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 November 30, 2020 from Davis Dyslexia Association International. Dyslexia the Gift website:

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  • 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 !

  • Laura

    I have just been diagnosed with dyslexia.
    its funny because I never thought I had it; I have always had issues with numbers; I am horrible for reversing them if I am writing down a phone number or trying to do a simple math equation quickly; I need to slow it down and take my time so I can get it right.

    Growing up I use to see a speech therapist as I had a speech impediment; I was smart but somethings I just couldn’t understand to save my life and I remember the frustration it gave me; one was trying to learn French.

    I have a fast mind and I sometimes feel like my thoughts are bubbling over faster than I can get them out; so I have been known to steam roll people.

    I am very creative and have always been good at art, sports, music and drama and I really liked Biology and Chemistry growing up; but once it came to balancing in chemistry I failed horribly.

    I am also ambidextrous; not within writing but with everything else I am equally good with my left hand as well as my right.

    I now work in IT as a coordinator and help support the CIO; only problem is I am not meticulous enough for him and I make small errors; nothing worth losing my job over; but it is annoying to him and with him now counting my mistakes he sees them adding up; I have noticed myself making more mistakes recently and I almost feel like its because I am so hyper aware that I shouldn’t make any that I end up doing it anyway.

  • Cat

    I have always struggled little things like putting my shoes away in the box and making sure the lid fitted so lit went down is one example I only got it once my husband said think of Australia down under so the heel was on the bottom it’s maddness I struggle to say certain words and my attention to detail is rubbish .
    And ofcouse my spelling can be tricky I always double check but ofcouse I can’t see the mistake I’ve made like sending out an email it bounce back because I’ve written it down one way but on email it be diffrent it’s always hard work .

    But I am a great people person I sale loads and that’s on me being me so where life has been tougher harder on computer and money being I understand it ,
    But have great realtionships and very arty so I guess we can’t be awesome at all things at least now kids are being checked earlier so get a better start in life as my school parents hadn’t a clue I was told I was naughty time waster if only someone took time to find out why

  • Joyce T

    Teachers believed my son was dyslexic however, when tested you did not test low enough to be in special Ed. I noticed something even more disturbing as a child. When I’d point out how he misunderstood a sequence of events or his misunderstanding of a paragraph he read, he quickly became irritated confused and was not able to see it for what it was. To adjust to it, he has formed a pattern of self protection by changing his interpretation, sometimes calling others liars, or attacking the person making the correction. In all these fears of denial of the truth, he also has claimed himself to be the biggest con-artist as a protection that no one else can find him out. I contribute most of his problems to his confusion of REASONING. His reasoning is exactly the same as seeing letters in the wrong sequence. He is now middle aged and have been through an extremely difficult time from adolescent to adulthood. He is calming down enough to do some side jobs that he is very good at. My heart goes out to him and I worry about him everyday. His two older brothers are very successful and has been dupped by him yet is always looking out for him and loves him as I do. He is clever, personable, can be the greatest comedian, highly intelligent, with a good heart.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      I’m sorry that your son has had such a hard life. The pattern you describe is something that we see quite commonly, because dyslexia is more than simply a problem with reading. The disorientation that is part of dyslexia does affect perceptions of time and sequence.

      I’d note that the Davis program will help at any age; however, the person does need to be motivated on their own to work with a facilitator.

  • Steve D.

    I’m a sixty years old male and have issues with learning in regards to how my brain processes information. The lack of short term memory in written sentences that I read has always been a issue. It’s like something gets lost from one side of my brain to the other when I try to formulate a multitude of different types of problem solving. It wasn’t until early adulthood did I realize that I even had learning difficulties even though I knew I was a little slower than the other kids in school. I did stutter slightly as a child. With ones and zeros, my mind gets confused very easily in this digital world. I’m more of a analog thinker like a smooth sine wave. I’m very successful in my career as an instrument technician in the petrochemical industry, but I could only go so far because of how numbers gets twisted around so easily, and also my lack of memory. With the above questions, it’s safe to say that I have 26 of the 54 questions within myself.

    This story happened to me last week and it’s absolutely crazy. I was staying in a hotel for five days, and on the forth day I went up to the counter for assistance and said that my room number was 1522. The lady behind the desk jokingly shot back saying that the hotel doesn’t have a fifteenth floor. Oops…I thought. I then I told her my mistake and that I meant room number 1255. This is the crazy part. When I visioned the numbers my head, I noticed a similarity. I then wrote (properly) both sets of numbers very large on a piece of paper and then looked at them in the mirror. What I found was amazing, but it wasn’t until I flipped them upside down did I go into shock. Please, I’m asking you to try this experiment out for yourself to see what I was somehow seeing in my mind. Hmmm, what the heck is going on with me? I don’t remember visually seeing 1522 before I spoke, I just said those numbers out without even thinking.

  • Teacher

    I have not yet consulted a doctor but I believe I am also dyslectic. I am an English Teacher, My major is English bit there are a lot of times I find it hard to spell simple words like little, vegetables, and the like. I graduated with honors but my co teacher now thinks I am stupid just because I commited some omission on my spellings…. I am so frustrated by it that I just don’t want to talk with them anymore, because I know they are talking about me behind my back. But I just let them.

    • Mariana D

      Hey, I was diagnosed with dyslexia since I was a kid. Please don’t let something like spelling ruin your self-esteem as a teacher. Remember that it’s okay that we can’t spell…I just had to look up the word remember., but we have great intuition and we can handle people! Out brains just work a little differently. Don’t sweat what others think! You do you. 🙂

      • bec

        we are great teachers 🙂 don’t worry about it. It means you will be creative, nice and have the ability to help kids that are struggling. You can be the champion teacher that kids remember. Its all about the kids, not the sods that think they are better then you.
        They are on the same salary. just saying. 🙂

  • 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.

    • christina

      Honestly, i identify with this so much. My english was ok in high school while my maths was absolutely awful. I’ve always had terrible memory with names, numbers and just in general. In terms of part time jobs, i used to hate going in.. in fear that i would be consistently berated for doing certain tasks too slow and not remembering anything when i’d have things explained to me. I’d always hate asking for help thinking i should know what i’m doing by now. I’ve never been diagnosed with dyslexia however one of my lecturers did urge me to get a screening done. This did take take a blow to my self-esteem, it made me feel like the work i submitted must’ve been so bad that the possibility of me having dyslexia wasn’t so far fetched. However, while it might feel like it’s hindering all aspects of your life, it’s very common and can be of use in other fields as i’ve found, notably creative? the experiences you’ve encountered sound so similar to mine so you are defiantly not alone. I should note i study psychology at a university in London, when i was a lot younger i never thought i would ever stay in academia because i ALWAYS felt like the slowest child in all my classes however i am here and making progress so if anyone is struggles with dyslexia and feels down about just know it doesn’t define or make you any less of person!

  • 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

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