Dyslexia and dyspraxia

Definitions

Dyslexia and dyspraxia are specific learning difficulties or differences. Most people have fairly even cognitive profiles, but the profile for people with specific learning difficulties is a lot more uneven, with strengths in some areas and unexpected weaknesses in others.  There is no link between dyslexia and intellectual ability. At the University we have people with dyslexia and dyspraxia in academic and support roles.

Dyslexia may be thought of as a discrepancy between written and verbal language abilities.  It may result in slow and inaccurate reading, untidy handwriting or spelling weaknesses.  Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed.  Dyslexia occurs across the full range of intellectual abilities. Dyslexia is best thought of as a continuum, not a distinct category. 

 Dyspraxia is an impairment in the organisation of movement. Dyspraxia affects the planning of what we do and how we do it.  It is associated with problems of language, perception and thought. Difficulties with dyspraxia may include both gross motor movements such as walking and balance and fine motor movements such as handwriting. There may be heightened sensory sensitivity.  People with dyspraxia may appear clumsy and accident-prone and may easily get lost.

Dyscalculia is a specific learning difficulty with carrying out basic mathematical activities, although the individual may understand complex concepts.

Strengths and weaknesses

If you have dyslexia and dyspraxia you may have be good at getting an overview of a situation, in making connections between hitherto unrelated areas, in thinking ‘outside the box’.  You may be skilled at spotting a pattern in information. You may be very creative and good at problem-solving.  You may be a fluent verbal communicator. You may have entrepreneurial skills.

However you may struggle in some areas, such as organisation and time management. 

Many people have developed coping strategies, but these may fall apart under stress.

Getting a diagnosis

If you’ve already got a diagnostic assessment report from when you were a student or from a previous job that is normally sufficient for discussing your support needs, and a further assessment isn't needed.

If you haven’t ever had a formal diagnosis, but suspect that you may have dyslexia or dyspraxia, please contact the Staff Disability Advisor. She can carry out an informal screening.  If she thinks that you have traits of dyslexia or dyspraxia, which are impacting on your ability to carry out your work role, she will contact your department to ask them to fund a diagnostic assessment (around £400). The outcome will be a report for you with a summary for your manager.

You may experience strong emotion at getting the disagnosis. You may find it a relief to know why why you find certain activities difficult, however hard you try. You may feel angry that the expanation comes so late.

Possible support strategies

There is no single strategy that works for everyone.  Try out different strategies to find one that works for you in your role. 

The provision of any support by the University is subject to operational constraints, and is likely to vary dependiing on the nature of the role.

 

 

Workplace environment

  • If you haven’t already done so, start by doing a DSE assessment to ensure that your work station is correctly set up.
  • People with dyspraxia frequently find it difficult to work unless they have stable, supportive seating.  Check whether a foot rest is needed.
  • Consider lighting levels. Most people prefer natural daylight. People with dyspraxia may be particularly sensitive to bright fluorescent lights, with many preferring to work in subdued lighting. 
  • Reduce visual distractions from posters, clutter etc.  Consider using screens to minimise distractions from other people.
  • Consider using headphones to block out noise.
  • Think about whether your workplace layour is efficient and aids workflow.  Where are the printers?  Can everyone access resources without disturbing colleagues?
  • Keep the office tidy: people with dyslexia may be clumsy and fall over and bump into things.
  • Keep the office well organised, so that things can easily be found.  
  • Can older material be discarded or archived?
  • Using a cup with a lid (travel cup) may make reduce spills.
  • Consider whether alternatives are needed to office equipment, such as an electric stapler.

Reading electronic documents

  • Try text-to-speech software, such as Claro or TextHelp - you listen to text at the same time as it is highlighted on your screen.   Try Balabolka, a similar free product.
  • Be an active reader: get an overview from a summary; annotate and query the text; highlight key content or questions.
  • Try changing the font style and size.  People with dyslexia often find it easier to read a sans serif font such as Arial or Calibri, rather than a serif foot such as Times.  The British Dyslexia Association gves further advice on typefaces.
  • If you find a white background uncomfortable, try changing the colour to as soft pastel shade.

If text seems to blur

Text that appears to blur or move around as you read may be a sign of visual stress, also known as Irlen-Mears syndrome. The difficulties are not caused by dyslexia.

