Dyslexia and a career with words


Being neurologically diverse can come with its challenges in the professional world, with businesses often overlooking those who think differently. Here, our Interim Head of Editorial, Sarah Hecks, discusses how companies can actively champion people with dyslexia by celebrating their differences.

When people learn that I have dyslexia, they often think it’s a joke. I’m currently leading We Are Social’s editorial team in London and have been a journalist all of my working life. The irony is not lost.

But what people don’t realise is that the majority of the people on the planet have one form or another of dyslexia—they just don’t know it. For most people (like me) their form is so weak they’re able to easily compensate (mine probably wouldn’t have even been detected had I not chosen a career built around words). For some, their dyslexic forms are severe enough to cause significant issues. But dyslexia is not a disease, it’s just a different way of thinking.

To start with, dyslexia isn’t about writing at all. It’s a combination of skills that affect the learning process. It’s the difficulty of reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words. In essence, dyslexia affects the way the brain processes language. It can’t be cured, so it’s a matter of understanding exactly how you might see the world and being able to make those comparative connections to how everyone else sees it.

There is still a lot of negative stigma surrounding dyslexia – every dyslexic writer and editor I have spoken to has a database of disheartening comments about their relationship with words. Some are judgements from others, some are personal frustrations or wider expectations around the correct use of English. So it’s no surprise that most don’t tell anyone about their learning disorder because they feel humiliated. This bothers me a great deal, because, more often than not, shame is the only thing holding them back.

Because of this, I recently shared my experience with my 900 colleagues at the agency. As someone who works in a team where words are paramount, I thought it might be helpful to anyone struggling to ask for help.

I believe I speak for many dyslexic writers when I say; we battle very hard to eliminate the mistakes we make in order to be treated equally to other non-dyslexics on the merits of our work. We don’t want special treatment when it comes to the quality of our writing, and in a recent creative writing class I attended, it was good to hear a revered literary agent point out that in their experience, dyslexic writers are often the most conscientious about proofreading.

Despite its challenges, many specialists believe the condition offers particular strengths – a strong memory, brilliant spatial reasoning, huge amounts of creativity, great empathy skills and the ability to think outside the box.

So, with all of these fantastic qualities on offer, we need to think more about how we can nurture young dyslexic talent and prevent them from having a negative working experience.

Better still, actively champion dyslexics by celebrating their diversity – because encouraging people to understand the power of words is far more important than getting everything ‘right’.

This article was originally run in We Are The City.