Adult Dyslexia and ADHD: Effects in the Workplace

By Ronald D. Davis with Eldon Braun, © 1995, 1998. 

man looking downGovernment statistics show 25,000,000 Americans–one in ten–are functionally illiterate. The primary cause is dyslexia or one of its many variations, such as ADD or dysgraphia.

Today’s educational methods are limited when it comes to teaching basic literacy skills to students who have problems with reading, and writing and math.

The school system is stacked against dyslexics from the start, because they are “real world” thinkers, using mainly pictures and concepts instead of mental sentences. They require special training to master the basics of written language easily.

This doesn’t mean they are stupid. Leonardo da Vinci, Einstein, Edison, Churchill, Walt Disney, Whoopi Goldberg and Greg Louganis were considered “dummies” during their early years of school. They didn’t suffer from learning disability, but teaching disability.

Dyslexics think differently
Many teachers just don’t know the right methods for presenting information in a form dyslexic and ADD children can assimilate. As a result, these children may be warehoused in “special ed” classes. The subsequent loss of self-esteem triggers the syndrome that makes dyslexia worse. Stress, confusion and heavy concentration only increase perceptual and attention problems. The harder a dyslexic struggles, the more difficult reading becomes.

Many “learning disabled” people become highly successful once they escape school. They think they have a knack for doing something without realizing that it stems from the same cause as dyslexia — their ability to mentally combine imaginary and real world images in a creative or intuitive way. This talent can play havoc with reading and writing, but it is highly useful for the arts, engineering, sports, strategy, salesmanship, and invention.

No matter how talented they are, adult dyslexics are often secretive and defensive. They write down inverted phone numbers and financial figures. They can spend an hour trying to decipher a memo. They hide their illiteracy and get other people to read and write for them — a subterfuge invented to get by in school. Many get headaches from trying to read accurately. The loss of productivity is difficult to estimate, but is obviously enormous.

How employers can help
  • Employers can easily adapt the workplace to help reading disabled people to work more efficiently. Give instructions orally or dictate them onto tape or voice mail. Have someone read things to them, or get a voice synthesizer for the computer and let it read the memos. Dyslexics are usually good with computers. Many can read more easily from a screen than from paper, and can compose presentable letters and reports with a spell-checker — a godsend for anyone who sometimes misspells words.
  • In the office, don’t give written “tests” as they were dealt out in school, or ask a dyslexic to fill out complex forms. Those who haven’t had remedial training are at a disadvantage, but they do have accurate, detailed memories. Question them orally or let them dictate answers so someone else can else can fill out the forms. If you must give written tests, be sure to allow extra time and a distraction free environment.
  • People with attention deficit problems often do better if they have a number of different tasks going at once. They may appear distracted or scattered, but are actually better at juggling several tasks than concentrating on one thing.
  • Let dyslexics know you understand their language difficulties are not caused by stupidity.
  • Encourage them to seek remedial help in basic language skills and provide incentives. In my experience, dyslexics who are motivated can achieve basic business literacy rapidly when their unique needs are taken into account. I have described the best techniques I discovered  in the last few chapters of The Gift of Dyslexia. A basic Davis Dyslexic Correction program can be completed in a week’s time.

Dyslexic employees are some of the smartest, most imaginative and highly motivated people in your workgroup — and your company’s management. Instead of penalizing them for written language deficiencies, profit from their special talents.

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