On Neurodiversity Celebration Week (15-21 March 2021), Design and Experience Director Danny Seals shares his personal insights on the four qualities needed to support dyslexic people with their written communication.16th Mar 20211 comment CraigRJD/iStock
I have always been lucky enough to have a support network from a young age, be it my brothers, parents and friends growing up, however at the time I can safely say it didn’t feel like a support network.
If anything it felt like a group of nitpicking folk who would drive me crazy about my spelling and reading, always flagging up my errors and constantly saying I need to try harder. How were they to know that no matter how hard I tried, I wouldn’t be able to fix it… don’t get me wrong, at this time dyslexia wasn’t ever on their radar.
While it’s near impossible for a non-dyslexic to understand the world through a dyslexic’s eyes, there are some universal feelings that everyone can relate to.
It’s only in the last 15 years that my mindset has changed on this group of people. No longer do I see them in such a negative way. If anything they are hugely important to me and make my life a little easier when it comes to doing grown up stuff like writing – these people now have a place near and dear to my heart.
My support network consists of around five different people and a group of selected tools that work for me 80% of the time, which I will come to later.
When reflecting on the people within my support network, I can think of four attributes they have by the bucket load. Whether you’re dyslexic and looking for your own support network or you’re an L&D professional, people manager or team member looking to better support a fellow colleague with dyslexia, here’s what’s needed:
While it’s near impossible for a non-dyslexic to understand the world through a dyslexic’s eyes, there are some universal feelings that everyone can relate to. These include frustration, anger and a general feeling of being overwhelmed, which are all the emotions and feelings I experience when writing.
In the past I have made the mistake of asking people who couldn’t empathise with why I was feeling all of these things or why my spelling was so bad. I quickly realised these are the people not to add in my support network.
However, at the opposite end of that spectrum are the angels that do get it. For example when I am still up at 10pm writing something I started at 1pm, they understand why I am frustrated, why I can talk about this stuff all day long but to write about it is a nightmare. They also allow me to vent and, more importantly, they understand and share my feelings as best they can.
Humour is a big one for me, not only because it is one of my personal coping mechanisms with dyslexia but because sometimes when you’re frustrated, after reading your 2,000 word article for the 50th time, the people who are in your support network will see that and address it in the best way possible with laughter and humour. I also find it works well when they are fed up of reading the same article for the 50th time too.
A dyslexic’s support network needs patience and a lot of it. When proofing any written work, the chances are what they are seeing is a lot of made up words with no punctuation or maybe the punctuation is being used like it’s going out of fashion a,bit,like this.
Their skills to not only navigate through this minefield but also come out of it with some form of story (and actually sing your praises) is something you only see in angels.
They also need patience when self-doubt kicks in for the person with dyslexia. There’s been many a time I’ve handed over my next masterpiece to my support network to have them read and edit, then edit again.
This is the big one for a few different reasons. Not only do I need to trust that my support network won’t laugh when they read my post, I also need to trust them to be honest and tell me if what I’ve written is bad.
Not everyone is open about their dyslexia and I sometimes think this is half the battle. In day-to-day life dyslexia can be invisible to others, so to open up and trust that the people you go to for help are the trustiest kind is such a huge deal.
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So the key to helping a dyslexic colleague or friend thrive with their written work revolves around empathy, humour, patience and trust.
Of course, there are other tips and tricks that can be useful for those with dyslexia when it comes to actually getting the words written down.
People with dyslexia may respond better to different page colours and so should consider changing their screen/background colour to suit this. They also may find this free dyslexic font tool helpful too. While it doesn’t catch everything, Grammarly is also a really helpful tool to install for spelling and grammar checking. Another option is to use a dictation tool as an alternative to typing.
But while these tools are helpful, a support network is paramount to overcoming self-doubt, boosting confidence and empowering a dyslexic person to more frequently put pen to proverbial paper.
For further information to support adults with dyslexia visit Dyslexic.org.