Dr Austin Tay




Dyslexia is described by the British Dyslexia Association as


‘a combination of abilities and difficulties which affect the learning process in one or more of reading, spelling and writing. Accompanying weaknesses may be identified in areas of speed of processing, short- term memory, sequencing, auditory and/or visual perception, spoken language and motor skills. It is particularly related to mastering and using written language, which may include alphabetic, numeric and musical notation.’


This learning difficulty, although not readily discovered, is becoming quite prevalent in the stages of a growing child. Bells only start to ring when parents or educators begin to realise their children or students do not fit into the mainstream educational curriculum, showing signs of restlessness, hyperactivity, slowness on the uptake of learning such as reading and spelling. This is when a child is then referred to an educational psychologist for an assessment. The degree of dyslexia varies and often some form of coping strategies will be recommended to assist a dyslexic child. While it can be argued that a dyslexic child will have a tougher learning curve as compared to their peers, this does not mean they will be lagging behind. In reality, many have become successful individuals in their own ways like Sir Richard Branson, the late Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.


As an industrial organisational psychologist, I am always intrigued by how that would mean for a dyslexic adult in the workplace. This interest stems out from my own experience as a dyslexic adult. Surely, when children are assessed as dyslexic, appropriate arrangements will be accommodated such as to provide additional time for them to take examinations to ensure that they are not disadvantaged. However, in the working world, accommodation might not even exist and provided. My suspicions could be that most adults are often not aware that they are dyslexic. Even if they knew, the fear of telling their employers might, in their views, jeopardise their career. So then what help can be given to dyslexic adults? As dyslexic is a form of disability in a way, perhaps dyslexic adults can rely on legislations that prevent discrimination at work such as the Equality Act 2010 in the UK. However, such protection does not seem to be available, especially in the discrimination legislation, in most Asian countries. This I suspect could result in talent being disadvantaged because organisations are not obliged to treat and assess them on equal standing as those who are not dyslexic. On the other hand, the fear of letting the prospective employer know about one’s dyslexia could also be equally problematic because, without proper support, individuals who are dyslexic will have to hide about their condition and will be putting more effort to achieve their work.


Hence, these dyslexic adults will try to cope with work using some form of strategies that enable them to cover any traces of their dyslexia.  How about those who do not know that they are dyslexic? These people might be going through a vicious cycle in their career and not knowing why they cannot excel even when they have tried their utmost effort in doing so. I am not saying that dyslexic people need to be given privileges but believe that there is a need to create an awareness in the general working community that there are, among them, people who are struggling and might need help.


In a turbulent time like now where economic uncertainties see the departure of talents either by redundancy or talents choosing to leave, I suspect in the latter scenario, that a small percentage of those who choose to leave could be dyslexic. While I am not able to say in certainty the reasons for their departure, but as stated earlier, if someone who is dyslexic and knows that no legislation protects him from discrimination in the workplace because of their learning difficulty, an easy choice could be leaving rather than raising the issue with the organisation.


What then can organisations do to ensure that they do not miss out on this group of talent? Be aware of what dyslexia is and have a dyslexic assessment incorporated in the process of selection and recruitment. When an organisation finds out that a potential employee is dyslexic, appropriate support should be provided to ensure the individual excel in the work but not to pass such talent by because of his learning difficulty.

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