The challenges of dyslexia in the workplace Taking charge & driving workplace change


The strengths of dyslexia


Conservative estimates are that one in ten New Zealanders is dyslexic, which means dyslexia is both widespread and an important issue to address in the working environment.

If you have dyslexia, you may be more than familiar with the challenges that this can bring. On the flipside, however, dyslexia can offer great creative strengths – although these may often go unrecognised by individuals who have not fully tuned into or appreciated just how unique their thinking style is.


In fact, latest international research shows that dyslexic employees can provide just the sort of out-of-the box thinking that businesses need. While reading and writing can be challenging for dyslexic individuals, big picture skills like problem solving, creativity, high level conceptualisation and original insights can be much higher than in the general population.

US psychologist Dr Linda Silverstein, author of Upside-Down Brilliance, has identified the following as basic abilities that characterise dyslexic or visual-spatial thinking:

  • Able to utilise the brain’s ability to alter and create perceptions

  • Think more often in pictures than in words

  • Think and perceive multi-dimensionally, using all the senses

  • Highly intuitive and insightful

  • Great at hands-on tasks and finding out how things work

  • Highly aware of the surrounding environment, great at multi-tasking

As well as these abilities, a lifetime of having to learn in environments not suited to your thinking style has probably made you extremely resourceful, hardworking and determined – just the sort of qualities that employers’ value.

As we have outlined in the employers section, that’s probably why Yale’s Dr Sally Shaywitz, has observed that “dyslexics are often represented at the higher levels of a range of professions and are frequently found as leaders in such diverse areas as science, medicine, law, business and writing/literature”.

It might also explain why dyslexic entrepreneurs like Richard Branson, Charles Schwab, John Chambers and William Hewlett have all managed to succeed, despite problems with basic reading and writing skills. Creative stars like Tom Cruise, Keira Knightley and Robin Williams as well as historical figures like Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill were all dyslexic – showing the potential for achievement that dyslexia can bring.

Here in New Zealand, innovators like Weta Workshop’s Richard Taylor and maverick motorcycle designer, the late John Britten have harnessed dyslexia’s gifts to make their mark internationally. You can find out more about these and other successful New Zealanders with dyslexia here.

New Zealand has always valued innovation, entrepreneurship and good old Kiwi ingenuity, but in the near future these qualities – often associated with dyslexic thinking – will become even more valuable to employers.

UK research shows that 35% of US entrepreneurs and 20% of UK entrepreneurs are dyslexic – with Sir Richard Branson a famous example. Internationally, leading edge research is focused on the contributions dyslexics can make to workplace and economy. Leading-edge US researcher Tom West argues that humanity is now at the beginning of a major transition, moving from an old world based mainly on words and numbers to a new world where high-level work in all fields will eventually involve insights based on the display and manipulation of complex information using moving computer images. Properly harnessed, he says dyslexic individuals will thrive in this environment, acting as “engines of economic development”.

West, himself diagnosed as dyslexic at the age of 41, has been involved in developing computer graphic and visualization tools to assess these talents, and also looked at patterns of talents seen over generations of families that show dyslexia mixed with high degrees of success in the arts and sciences. He believes that it is time to learn from the distinctive strengths of dyslexics, rather than just focusing on their weaknesses and failures.

The key to making your dyslexia work for you lies in understanding how it affects your working life, and working with your employer to give yourself the best chance of success. The following pages contain guidance on taking responsibility for your dyslexia, and making the most of the talents and gifts it can bring.

Back to top

©Copyright Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand. All rights reserved.
Content may be reproduced with permission of DFNZ, contact