Embracing Neurodiversity: Lessons from the Dyslexia Show

I recently attended the Dyslexia Show at the Birmingham NEC, an incredible experience that I highly recommend for parents, educators, and adults with Dyslexia. The two-day show included multiple CPD sessions on topics such as advocacy, self-development, and thriving with Dyslexia. This year, I focused on sessions addressing my Neurodiversities and providing actionable strategies for self-acceptance. By helping myself, I can better assist others. Two inspiring speakers were Natalie Brooks, founder of Dyslexia in Adults https://www.linkedin.com/in/natalie-brooks-bbaba6a4 , and Armalle McGeachie, founder of Girls with Dyslexia https://www.instagram.com/girlswithdyslexia.

Focus on high-value tasks, not low-value ones

Natalie Brooks at The Dyslexia Show

Natalie’s seminar was entitled “How to be Confident with Adult Dyslexia,” which is undoubtedly something I want to achieve and haven’t managed for most of my life. One of the many takeaway points resonating with me was to “Focus on high-value but ‘easy to us’ tasks. Do the big thinking strategic stuff instead.”

Many small low-value tasks require strong Executive Functioning, like spelling, timekeeping, and prioritising, which cause me stress. The seminar emphasised using systems to manage these “low-value” tasks, many of which I already had in place. But also, not fretting too much about them. In the grand scheme of things, they might be the metric that others measure us, but actually, they aren’t that important. She said to think to yourself if you mess up, “I am more than this moment and won’t be defined by this…I refuse to be defined by my worst mistakes.”

I use Trello to keep track of everything I need to do (thanks to Louise Purvis https://www.linkedin.com/in/louise-purvis-21527a54, the Trello Queen, for training me over two years ago and helping me develop strategies.) and various assistive technologies such as Grammarly, speech-to-text, and text-to-speech software. These tools alleviate some pressure and reduce worry about making mistakes, allowing me to focus on tasks I enjoy and excel at, which also have high value to others.

If I am not using so much mental and emotional energy in trying so hard not to make mistakes or forget things, I am freer to do things that I enjoy doing and can do well. These things are of high value to the outside world but are easier for me to do than others. Realising this is a common theme not just for me but so many others was empowering.

Dyslexic Strengths

Much is written about us being creative, big-picture thinking, and thinking outside of the box. But what does that actually mean?

Natalie said that the things successful people who are Neurodiverse have in common are that they have self-acceptance of their challenges and clearly define their strengths and the value of them. We need to see the value we have in being different and what we bring to the table – AKA dyslexic strengths and #dyslexicthinking. That got me thinking about my Dyslexic strengths and #DyslexicThinking.

I’ve spent some time thinking about what I can do well and even better than most people. This level of introspection proved to be quite challenging. It wasn’t easy because we’re not really used to praising ourselves. After a while, I came up with a list, and even though it might not cover everything important to those I work with, it’s a first try. I plan to keep checking in on this list, refining it as I continue to grow and evolve.

My strengths and abilities include the following:

  • Compassion and empathy for others and the ability to identify with their issues.
  • Very enthusiastic about everything I do, including practical and visual maths, supporting dyslexic and dyscalculic pupils, promoting the use of manipulatives, and so much more. If I believe in something, I don’t hold back; you will know about it!
  • The ability to explain complex concepts in easy-to-understand ways, using multiple approaches until it makes sense.
  • A talent for storytelling and spontaneously recalling relevant anecdotes to illustrate a point.
  • I can pivot when teaching an idea. Many teachers or trainers will plan a lesson and must stick to delivering it. I don’t; I can pivot instantly and quickly depending on the child’s reaction. I do still plan, but I can create ideas and activities instantly on the fly; I don’t find this hard. Apparently, others do. This makes me an excellent 1-2-1 private tutor.
  • Strong intuitive skills enable me to make accurate judgments or assessments without all the information at hand.
  • I can identify patterns and connections effectively, problem-solving and understanding complex systems that others may overlook. Come up with unusual solutions to problems in ways others can’t.
  • Loyalty, I am fiercely loyal and will fight your corner!
  • An ability to provide unique help and support where others may have fallen short.
  • A reputation for giving excellent advice.
  • I developed strong resilience, enabling me to bounce back and persevere.

Small changes can make a big impact

Armalle McGeachie at the Dyslexia Show

Armalle’s seminar was titled “What my Neurodiversity has taught me about company culture and what underpins all great work environments.” Although I no longer work in a corporate or school setting, I was curious to learn what should have been happening during those previous periods of my life for employees like me who are Neurodiverse. More importantly, I wanted to know how I could improve my small company’s culture, especially as it grows, and how I could better support myself and others working for me or with me.

She discussed how numerous small changes, each minimal, can add up to create a significant difference in workplace culture. Companies don’t need to invest in costly, flashy programs to make the working lives of their Neurodiverse employees more manageable.