  • Change the background colour of your screen: some people find it more comfortable to read against a pastel colour, rather thatn white.
  • Visit a Behavioural Optometrist for an assessment.  They may prescribe eye exercises or coloured lenses. The cost of this is not met by the University.

Proofreading

  • Leave time between finishing writing and proofreading, so that you don’t simply read what you expect the text to say.
  • Try reading aloud, which may help you spot missed words.
  • Use spellcheckers and grammar checkers.
  • Use Text-to-Speech software to listen to your work. That may help you spot problems.
  • Arrange mutual proofreading with colleagues.  It is often easier to spot things in other people’s work

Using a computer

  •  Learning to touchtype will help you work quickly.
  • If you have difficulty using a standard keyboard and mouse, explore alternative keyboards and mice.
  • If your typing speed is very slow, voice recognition software might be an option.
  • Learn keyboard shortcuts to save time.
  • Create templates for common letters and emails.
  • Make conscious choices about how you use the computer: some people find that they get distracted if they have too many windows open at the same time.
  • People working on two documents at the same time may find it useful to use two monitors, so that they can get a good view of both documents at the same time.
  • Think about your training needs: some people learn best by attending a training session, while others like to work through examples at their own pace.

 

Notetaking

Notetaking is likely to be difficult for someone with dyslexia, because of the multitasking that is involved.

  • If your handwriting is slow, would you be faster typing on a laptop?
  • Making a recording of a meeting allows you to check details afterwards.  You would need to get the permission of participants to record. Try a Livescribe pen that records sessions, linking the recording to your handwritten notes or a digital voice recorder.
  • Can you arrange for a meeting participant to make brief notes and circulate them to all participants?

Spelling

  • Always use a spellcheck, since it is easy to mistype words
  • Use Word's built in spellcheck (make sure you set it to UK spelling).
  • Use text-to-speech software for dyslexic-friendly spelling help, which gives the context for words.
  • Use Global Autocorrect software to automatically replace misspellings.
  • Consider using voice recognition software, which converts your speech to text. You will need to spend some time training the software, so this is not a ‘quick fix.’

Organisation

  • Try creating a daily/weekly schedule for routine tasks.  
  • Encourage work rituals, such as checking emails, planning the day, reviewing the day, clearing the desk at the end of the day.
  • Use a notebook, instead of little bits of paper and post-its.  Or keep your notes electronically.
  • Set up a filing system, both physically and on your computer and use it.
  • Is a colleague willing to help you set up systems?
  • If you find it difficult to remember the alphabet, write it on a card for a visual reminder when filing.  Use a coloured card to show where you have taken a file from a drawer.
  • Use colour coding for different kinds of material e.g. red to hold, yellow when waiting for extra information, green to go.
  • You may want to explore using software such as Evernote to keep your notes together.
  • A manager may be able to help with organisation and prioritisation.  They may need to help the individual come up with their own ways of doing things to gain the desire outcome.
  • Organise property e.g. encourage the individual to have one drawer for equipment such as stapler, pens, labels, notebook. Encourage the individual to return equipment to the drawer at the end of the day.  Similarly have a ‘home’ for shared office equipment, which should be returned to its place after use.
  • Use a wall planner.
  • People in more senior roles may benefit from clerical assistance or a PA. Even a small number of hours per week may be very useful.

Planning and structuring

It is difficult to generalise, but here are some suggestions on possible approaches:

  • Use mindmapping software to capture ideas, then organise them visually.
  • Present ideas visually: use flowcharts and diagrams.
  • Explore different tools.   These may vary from simple lists to project management software.
  • Try thinking about information at different levels, to check that your overall structure works: what are the main areas you cover? Then take each area in turn and think about the content. Is it in the most appropriate place?
  • Think about connections and dependencies.
  • Think about timings. Do you need to allow additional time or resources for unforeseen contingencies? 
  • Get feedback from colleagues. Sometimes people with dyslexia make intuitive leaps, or structure their work in ways which are not obvious to other people. 

Forgetfulness

  • Make full use of phone and computer reminders and diary alerts.
  • Carry a phone, voice recorder or notebook to make brief notes and reminders to yourself. 
  • Use Checklists and To Do lists .
  • Use post-its (around your room and on your computer).
  • Ask people to send an email to remind you of short conversations away from your office.
  • Develop a process manual: some science departments use photographs in their Standard Operating Procedures.
  • Keep things such as keys in a particular place, and always return them after use.
  • Try to keep to a regular routine, to build up good habits.
  • Find a way to deal with interruptions.  That might mean taking the time to make a brief note of wher you are, before dealing with the interruption.
  • Try to complete one task at a time, or if this is not possible make a note of where you have got to before doing anything else. 

