The ability to read and write is something that the majority of adults take for granted, something we do every day without even thinking about it, but not everyone has that privilege. In fact, but 10% of the UK’s adult population live with dyslexia. That’s a whopping 6,565,000 British adults. You might think you don’t know anyone who is dyslexic, but looking at those stats, it’s highly likely you do. Sadly the adult experience of dyslexia has become one of societies taboos, something that people suffer with in silence.
“9 out of 10 dyslexics say their dyslexia makes them feel angry, stupid or embarrassed, and this is even more apparent in the many adults who experience minimal support in childhood and their adult life,” says Natalie Brooks, founder of leading adult dyslexia community, Dyslexia in Adults. “97% of people see dyslexia as a disadvantage.”
Natalie is trying to change this narrative. “Online communities have become a safe space for dyslexics to understand their unique way of thinking and put their dyslexic strengths into practice.” She believes dyslexia can, in fact, be a huge advantage, and that companies such as intelligence, security and cyber agency GCHQ are actively trying to hire dyslexics.
The Dyslexia in Adults community has community has successfully connected 8, 125 dyslexic adults since its launch 18 months ago, sharing tips and tricks from entrepreneurs, business leaders and even comedians to help them navigate dyslexia in adulthood. Here, Natalie explains how to recognise adult dyslexia, how it has affected her life and how you can use it to your advantage.
What makes a person dyslexic?
“Their brain is wired differently, however, it’s a spectrum of challenges and benefits, so what one person experiences can differ from the next. Such as struggling with remembering a shopping list or confusing your left and right.”
Is adult dyslexia a form of dyslexia that went unnoticed as a child that develops later in life?
“Dyslexia is a lifelong difference in your brain so even if you are diagnosed very late in life you will have had it the whole time.”
What are the most common characteristics of adult dyslexia?
“Here is a fuller list, but more briefly, I would say it’s knowing that you are different and things that seem easy to others aren’t as easy for you, however other things such as problem-solving or seeing every stage of a task can be much easier.”
How easy is it to get a diagnosis?
“It’s easy if you are happy to pay for it, but it is £300 – £500, so can be quite difficult if you are getting your employer/university/school to fund your diagnosis.”
How does adult dyslexia affect day to day life?
“As dyslexia is about how our brains are wired differently, it impacts everyday life all the time. For example, a common issue with dyslexia is difficulty with sets of verbal instructions. For example, last week I went to the toilet in a cafe that needed a 6 digit code. I was so worried about forgetting and was concentrating so much on the code that I fell down the stairs. Of course, then I forgot the code.
Conversely, because I am a huge people person (a common dyslexic trait) and don’t like seeing people struggle (because I have so much) I have amazing friendships and always enjoy helping people.”
What obstacles have you faced, both professionally and personally because of dyslexia?
“There are the everyday challenges you face such as being embarrassed to text in WhatsApp groups or taking longer to pick up a new task at work. However, what has always haunted me and caused problems across my life (plus others that I speak to), is a chronic lack of confidence in myself. Dyslexia can mean you make lots of small mistakes across your life which add up and have a detrimental impact.
For example, I have always been interested in politics and current affairs and wanted to be a journalist or a politician. However, my assumption that I needed to read and process lots of text or write competently in short periods meant I didn’t even try to follow that path.
I also see lots of dyslexic people feeling like they have to leave conventional environments because they have either had negative experiences or can’t create the environment they require to truly thrive.”
What are some of the stereotypes and stigmas facing adult dyslexics?
“Often in the community, we talk about what we wish people knew about dyslexia. It is such basic things we are asking for people to understand. It is very common for dyslexic people to be called stupid or lazy when in reality dyslexic people usually work incredibly hard to meet expectations. Dyslexia has amazing benefits. Our unique ideas, image-led thinking (creativity) ability to see the bigger picture means that we have a strong value to offer both society and companies.”
Why do you think adult dyslexia is something that is rarely spoken about?
“It is so misunderstood that it is viewed through such a narrow prism of both children and simply challenges with reading or writing. If people understood the reality of the experience, the way our minds work and the proportion of the population that have dyslexia then I strongly believe it would be a different experience. This is why it’s so important to continue the awareness to move the conversation forward.”
How can adults manage their dyslexia?
“Many don’t and struggle with both how to navigate life and work, which can mean lots of people don’t fulfil their potential. The statistics of dyslexic people in prison is very sad. However, those that do find a way through often have a million little tricks or tips that they use to navigate everyday life. Many don’t even realise that what they think of as their ‘little quirks’ is something that helps manage their dyslexia.
In terms of what people can do to help themselves more, the challenge with dyslexia is there is no silver bullet but what I have found helpful is:
Understanding how your brain works – once you understand how your brain is different and how it works, it can help you create the right systems for you.
Lean into your strengths – An environment where your unique skills can be utilised vs trying to avoid your challenges can be a game-changer. This is why you see so many dyslexic people as innovators (unique ideas) or in the creative fields (image-led concepts).”
How do you help dyslexics identify their strengths?
“Dyslexic people know their challenges and have experienced so much because of them, so often realising what your strengths are and accepting that they do exist is a real challenge and something people need help doing.
What I try and do is work a lot on creating acceptance of who we are. It’s okay that you are different and some things are more difficult because everyone has challenges and frustrations, it’s just that this happens to be ours.
Because adult dyslexia is so rarely spoken about, people feel like they are the only ones facing these challenges, and that loneliness can really impact your confidence. If you don’t know that the unique challenges/characteristics you have are due to dyslexia, you can easily think you are just ‘stupid’.”
How do communities like Dyslexia in Adults help break down stigmas and provide tools needed to navigate life with dyslexia?
“Community is an incredibly powerful tool and can create amazing change, particularly when it comes to making people feel less alone. The power of The Hive (the name of the community) is that as well as helping people realise that their experience is extremely similar to millions of others, it also crowdsources information on how to manage the everyday challenges we face.
For example, learning to drive is a common dyslexic challenge but one of our members didn’t realise it wasn’t just a personal struggle. Not only did she have the healing experience of realising that she wasn’t alone but as a group, we were able to share tips and strategies that gave her the confidence to book her test and pass!
I am very lucky that because this is an area where people really want to see change, the community is so generous with its time with each other. Often, members who are more senior in a field or area will have calls with others to provide guidance. Last week I even managed to connect two forensic scientists to discuss how they manage dyslexia in their unique field.”
“In the words of Helena Boden, former CEO of British Dyslexia Association, ‘The human cost of dyslexia is too high, and we need to change that’.”
Find out more about the Dyslexia in Adults community here.