Ask the Experts

Dyslexic Dynamics

I have dyslexia and still pursue my college degree. Do you think my potential employer is likely to be understanding?

This question is important to an estimated 5-10 percent of the U.S. population with dyslexia, with some estimates double that figure. There is no simple test, but a general diagnosis based on a series of criteria. This is why it has taken so long for this problem to receive proper recognition. You may be surprised that someone used the phrase the ‘upside of dyslexia’. What are they talking about?

Dyslexia is believed to be linked to how the brain is wired, manifesting itself as difficulty reading, writing, spelling and learning foreign languages. With these weaknesses though come a number of strengths, such as higher cognitive and linguistic functioning, conceptual abilities, reasoning, and problem solving.

The list of well-known people with it is extensive, many of whom are successful investors and entrepreneurs: Richard Branson, Charles Schwab, John Chambers, Craig McCaw and Paul Orfalea. Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein were believed to have had dyslexia.

However, for others dyslexia prevents them from working, as it affects the brain’s processing of language. It is often associated with people who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

There have long been links with dyslexia and running businesses, as if the disorder somehow lends itself to enhanced entrepreneurship. Dyslexics can often have far superior abilities in some areas, more than their non-afflicted counterparts.

Previous studies have revealed that over a third of American entrepreneurs were dyslexic, representing a large proportional difference to the estimated ten percent of the U.S. population that deals with the disorder. The development of ‘soft skills’ is often accelerated at school, where dyslexics face difficulties navigating their way through traditional subjects. These essential business traits include: delegation, oral communication, perseverance and problem-solving skills. The ability to attack and solve problems is ideally suited to starting a new venture or business. Experiencing difficulties at school and college has induced the development of compensatory skills and higher levels of motivation later in life for many with the disorder.

Studies have shown that dyslexics are drawn to business by using strategies learned as a child to offset their weaknesses. Identifying trustworthy people and delegating major responsibilities to them is ideal business acumen. Conversely, non-dyslexics often view business as ‘their baby’ and maintain a high level of control over it with a reluctance to delegate.

Entrepreneurs are hands-on people who seldom delve into the paperwork, doing things vocally instead of reading and writing, and are happy to delegate. Corporate managers on the other hand are permanently reading and dealing with paperwork, only 1 percent of them in the U.S. are said to be dyslexic. Cognitive processing is different with dyslexia, people tend to see the big picture first and work inwards, rather than starting with the small details and working up.

Often those with the disorder are forced to start their own ventures as a last resort because the corporate world does not always recognize their strengths. Corporations evaluate people in a standard way, just as schools and colleges do, which can be an obstacle for dyslexics. Society’s misgivings aside, dyslexia is not a disability but a different way of approaching a situation and, as we have just read, can prove to be highly successful for some.

An entire cottage industry has developed to serve the field of dyslexia. Many colleges now offer online courses for teachers specializing in learning problems for dyslexic children. Young people can study through distance learning at home with smaller class sizes. Finally, internet courses for adults with dyslexia help them with continuing education, where traditional schools may not meet their needs.

The advantage of dyslexia is that my brain puts information in my head in a different way… Whoopi Goldberg.

Suzanne Hite is a former publications editor serving the technology services sector.