Reflecting on her remarks later, I thought of several current strategies that make a difference. For example, is it a big deal to provide interview candidates with the questions they’ll be asked in advance? It might not be the traditional approach, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen. This minor adjustment can help those with anxiety or difficulty in social situations shine during an interview, demonstrating their suitability for the role. The interview should measure the skills and attributes needed for the position, not their ability to exaggerate and impress. Of course, some roles require those skills, but others, such as computer engineering, do not.

A good friend of mine who works for the MOD and runs apprenticeships has their recruitment process as ND-friendly as possible; by doing this, they are actually recruiting young people whose skills properly match the role.

Another point she raised was about offering flexible working hours with adaptable start and finish times. This made me realise that, aside from customer-facing roles with fixed hours, most jobs should be able to incorporate some element of flexibility. This can help parents juggle childcare, school drop-offs, and pickups, resulting in a more productive employee who arrives at work composed and focused.

Taking flexible working hours to an extreme is the example of my son. He has been working for a small start-up company since graduation. As a Neurodiverse individual, he finds many workplace practices restrictive. Like many young ND men, he tends to be sort of nocturnal. However, his company allows him to work any hours within a 24-hour period as long as he completes the work and the required number of hours. He works as a software developer, mainly from home, making this arrangement entirely possible and to no detriment of anyone or anything. This small accommodation by his company has enabled him to hold down the job reliably and thrive in it. If he had been forced to start work at a fixed early hour, it would have caused numerous difficulties, such as lateness or an inability to wake up enough to code effectively.

Positive growth mindset

I have already delved many times into the topic of a Growth Mindset, so hearing her perspective on why companies need one and how those that lack it can be difficult to work for was intriguing. She explained that excellent company cultures are characterised by openness to change. Interestingly, she mentioned that often the owners or senior company members, who might also be Neurodiverse entrepreneurs, embrace this forward-thinking and open-to-suggestions mindset. However, middle managers may prefer sticking to traditional methods. As a result, her words of caution were that even if a company appears to be ND-friendly in its marketing and recruitment efforts, the reality on the ground might not always align with its stated policies.

Disclosing, or not, your diagnosis?

Armalee concluded the seminar with a Question & Answer session. A crucial question raised was: Should you disclose your ND diagnosis to a potential employer? As expected, this proved to be a contentious issue, with audience members sharing both positive and negative experiences. I have never disclosed my diagnosis to an employer, but that’s mainly because I have been self-employed for a long time and wasn’t diagnosed when I was a traditional employee.

A noteworthy argument was made for disclosure, and it’s essential to share it with you, although it’s a bit lengthy. If you don’t disclose your diagnosis when given the opportunity, and you find yourself in a toxic workplace that is difficult for everyone (but even more challenging for you), you may be setting yourself up for failure. In such a situation, you might make mistakes and eventually be labelled a problematic employee. If you finally disclose your ND status at that point, your employer might be less understanding and less accommodating.

By not revealing your ND, you could experience excessive stress and damage to your self-esteem while working in a challenging environment. You may either be dismissed due to mistakes or leave the job due to the stress and anxiety of working under an unsuitable system.

If an employer learns about your ND only after you’ve become a perceived problem, it’s always harder to get them to understand and accommodate your needs. They may see you as a troublemaker rather than a problem solver.

However, if you are upfront about your challenges and what you need to be an excellent employee, things are likely to turn out better for you. Disclosure might make it harder to secure a job in the short term, but once employed, you are more likely to enjoy your work and become a valued employee. Stories were shared, highlighting that hiding your issues and merely “getting on with it” often leads to things going spectacularly wrong. Each failed attempt not only results in a long CV with many short-term positions but also a shattered sense of self.

The overall advice was to be honest and upfront, which helps you avoid companies that you probably wouldn’t want to work for anyway. While disclosure might initially make it harder to find a job, you are more likely to enjoy your work and become a highly valued employee once employed.

I highly recommend attending the Dyslexia Show next year. While there is a fee for each CPD session, the show itself is free to attend. Consider making a weekend of it, as I did.

In conclusion, attending the Dyslexia Show was an enriching experience that provided me with valuable insights into managing my Neurodiversities and helping others do the same. The event enabled me to learn from experts and other attendees who shared their experiences and knowledge. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of self-acceptance and focusing on our strengths to thrive in our personal and professional lives.

By understanding our unique qualities and the value we bring to the table, we can better advocate for ourselves and create an inclusive environment for everyone. Remember, you are not alone in this journey, and together we can make a difference. I hope to see you at the Dyslexia Show next year!

Lastly, if you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out and book a free 15-minute call with me. Schedule your call at https://app.10to8.com/book/sqtggnongdrtozgiif/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *