Dyslexia Action estimates that up to 10% of the UK population are affected by dyslexia. I am one of them. Choosing a career path which involves creating great content, firing off emails to high profile journalists and publications, as well writing in-depth reports and strategies to be read by clients may seem an odd choice. But to me, it seemed natural.
I was diagnosed with dyslexia in the December of my final year of university. That means I went through all of school, sixth-form, most of university including a placement year working in PR and about half of my dissertation before I was diagnosed. For those keeping score that’s my GCSEs, A-Levels and most of my degree. I decided to get tested whilst on my placement year working in the PR industry, and my inability to pick up basic spelling and grammatical errors in a piece of copy came under the microscope.
Whilst the words sloppy with spelling were frequent in my school reports, the realities are in the professional world these mistakes mean more than a bit of red pen on an essay or school project. Unlike one of the preconceived conceptions about students with dyslexia, I wasn’t given a laptop or any free goodies.
Interestingly, when I told my friends I had been diagnosed they were surprised. Not that I had dyslexia, but I had only just found out. Apparently, quite a few always thought I had it, and assumed I did too and didn’t say anything so as not to offend me. A little heads-up next time would be nice guys!
My story is not uncommon, The Dyslexia Association say that 56% of all people they screen and have diagnostic assessments are adults. The Chief Executive, Dee Caunt, was not diagnosed until she was already working for the charity – someone who had booked an assessment didn’t turn up so Dee went through the process herself.
A lot of people use the word dyslexic off-hand to describe poor spelling. I have more sympathy than anyone with people struggling with words, but there is much more to dyslexia than that.
The NHS define dyslexia as:
“A common type of specific learning difficulty that mainly affects the skills involved in the reading and spelling of words.
“A person with dyslexia has difficulty “decoding” words despite appropriate learning opportunities. This difficulty will also be significantly greater than for other areas of learning.
“Dyslexia should be recognised as a spectrum disorder, with symptoms ranging from ‘mild to severe’. In particular, people with dyslexia have difficulties with:
- phonological awareness
- verbal memory
- verbal processing speed”
These can manifest themselves in a number of ways, including spelling and struggling to remember things. I quite often get letters muddled up in a word and spell things phonetically. Luckily, my team here at Search Labs and those I sit around are a great help.
Dyslexia and the communications industry
As you’d expect with such a wide-ranging condition, there have been lots of studies into dyslexia, including brain imaging scans, which show that many with dyslexia make more use of the right side of their brain – which controls the creative aspects of thought.
Again, referring to the NHS, this means people with dyslexia often:
- Have good verbal skills
- Are able to think laterally and solve problems by making unexpected connections
- Are able to understand the “big picture”
- Have good visual reasoning and awareness skills
These are all traits and characteristics that we look for in potential recruits within our Content & Online PR team.
There are many famous and successful people who have had or do have dyslexia – for example, Leonardo da Vinci, Richard Branson and Steven Spielberg. It hasn’t held them back, and I don’t intend on letting it hold me back either.
How to cope
Dee Caunt says that one of the keys for people coping is to learn as much as possible:
“It’s really important for the individual to find out as much as possible about dyslexia and gain a better understanding of exactly how it affects them. If they feel able to, I’d also encourage them to speak to their colleagues and line manager, so that they too can have a better understanding of your difficulties, but also your strengths.
“From the employer’s point of view, it starts at the very top with understanding the Equality Act, and ensuring appropriate policies and support processes/mechanisms are in place as well as dyslexia awareness training and guidance for line managers.”
No doubt about it, I have been forced to adapt how I work. For example, I write notes about everything to make sure I don’t forget. I might leave a meeting with pages and pages of notes and other people haven’t taken any because they don’t need them.
I am consciously more deliberate when undertaking written work. I might be reading something for a fourth or fifth time to check that my Is are before my Es, and that could be when I notice something else or come up with another possible idea that is better than the previous one.
Organisations such as The Dyslexia Association offer lots of great services for employees and employers such as a confidential helpline proving information and advice, diagnostic assessments, workplace needs assessments, workplace support, assistive technology training and coping strategies teaching.
The reality is, once I knew about my dyslexia I was able to cope a lot better with it. Now I know about it I am better placed to ask for help – for example asking people to proofread more work and emails before pressing the send button. Does it stop me from finding a killer angle or coming up with a great concept to help get my clients fantastic coverage? Absolutely not.
Many people with dyslexia may not consider a career in the communications industry – the fear of writing may put them off. However, for me, the different way of seeing things that we often have makes it a great career choice.