First Day At Work As A Dyslexic
This is a follow-up to a piece I wrote a few months ago, The Dyslexic Writer | It Never Stopped Me. I Always Had A Book To Hand which I wrote just after losing my job and accepting that I was dyslexic and the effects it has had on my life.
Recently, I started a new job as a communications officer, a role still largely focussed on writing and hence open to me making spelling mistakes and getting things wrong again. But the difference this time was that I told my line manager about being dyslexic straightaway. My new resolution to stop hiding from being dyslexic means that I am now being totally open about it, so telling him about it was the best thing I could have done.
I got in there early and told him in our first one-to-one meeting. It was a bit difficult to actually spit it out, but he took it really well, which to be honest, I was expecting him to. I’ve had a lot of time to read and think about dyslexia and how to disclose it over the last couple of months and I can’t really see anyone taking something like that badly, and if they did I wouldn’t want to be working with them anyway.
One of the principal issues with dyslexia isn’t just the obvious problems with reading and writing, it’s the feelings of shame that go along with not being able to read.
I recently watched the TED Talk, The True Gifts of a Dyslexic Mind in which Dean Bragonier talks about just that.
The part that really stood out to me was when he said that in a certain study, it was revealed that people who couldn’t read felt the same level of shame as people who had engaged in incest. Now, that’s pretty severe, a lot worse than the shame felt by a dyslexic with bad spelling who stumbles over words when reading aloud. But the idea is the same. Not being able to read is embarrassing in society, and as a dyslexic, you feel some of that shame when you fail to read properly in front of people, or you can’t remember how to spell a short word while someone is watching you.
In previous jobs I’ve had, I’ve been called out on typos and spelling mistakes, and I felt really bad when it happened. I felt like I was being judged as lazy or stupid, or someone who just didn’t care about his job. But the problem is bigger than that; when someone finds a mistake, you feel stupid and angry at yourself for an error you should have picked up on, and as the situation goes on, you don’t just start to resent yourself, but also the person who is picking up on your errors. This leads to bad relationships at work and, as I know from personal experience, the dyslexic person withdrawing from work and coming across as uninterested and not caring about work.
I’m going to make sure this doesn’t happen again. By getting my dyslexia out there in the open, I no longer feel judged when I leave a small mistake, and that is what has made my time so far in this role such a welcome relief. The other day, while discussing something with my manager I had left the word “source” in my copy, which he saw and straightaway said, “don’t you mean ‘sauce’?”. To which, I simply reply “yup”, there was no need to pretend I was a bit tired or distracted when I wrote it. I could just admit to it and accept his help, rather than feeling like he was judging me.
I’ve been reading about dyslexia recently and I’ve come to the conclusion that the only insurmountable problem dyslexia can cause at work is when you don’t tell people about it. In fact, I think disclosing dyslexia at work can actually work to your advantage. Like any disability, dyslexia requires you to work to overcome it, and that gives you the opportunity to show how dedicated you are. When I told my new manager about being dyslexic, I didn’t say “I have this problem, so I’m probably going to leave mistakes in my work and when it comes to reading I’m going to take a lot longer to get through stuff”.
Disclosing my dyslexia gave me the opportunity to show how proactive I am, to let him see how I overcome problems I’m confronted with. After telling him I was dyslexic I went on to talk about all of the online spell check programmes I use to marginalise errors in my work, how I use a text-to-speech site to read back my work to me as a last-line in proofreading, how I use a green perspex filter to improve reading speed offline.
Dyslexia is a learning disability but once you realise that and overcome it, it’s a learning advantage. We have to try so much harder to keep up that we learn new and better ways to do things.
And that’s why dyslexia shouldn’t be seen as a disadvantage anymore, it an advantage, it’s my superpower now.
This new attitude will take some work, and I’m going to need to undo years of hiding from it and believing that not seeing those mistakes was my fault or that somehow I could have done something about it if only I’d tried harder. But I feel positive about it and excited about my possibilities now that I have realised that spelling things wrong doesn’t mean I’m stupid.
One of the ways I’m hoping to face up to having dyslexia, and make sure it doesn’t mess up my career anymore is by contacting GroOops, the Dyslexia Awareness Counselling service. If you do want to speak to a dyslexia counsellor, they are available through the Access to Work programme funded by the government.
As always, the Dyslexic Writer is a massive fantasy and sci-fi nerd and is hungry for your manuscripts. So if you want to get them published, send them over and let’s see what we can do.