Concentration difficulties

  • Use visual prompts such as plans, checklists.
  • Break work down into small chunks, and focus on one at a time.  Tick them off when each is completed.
  • You may prefer to alternate different kinds of activities to avoid getting bored.
  • Plan to work in short concentrated bursts, then take a brief break. You will work more efficiently if your brain has time to recharge.
  • Wear headphones to reduce surrounding noise.
  • Consider putting up a ‘Do not disturb’ sign for your colleagues if you are concentrating on something.
  • Consider using privacy screens to reduce visual distraction.
  • Check your email at set times, not continuously.
  • Keep your desk tidy, with only your current work out.
  • Is a quiet room available, that you could book when concentrating on a particular piece of work?
  • In some roles, occasional homeworking is possible.
  • Take regular breaks, avoid working long hours and try to maintain healthy sleeping and eating patterns.
  • You may want to explore whether you can adjust your working hours, so that you are in the office at quieter times, for example starting earlier in the morning.
  • There may be times when you want to arrange for colleagues to answer your phone.

Time management

  • Add alerts to calendar and phone.
  • Work on planning not only what you have to do, but also how long to take. Try to become more aware of how long work actually takes. Set a timer (kitchen timer, phone alarm).
  • Work back from deadlines, and set yourself milestones along the way.  That way you avoid leaving things till the last minute.
  • When interrupted, take a moment to write down what you were doing. That was you can resume your task when the interruption is over.
  • Recognise that some people with dyslexia find working to tight deadlines stressful, and this may increase the likelihood of their making mistakes.  We can’t always avoid working to tight deadlines, but we can try to minimise this by discussing work flows with our managers.
  • Have a wall clock in view.
  • Learn to be assertive with dealing with colleagues.  If someone asks to speak to you when you are in the middle of something, ask if you can arrange to meet later.
  • A manager should be aware that if an individual with a specific learning difference persistently works long hours, or takes work home to ‘catch up’ or fails to complete tasks on time, these may be warning signs that they are not coping.
  • A manager may offer to help with prioritisation.

Communication with colleagues

  • Preparing in advance, and making a note of what you want to say, may make it easier for you to take part in meetings or to make phone calls.
  • If you have difficulty in intervening in a meeting, it may be helpful to alert the Chair beforehand that you wish to speak on a particular point. 
  • Use any visual strategies that you find useful yourself: they may also help other people to follow your ideas.
  • If you are asked for some information and can’t remember it, don’t panic.  Take the enquirer’s contact details and arrange to get back to them with the correct answer.  That gives you time to check the information and be confident that you are giving correct information. 
  • Some people find that sharing information about their dyslexia or dyspraxia with colleagues makes other people more willing to help.
  • If you find it difficult to follow meetings and to pick up on non-verbal cues, you may want to check your understanding with your manager or a work colleague who acts as your buddy.

Training and development

  • Ask your manager or colleagues to demonstrate new tasks, not just tell you.
  • If you are attending a training or development activity, inform the trainer in advance of your needs. 
  • You may want to ask for copies of handouts in advance, so that you can read them in your own time.
  • You may want to ask the trainer not to call on you to write or read or speak in front of the whole group, if you find this stressful.
  • You may want to ask the trainer not to use any icebreaker exercises which rely on the rapid assimilation and retention of information. This is likely to be difficult for someone with short-term memory problems characteristic of dyslexia and dyspraxia.
  • If you are given instructions verbally by a colleague, ask for them to be given in writing too, or create your own record and ask the colleague to check it. Repeat the instructions to check that you have understood them. Ask if you can carry out the task, with your colleague observing you. You may want to do this several times to embed your learning.
  • People with dyspraxia may have difficulty in following directions to an unknown location.  Is it possible to go with a colleague to avoid getting lost?

Finding places

  • Use a sat nav or a mobile phone app to give you directions.
  • Research the route beforehand.  Using Google street view may show you what the building looks like or the Virtual Tour.
  • Information may be available on the University’s Access Guide, which includes photos and maps.