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The business case for support


Conservative estimates are that one in ten New Zealanders is dyslexic, which means that if yours is a medium to large size business, you’ll almost certainly have one or more dyslexic employees on your payroll. Many people with a dyslexic learning difference may not have been formally diagnosed, and often potential employees are unlikely to bring it up in a job interview, fearing it will be misunderstood or seen as a barrier to employment.

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 this, a lifetime of having to learn in environments not suited to their thinking style means that dyslexic employees often develop compensatory characteristics, such as becoming extremely resourceful, hardworking and determined – just the sort of qualities that employers cry out for in the workplace!

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. 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.

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.

If you’re lucky enough to have dyslexic people working for you, this webspace provides a wealth of information on how you can help them manifest their full potential and add value to your business.

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