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.
  • brainstorming sketchIn 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 Dyslexia 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.

Citation Information
Davis, R.D. & Braun, E. (1998). Adult Dyslexia and ADD: Effects in the Workplace. Retrieved May 25, 2019 from Davis Dyslexia Association International. Dyslexia the Gift website:

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  • Charles U

    I have dyslexia dysgraphia and attention deficit disorder. I was diagnosed in first grade. From 1 to 12 grade in special education classes and warehouse.
    I entered college that had special education services for students with learning disabilities. They were able to look beyond my grades.
    I was able to get a BA degree in photography and later an MFA
    (Master in fine art ) in photography.
    Unfortunately for the next 30 years, I have been underemployed was unable to find work in my field.
    I have suffered from depression and low self-esteem.
    I am unable to take phone messages, take notes or read street signs.
    I am using Grammarly.
    The only way I am writing this is that I am dictating to my phone and copying it.

    I have no sense of direction.

    At 58 still underemployed.

  • Becky

    Yes I’m dyslexic and just discovered it in adulthood. I struggled in school and not because I didn’t know anything but because of that stupid scantron testing that still exists! I was a C to D student growing up and went back to school as an adult and turned into a A to B student by learning more about dyslexia in books and great blogs like this one. Turns out I was putting the answers into the wrong boxes all these years since they were so closely together. Now I write my answer on a paper and take my time putting them in each box at the end by using a ruler to cover the other lines. It is small examples like these that went a long way for me in school. I also have a photographic memory that I never forget a face. I have great hearing that it helps me hear every pitch, tone and instrument in music as a professional singer and teacher. Our brains are engineered differently and the more we learn about our strengths the better we can use it to succeed in this normative way of teaching and learning world.


    I think a lot of us as we now have the time to reflect back on our misgivings,realize that our parents of the 40/50/60?)’s did not have the info that is available today.
    I for one having dyslexia + ADHD had a horrible time in school. I so wish during the early years my folks had the info to get me the appropriate help.
    I also find my dyslexia has gotten worst with age (78)and boy do I rely on spell check,where in the past I could spell great !
    Such is life and I am not complaining,just reflecting !

    • Anita

      I have dyslexia and Adhd which was diagnosed at the age of 52 while studying for a fine art degree. I am now doing an MA in Art Psychotherapy. I have suffered with depression and low self esteem. Getting diagnosed was important as it helped to understand the problems I have. It is never too late to prove those teachers wrong, and I will continue to help people through a combination of therapy,drugs, meditation, mindfulness or whatever they feel is right for them.

  • LaGaunda B

    I am a 43 year old man that’s have been living with dyslexia it has hindered me my whole life because as a child my mother never dealt with the issue and now as an adult I’m trying to figure out what dyslexia means and how to live with it as an adult I feel alone in this I don’t know where to turn or how to find help with this if you can help me I will appreciate it greatly I feel I have a lot to offer the world but this dyslexia is holding me back and I don’t want to live this way no more I have a 9 year old son I’m trying to teach how to be a man and I don’t know how to be one myself please help

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      A Davis program can help at any age. It does not cost much to arrange for a consultation with a Davis Facilitator to learn more (many facilitators even offer free initial consultations). You can look fo a provider near you here:

  • Laura

    Hey Everyone!
    I have been struggling with my dyslexia since the first grade ! Lol I would cheat on my math tests because I didn’t wanna fall behind. The other kids would help me with that. I felt very weird growing up with knowing I was always different. I had gotten tests done, speech, hearing all that good stuff. I went from being in regular classes to being transferred into special Ed ! It was very embarrassing growing up, I knew I didn’t belong with the other kids that really needed help. I was in the highest group in special Ed. I was so bad at math not getting it at all ! Easy stuff. I find it sad still that I have to take my sweet as time counting coins back like I’m 4 years old !? I was held back from gaining what I should of been at school. However, we can never go backwards! I am now a single mother, working two jobs and wanting more in life ! It’s weird how I am great at music, any arts, writttng, and reading people ! I actually wanna own business but I feel so slow when all eyes or pressure is on me!i don’t like help from no one, I’ve always been this way. Which makes that worse ! I literally relate to everyone in this !

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