Dyslexia is an underlying inefficiency with processing language and information. Commonly, there are difficulties with short-term memory, organisation and literacy skills. There may be difficulties with the organisation and co-ordination of physical movement.

The term ‘dyslexic’ is generally used to describe people whose poor literacy skills present a marked contrast to their general ability to learn and to reason. However, most people with dyslexia find that their difficulties are not confined to dealing with written English; they may also have weaknesses in, for example, memory, sequencing ability, visual orientation, hand-eye co-ordination and organisational skills. These weaknesses affect efficiency at work in a number of ways, as detailed in the examples below:

A dyslexic person may find it hard to follow written instructions, to read quickly and efficiently, and to write memos, letters and reports in clear accurate English.

Dyslexic people may have difficulty in correctly remembering telephone numbers, messages and instructions; they may find it hard to take notes or recall what was said at meetings.

Poor sequencing ability makes it hard for a dyslexic person to file documents in the correct sequence, to write down numbers correctly, to approach tasks in an orderly and logical way.

Dyslexic people may easily get lost in strange surroundings, or lose their bearings even in familiar places. They may have difficulty in dealing with complex visual arrays, such as maps, charts or tables of figures.

Poor hand-eye co-ordination (sometimes termed ‘dyspraxia’) can result in slow and untidy handwriting, poor presentation of written work or figures, and inaccurate keying on a word processor, calculator or telephone.

Some dyslexic people struggle to find the right words and to express their ideas clearly, especially if put ‘on the spot’. Others are able to find words easily, but may talk in an over-elaborate and disorganised way, especially in meetings or on the telephone.

Dyslexic employees may be poorly organised: they may miss appointments, get the times and places of meetings wrong, fail to meet deadlines, and generally live and work in a muddled or disorganised way.

Dyslexic people have to deal not only with their own frustration about their various inefficiencies but also with other people’s lack of understanding of their difficulties. As a result they can often feel a mixture of unpleasant emotions – despair, anger, embarrassment, anxiety, lack of confidence – and, as a result, may sometimes behave in an aloof, defensive or aggressive way.

There is no reason why dyslexic (or dyspraxic) employees should not improve their efficiency in all the areas described above. What is required is a detailed assessment of the difficulties and a comprehensive training and management programme. This should typically include advice on IT support, and help with literacy skills, work-related reading and writing, memory and comprehension, visuo-spatial skills, sequencing, work organisation, efficient work methods for specific tasks, oral interaction and dealing with emotions.

Dyslexic people who try to succeed in their work despite their difficulties know the meaning of hard work, long hours, and determination. They may also be very resourceful in finding ways of dealing with workplace tasks. Many excel, for instance, in lateral thinking: they are creative and innovative, and are aware of links and associations that may escape the more linear thinker; they often have good powers of visualisation, excellent spatial and practical skills, and an untaught intuitive understanding of how systems work.