We are pleased to share the following story from the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).
There's a number of neurodiversity awareness campaigns this October, starting with Dyslexia Awareness Week from 02 to 08 October. Dave McPherson CMIOSH blogs about the impact of dyslexia on his life, building a successful career in occupational safety and health and how employers can benefit from divergent thinkers
From an early age I found both reading and writing exceptionally difficult, and despite being top of my class in maths throughout most of primary school, I struggled to write 'workings out', leaving several teachers to voice that I was simply 'lazy' as it was clear that I could do better, if I 'just tried harder'.
I remember being called 'thick', 'stupid' and 'cloth ears' throughout my school years, even after being formally diagnosed with dyslexia at around age 10, which although was becoming a lot better understood and supported by then, clearly still had a way to go!
Fast forward 30 years, and it still takes me a lot longer to read and write than most, and I still struggle with lists, instructions, and retaining information short term, making learning new tasks extremely challenging.
Since leaving school I avoided further education, instead choosing practical skill-based employment. However, due to a lack of academic qualifications I found it very difficult to find work, with my applications being either ignored or rejected.
This changed when I switched careers to construction at 34, taking a job as a labourer. The construction industry seems to value attitude the most, and I worked hard to maintain a positive attitude, giving my best to any task, no matter how small. Supported by the creative problem-solving skills of 'dyslexic thinking', I earned a reputation as someone who got things done, finding solutions where others couldn't. This helped build both my reputation and a professional network meaning that I didn't need to rely purely on academic qualifications and was given opportunities for which my CV alone would never have gotten a look-in.
I have since met many others who’ve struggled with literacy but continue to take courses and qualifications, and it was largely their example, together with working for some really supportive companies, which gave me the confidence to restart my own educational journey, which I’m proud to say is now a life-long commitment.
The main impact dyslexia has on me is that my brain feels like it’s constantly firing off in a million different directions at once, which although excellent for creative or 'out of the box' thinking, can also make concentrating on a single task challenging, especially in busy environments, such as an open office.
Thankfully there is now plenty of advice, support and 'little wins' available, whether dyslexia-friendly fonts, coloured stationary, or even simply quiet spaces away from distractions. But from my experience, nothing beats recognising the strength in diversity, and allocating tasks according to an individual's strengths.
The best dyslexia support I've encountered was the company I work for helping me set up a diverse and balanced team, one where I am supported by people with strong administration skills, and they are supported by my solution-driven approach, leaving our team to play to our strengths, instead of struggling to fight against difficulties.
If I could offer advice to my younger self, it would be this:
Be honest! It takes courage, but don't let fear of embarrassment or failure prevent you reaching out for support. There is more out there than you might realise, and asking for help with dyslexia was one of the best decisions I ever made. The more we normalise reaching out for help, the more accessible it will be for the next wave of people to get support.
Learn about your own strengths and weaknesses and where possible, lean into your strengths; delegating or asking for support on the things you struggle with. There is so much information and advice out there, so take some time to invest in yourself, and find out which method and advice works best for you.
There are some superb companies I’ve worked for over the years, some who are paving the way for the next generation of neurodivergent people to be far better supported than we were, and yet, we still have a long way to go.
If I had to offer advice to a company or organisation, I would say firstly, understand that dyslexia can bring with it just as much strength as it does weakness, although that isn't obvious if it isn't channelled correctly. If you are lucky enough to have dyslexic thinkers as part of your organisation, invest the time and effort into supporting them, instead of tying them up with administrative duties.
In the rapidly evolving and fiercely competitive environments many companies operate in, taking full advantage of the broad range of skills that a diverse workforce can offer will ensure the best possible chance of success for your organisation.
When properly directed and accommodated, a team supported by dyslexia offers a distinct advantage; from creative problem solving, to diversity of thought when managing risks and opportunities, having ‘dyslexic thinking’ in your toolkit is a must!