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 June 21, 2018 from Davis Dyslexia Association International. Dyslexia the Gift website:

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  • Samantha T

    I have never been diagnosed but I think I may have Dyslexia. All facets of my english is perfect, but mathematically, Im dreadful. I cannot add and subtract in my head. It has to be done by my fingers or calculator. Mathematical problem solving. I cannot estimate weight, or measurements in my head either.
    I have a very bad memory. Remembering names, places, numbers. I have no sense of direction.
    In the workplace Ive always suffered learning new tasks or a new job. I have never had a job longer than 6 months. I either have gotten the sack because I’m too slow of a learner, or I leave because an area of my job that I don’t understand, makes me so embarrassed and nervous that I don’t want to work there anymore because I’m afraid I’ll have to do that particular task I don’t understand and in turn, I then have to keep asking for help from other staff, when really I should know it by now. Then the staff and employer get frustrated with me, so I leave. I flee. I have left jobs so many times due to this. I can’t face it. To be honest, the only type of work I think I’d do well in, is being a cleaner because theirs no thinking involved. If you had a conversation with me, you’d never know it.

  • Rafi

    I have similar issues as Thomas L, except I work in Information Technology (IT) and have been making mistakes by missing certain this things and reversing numbers. My job Odín jepordy now. I kept telling my boss I have dyslexia but falls on deaf ears or he uses it as a joke by saying “yeah, I know your Dyslexic or it’s your Dyslexia the reason you make mistakes”. Now it’s, I’m sick and tired of your mistakes but no offers to how the company can help. It’s sad I work at a very well known university and there is no assistance to my condition. I’m getting diagnosed and going to get trained in Ronald Davis’ courses to understand my dyslexia and make dyslexia work for me in this world.

  • Thomas L

    Well I have lost a job that I excelled in I was making good money I was having enjoying my job but the reason for loosing my job was because it took me to long to pick up on the stuff they had me doing but once I got it I was the fastest one I sold more lawnmowers in the 1 hour and 30 mins the store was open when I was there they wouldn’t allow use to engage with coustmers who clearely need help I’m not book smart I understand the hard things in life and I was criticize about talking to the people that need help every one I talk to ask me if there was a way to say that I was a exxclent assoscate lost my job because they only looked at the beginning of my work history

  • Melissa

    I have dyslexia and add I’m 31 year old and I had it as a kid and how I go back school I have every hard time reading and writing . Thinking try really hard to read and start for get thing and really bad Headaches. And when around people i dont know what to say. It hard for me but my Daughter have dyslexia and add and Speech proxy and she 11 year old and she can’t even talk right way . I wish I can help her

  • Joan F

    I can’t cut a ribbon to come out the same on both ends. When I try to paint it doesn’t come out right, I can’t paint on one side what I did on the other, & I can’t figure out what’s wrong.

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