Please note: The term specific performance difficulties is the general term used in a workplace context to denote dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD.
Dyslexia is often regarded simply as a difficulty with reading and writing, but in fact these literacy difficulties are ‘surface symptoms’ of weaknesses in more fundamental cognitive abilities, i.e. short-term memory, visual processing, phonology. The literacy (and numeracy) difficulties associated with these weaknesses may be severe and obvious; or they may be more subtle, manifesting themselves in general slowness rather than inaccuracy in performing workplace tasks.
Among the difficulties most often reported are:
- reading quickly with good comprehension
- writing memos, emails, letters and reports
- being accurate with numbers
- following and remembering written and spoken instructions
- remembering telephone numbers and messages
- formulating thoughts rapidly enough to take part in discussions
- filing and looking up entries in directories or dictionaries
- meeting deadlines.
The term ‘dyspraxia’ denotes difficulties with co-ordinating movement and judging distance, space and time. General organisational skills and social skills are often also affected.
Workplace difficulties include:
- presenting written work in a neat manner
- analysing complex tables of figures or diagrams
- using office equipment, e.g., calculator, photocopier
- getting lost even in familiar surroundings
- organising work schedules
- keeping papers in order.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
ADHD is characterised by poor concentration, distractibility and procrastination. Impulsivity and physical/cognitive restlessness are often also evident.
People with ADHD will find it hard to work in a noisy or busy environment, e.g., an open-plan office and they may have difficulty following set procedures. They will have difficulty in sitting still and concentrating for long periods and so will find meetings difficult. Their social skills may be poor: they may talk in an unfocused way and be inclined to interrupt people, sometimes blurting out irrelevant or inappropriate remarks. They may also be prone to sudden mood swings and may suffer anxiety or depression.
By the time people with the above problems reach adulthood they may have been struggling for many years with difficulties which have never been recognised or understood. In such cases the original difficulties are likely to be bound up with a constellation of unpleasant, and perhaps debilitating, emotions: anger, confusion, embarrassment, anxiety, depression. Confidence and self-esteem will also be low.
People whose problems have not been recognised are a mystery not only to themselves, but also to those for whom, and with whom, they work. They may be withdrawn and seem unwilling to pull their weight, or they may be oversensitive and aggressive. In general such employees are often difficult to ‘place’: they seem ambitious to progress in their career but are constantly hindered by inefficiency and a baffling inertia.
Positive aspects of specific performance difficulties
People with these difficulties are often motivated to succeed in their work despite their difficulties. They know the meaning of hard work, long hours and determination. They may excel in lateral thinking, and be creative and innovative. They often have good powers of visualisation, excellent practical skills, and an untaught intuitive understanding of how systems work.
A diagnostic assessment should be arranged through one of the main advice organisations or with a private practitioner who has relevant qualifications. A referral to a hospital psychology department is not recommended.
If a dyslexic person’s difficulties are severe enough to impede his/her efficiency in everyday activities, then s/he may be covered by the Equality Act. The employer would then be obliged to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to reduce or remove any substantial disadvantage caused to that person by any of the employment arrangements in force.
For example, care would need to be taken that the employee was not unfairly disadvantaged in such things as: making a job application, interviews, proficiency tests, terms of employment, promotion, benefits, transfer or training opportunities, and dismissal or redundancy procedures. It is also usually appropriate to commission a workplace needs assessment to identify the type and level of support (in the form of skills training, IT support and reasonable adjustments ) that would be useful to the employee in his/her particular job.
Workplace needs assessment
This can be arranged either through the government’s Access to Work scheme or with a private practitioner or organisation specialising in workplace dyslexia consultancy. Please note that Access to Work assessors may not be experts in dyslexia, dyspraxia or ADHD and may not provide comprehensive recommendations or offer a consultancy service to the employer on reasonable adjustments.
Sources of information
For general advice, help and information about dyslexia:
British Dyslexia Association 0845 251 9002 www.bdadyslexia.org.uk
Books which explain how dyslexia and associated difficulties affect working life:
Dyslexia: How to Survive and Succeed at Work by Sylvia Moody. Random House.
Dyslexia in the Workplace: An Introductory Guide by Sylvia Moody and Diana Bartlett. Wiley-Blackwell.
For general advice, help and information about dyspraxia:
Dyspraxia Foundation 01462 459 986 www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk
Dyspraxia UK 01795 531 998 www.dyspraxiauk.com
The following books may be useful:
Living with Dyspraxia by M. Colley. Jessica Kingsley.
That’s the Way I Think – dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD explained. David Grant.
David Fulton Books.
For general advice, help and information about ADHD:
Simply Well Being 020 8099 7671 simplywellbeing.com
The following books may be useful:
How to Succeed in Employment with Specific Learning Difficulties.
Amanda Kirby. Souvenir Press.
Smart but Stuck: Emotions in Teens and Adults with ADHD. Thomas E Browne.
Jossey Bass / Wiley.
Dr Sylvia Moody
© Sylvia Moody. This article may be reproduced with due attribution of authorship.