arrangements in force.
  • Encourage your employee to check out their working environment. Dyslexics often have excellent peripheral vision and thus get distracted onto other tasks easily. Similarly, they may find it better to keep the contents of their desktop and filing system to a minimum.
  • Create a safe and friendly environment where people who have dyslexia will feel free to share their secret.