5 mins read

Dyslexia and its impact on learning and working

It’s a processing thing!

If only I’d known…

The igniter for this blog was a meeting with my daughters teacher yesterday, where we discussed the impact of dyslexia on learning. The fuel however comes from my own experience as a dyslexic adult in the workplace. I came home after our meeting and wondered what information was out there, which could have supported me when I was an employee ‘learning on the job’ as they say.

A quick search of the web, will throw you multiple ‘reasonable adjustments’ that can be made, but I wanted to know more. I wanted to know – why that particular reasonable adjustment and what need (or in some peoples eyes ‘deficit) was it serving. For this we need to look at the definition for Dyslexia.

The British Dyslexia Association has adopted the Rose (2009) definition of dyslexia so why wouldn’t I:

“Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling. Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory andverbal processing speed”.

 The definition goes on to include the following:

“Dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities. It is best thought of as a continuum, not a distinct category, and there are no clear cut-off points. Co-occurring difficulties may be seen in aspects of language, motor co-ordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation, but these are not, by themselves, markers of dyslexia.”

Source: The Rose Report 2009, Pg 29. – Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties.

For the purposes of this blog its those first three items that interest me most – phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed.

  • What are they?
  • What issue may they cause?
  • And in the context of learning/working what can we do?

I did a bit of reading and noted, it wasn’t easy to see this stuff in one place so I’ve gathered together the best bits below…

Phonological Awareness

What I hear you say…. Yes I too had to go away and figure this one out. Phonological awareness refers to our ability to recognise and manipulate the individual sounds (or phonemes) in spoken language. It involves being aware of the sound structure of words, such as recognising rhyming patterns, segmenting words into syllables, and manipulating sounds within words (and can affect our ability to decode words and spell accurately).

Impact: Difficulties with phonological awareness can affect reading, spelling, and language processing skills in the workplace. This can result in challenges in – understanding written instructions, proofreading written work, or communicating in writing effectively.

Reasonable adjustments:

  • Provide written instructions in clear, concise language and using bullet points or numbered lists to improve comprehension.
  • Offer training or resources that focus on improving phonological awareness and decoding skills for workplace-specific vocabulary or terminology.
  • Encourage the use of assistive technology, such as text-to-speech software or speech-to-text tools, to support reading and writing tasks.
  • Allow additional time for reading and processing written information, such as emails, reports, or documents.

What I’ve noticed in myself:  Because reading takes me more time (and costs me more effort) I can at times lose connection with the meaning of a sentence or paragraph – so I have to read new complex material multiple times and give my own meaning to it (all of my books have writing in them, and all my e mails are printed off and annotated). I also use a text to speech reader to help with my proof reading (should have seen this blog before I used it).

Verbal (working) Memory

This refers to our ability to remember and recall spoken information, such as instructions. It involves both short-term memory (which is the temporary storage) and immediate recall of information, and long-term memory (which involves the retention of information over a longer period). As a consequence, a dyslexic person will often have a reduced ability to hold and manipulate information in the mind over short periods.

Did you know – The ‘neurotypical’ human has around 6–9 seconds of verbal ‘working’ memory, however the dyslexic person may have less, 2–3 seconds (before the info is gone).

This significantly affects learning and task completion as we can’t recall the instructions (especially if there’s a load of steps).

Impact: Difficulties with verbal memory can impact the retention and recall of information, affecting learning, task completion, and communication in the workplace. Remembering multi-step instructions, retaining new information, or recalling specific details can be challenging.

Reasonable adjustments:

  • Provide written or visual aids, such as diagrams, charts, or infographics, to supplement verbal instructions and aid memory recall.
  • Offer concise written summaries or notes after meetings or training sessions to reinforce important information.
  • Encourage the use of note-taking apps or organisational tools to capture and review information.
  • Break down complex tasks or instructions into smaller, manageable steps, along with written or visual checklists to help with memory and task completion.

What I’ve noticed in myself: I write everything you say down. I do all my phone calls with headphones in, so I have my hands free to record instructions, tasks, outputs. I often create mind maps and use highlighters to help signify/differentiate between elements or hierarchy. If I don’t have a pen and paper ready when you call, I’m likely to ask you to confirm things in an e mail or quickly write and e mail back to you saying ‘what I heard was….’ Asking for clarification/confirmation where needed.

Verbal Processing Speed

This element refers to the speed and fluency at which individuals can perceive and process verbal information, including spoken language and auditory stimuli. It involves the ability to quickly and accurately verbally recall information from long term memory in response to visual or verbal information. This means that the dyslexic person may take longer to process and respond to verbal cues compared to their peers.

Impact: Slower verbal processing speed can result in difficulties keeping up with conversations, responding quickly during meetings or discussions, or completing tasks within designated time frames in the workplace.

Reasonable adjustments:

  • Allow additional time for completing tasks or assignments, particularly for time-sensitive projects.
  • Provide opportunities for written communication or follow-up after meetings to ensure individuals have enough time to process and respond effectively.
  • Encourage the use of technology tools, such as speech-to-text software or digital assistants, to facilitate faster communication and note-taking.
  • Break down time-sensitive tasks into smaller, manageable components with clear deadlines to support task prioritisation and time management.

What I’ve noticed in myself: at times in meetings you may see me drift off, or look absent. This is me effectively meditating on something you have said, that I know I have the answer for somewhere in the recesses of my mind but can’t quite find it. So I’m shutting out other stimuli while I metaphorically search through the filing cabinet that is my brain until I find what I need. This is often followed by a ‘eureka’ moment where I may spontaneously shout – I’ve got it! Now the value of this is I may have spotted something others didn’t as you speedily moved on to the next thing, something inside me was telling me to dig deep and find this insight. It may be the deal breaker you needed. So no I’m not just daydreaming (as much as I love that too).

In closing

It’s important to note that reasonable adjustments should be tailored to the specific needs and preferences of the individual with dyslexia.

“I am but one version of a dyslexic person and each new dyslexic person you meet will be a different version”

My advice – just open up a conversation and maybe lets not actually see these as reasonable adjustments, but more see it as finding the recipe to make the most of each dyslexics person’s talents.

Oh and if you are wondering the image used above is of a load of notes I’ve made for a philosophy programme I’m on (it brill).