Mike Styles

By Mike Styles, National Specialist Literacy and Numeracy, Primary ITO

For many people with learning differences like dyslexia, the best way forward is via the services provided by the adult and community education sector.

Two central tenets of ACE Aotearoa are lifelong learning and learners who have not had previous success in their education experience. Sadly, many adults with dyslexia do not engage in lifelong learning because their school experience was embarrassing and traumatic.

Firstly, let us sort out the terms. Dyslexia is one of a number of learning differences that have been recognised, along with dyscalculia, dyspraxia, ADHD, dysgraphia and Irlen’s syndrome. Because these learning differences often occur in combination, a collective term neuro-diversity is used interchangeably with dyslexia and other learning differences.

Dyslexia is the most common of the learning differences. The defining feature is a difficulty with text. Reading, writing and, in particular, spelling are very challenging for those who are dyslexic. Dyslexia affects all languages, cultures and ethnicities, and affects males and females equally. Dyslexia is genetically determined and lasts a lifetime. The differences that exist for dyslexic people occur because their brains are wired differently. The most important fact to keep in mind about dyslexia and the other learning differences is that they are a difference – not a disability. People with dyslexia include some of the most intelligent people on the planet. Some successful Kiwis with dyslexia include Sir Richard Taylor from Weta Workshops and John Britten who invented the Britten Motorcycle.

The positive side of dyslexia

Dyslexia often comes with many positive features. Many of these positive features could contribute significantly to the productivity of the workforce and to society at large.

People with dyslexia often show:

  • Superior visual spatial and 3-D skills. (Hence many are artists)
  • Amazing ability to see relationships and patterns that others do not see.
  • Great creative and innovative skills
  • The ability to see the big picture. They are able to resist getting bogged down with details.
  • Great empathy, collaboration and cooperative skills and often make great team members. Many are great at “reading people”.
  • A tendency to be great entrepreneurs. Many of the world’s richest billionaires are known to be dyslexic.

Tell-tale signs of dyslexia

People with dyslexia and related conditions have been shortchanged in the education system and often ridiculed in the workplace, so they will have developed a range of strategies to hide their circumstances. Approaching them will require sensitivity Neuro-diverse people may show the following tell-tale signs:

  • They will be reluctant to read or write in public. Often, they will say “I’ll take this home and do it tonight”.
  • They will often get a partner, wife/husband or other relative to do anything that requires writing.
  • They will often be good at physical activities – but poor at paperwork tasks.

“Being diagnosed with dyslexia at age 60 was like the last piece of a puzzle in a tremendous mystery that I have kept to myself for all of these years.” Steven Spielberg

How do learning differences impact on adults?

Because adults with dyslexia struggle with text they will be underemployed in their workplace. Adults with dyslexia will shy away from promotions because they do not want to expose the fact that they have difficulties with reading writing and spelling. They will shy away from answering the phone and are at risk of making mistakes because there is so much reading and writing involved in most jobs. In short most adults with dyslexia do not achieve to their potential.

At the other end of the spectrum dyslexic employees often do not fully understand their own special skillset and the full potential of their special skills is not realised. Many have a range of special skills that would be valuable in the workplace – if only they were given a chance to use them.

Many adults with dyslexia do not get as far as getting a job. The rate of employment for people with a disability is much lower than the figures for regular adults. Dyslexia/neuro-diversity is not a disability but often neuro diverse people are grouped together with disabled people for statistical reasons.

Sadly, the occurrence of mental illness, depression, anxiety and suicide is much higher for neuro-diverse adults. Even sadder the rates of dyslexia and other neuro-diversity are very high in prison inmates, with around 50% of inmates showing up as positive for dyslexia.

Ako Aotearoa research project:

“Evaluating the Effectiveness of Support interventions for adult dyslexic learners in multiple tertiary learning environments”

The Primary ITO has just completed a national research project funded by Ako Aotearoa to discover how best to support adults with dyslexia to achieve in tertiary education and in the workplace.

Primary ITO has developed a wrap-around support programme to support dyslexic adults achieve to their potential. The research project evaluated the support programme and explored what additional supports would provide the best environment to give adults with dyslexia the best chance to succeed.

The six steps to providing an effective support regime are:

  • A screening to determine the presence of dyslexia.
  • Information about dyslexia – both challenges and good things.
  • Support for the person to own their dyslexia – as opposed to hiding it.
  • Information for all the people that interact with the dyslexic person, including tutors, employers, work colleagues and family members.
  • Accessing the wide range of supportive technologies that can assist dyslexic adults with the things they find difficult.
  • A plan to assist the dyslexic person better understand themselves and to take charge of their own circumstances. Recent research shows that successful dyslexic adults develop a range of useful skills to guarantee their own success. These skills can be coached for the dyslexic person.

How can we assist learners who have dyslexia?

Many of the best ways to help dyslexic learners are simple and inexpensive. Consider the following:

  • Let them know it is OK to be dyslexic. It is a difference – not a disability.
  • Have a personal conversation with each one to find out what specific things they find difficult. Each adult with dyslexia is different.
  • Provide as many opportunities as possible for kinaesthetic and oral activities, as opposed to lots of writing and text.
  • Arrange for them to have assistance for things like proof reading.
  • Encourage them to use technological aids like Dragon Naturally Speaking, or a C-Pen Reading Pen.

This article was published in the ACE Aotearoa Summer Newsletter 2018.