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Stories by successful dyslexics who IDC have helped over the years


Being dyslexia

 

Heather Buttle, Executive for a Big 4 Accountancy Firm

 

I have been doing actuarial work since 2000.  I was diagnosed as dyslexic in January 2009.

 

School /University

I learned to read and write before I went to school.  I was the elder child and had support from my mum who herself had some problems reading.  I can read and write legibly, I’m not bad at spelling and managed to pass my 12 plus exams.  I went to an all girls Grammar School but never connected to the other girls there as I always felt different.  Even in primary school I’d always push ahead myself.  By starting on the later, more difficult exercises to give myself enough time so that I never fell behind and was always ahead.  I gave up wordy subjects as soon as I could and did homework in those classes.  My grammar school never minded about my English results (I was bottom of the class) as I was always near the top for the maths and science subjects. I only studied maths and IT at university and avoided wordy subjects, like economics.  My younger brother was diagnosed dyslexic when he was at university (this was whilst I was doing postgraduate studies).

 

Work

When I started work the actuarial graduate and junior jobs involved spreadsheets and hand calculations. There was no writing and little other communication in the role - very few e-mails too.  I worked for a single direct manager and therefore had a manageable workload. The timescales were actually quite long with usually large pieces of work and only infrequently was there urgent work.  The early actuarial exams were numerical and passed these easily.  The later exams are wordy and I passed three in the eight years to 2008 (none in the last five). I was fairly successful at this type of job and this environment suited me.

 

Change of job

In my current role I’m working for seven different line managers - all competing for resources. Work is much more wordy although this would have happened in my previous jobs but later on in my career. Now work is frequently urgent with short changeable timescales and it is difficult to plan. I can have 10 plus pieces of work on at a single time and the deadlines change at short notice.

 

Early signs

In this new job I was regularly working late just to get the normal workload done. I would take my laptop home and work on the train too. In busy periods there simply weren't enough hours in the day. Weekends and evenings became full of work and this spiralled out of control. I became more and more tired. I found I became easily distracted and my team is a particularly sociable/noisy this made it even more difficult.   I had problems coping with the ever-changing workloads and deadlines in this new role.  Problems communicating  especially under pressure, appeared more frequently  and I appeared blunt, inflexible, defensive. This is not who I see myself as and on a personal level, therefore, I was disappointed in myself.  I received poor feedback from my managers as I was not where I should be – I was, starting to fail and the extra hours weren't enough anymore.

 

Assessment

I knew that slow reading and writing were indicative of dyslexia and was aware I had these problems but thought I could manage as extra hours had solved my problems previously. I have a physical disability and didn’t want another label.  As part of the disability group in my company, I helped with the organisation of a dyslexia event and found out a lot more.  I realised that almost all of my issues at work were symptoms of dyslexia.  Finally I got up the courage to tell my line manager - I was shaking and it was one of the scariest thing I've ever done. Her reaction was disbelief, not understanding how I could have got so far in my career and been successful in exams at university and had not been diagnosed. Her action was getting HR and the head of department to arrange funding for an assessment which confirmed my dyslexia. I was worried and stressed leading up to the assessment and afterwards I felt relieved but also confused - what now?

 

Post assessment

I had an assessment with access to work unfortunately there’s quite a lot of redtape involved and this provided me with IT software & training and also general training & mentoring.  My line manager was supportive through this, just trying hard but she just couldn't get it. There was a breakthrough moment where I remember her coming to see me one morning. Her fiancé had given her a coloured mind map to plan their wedding. She took one look at it and said “I can't understand that - give me a black and white list.” She realised that if she found that difficult than she realised the how difficult it must be for me to see things in just black and white text. Finally she understood at least one aspect of my dyslexia which was a breakthrough. Adjustments were made to my workplace and also my workload. I was removed from the performance management process for 12 months and feedback was obtained as a baseline to restart from. This removed pressure to perform and gave me the space to develop.

 

Personal impact

Mentioning to me is the most valuable of the solutions provided. I started to understand why I’m different, that there are others out there like me and I’m not alone. I hadn't come that many other dyslexics in my life. It’s interesting and useful to understand why I react to things the way I do. My confidence is increasing but I’m finding that social and communication areas are the hardest to work on. People are noticing the difference in me already. It’s widely known at work but not in my private life (I haven’t told my parents and I don't have any intention of doing so). I still feel embarrassed about things I can't do well. I’m not sure whether that will ever change.

I wish I could have found a solution to my problems on my own but I couldn’t and needed an assessment and help from others.

 

Workplace adjustments

I've changed they type of work I do and don’t currently get involved in unpredictable work with high-volume of output and very tight deadlines. I have moved desk to a quieter part of the office, at least temporarily, to see how things go. I work from home once a week and this is the most productive day of the week. I use headphones and some background music to reduce distractions and aid concentration in the office. I’ve been given lower performance targets in the first 12 months after assessment to allow me time to learn new techniques and strategies and for these to become automatic and also time to learn and speed up using the new software.  I talked to all my direct managers and worked out different ways of receiving work updates, of planning and of improving communication. I have fortnightly catch-ups with my manager to discuss progress, issues, mentoring/training, support from the team and workloads. The only way this will work is by being completely honest.

 

Workplace impacts

My confidence has improved at work and I know I can’t do much about some things, at the moment, but I'm open about things and finding new ways to work.  My communication has improved a lot as well particularly with regard to being open and explaining when I'm having a bad day, need support or when I take on too much work.  I believe I have the potential to succeed but need to practice what I been learning.  The exams are a more level playing field now that I type, not write, my exams.  I hope to qualify much sooner than I would otherwise. I have received the first concrete proof that things are changing as I passed a written exam – a resit and the first I’ve passed in five years.

 

Strategies already in place

Organisation - I was too structured and this broke down occasionally - now I’ve amended how I organise myself by being more flexible.  Clear desk – in a chaotic work environment I couldn't get anything done.  Use of lists of lists – I keep weekly and daily work lists and even have lists of lists and lists at home.  Determination – If I didn’t have that I wouldn’t have got to where I am now.  All of these aimed to put control and structure in my life.  I believe this delayed my diagnosis but also gave me the opportunity to get where I am today.


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