In recent years, several news stories have highlighted the growing interest in recruiting individuals with autism for detailed, repetitive and often tech-related jobs. With a disproportionately high unemployment rate, individuals affected by autism are an incredibly large, untapped reservoir of potential talent for the workforce. The success of these initiatives will undoubtedly have an impact on employment opportunities for people on the autism spectrum, but what about individuals with dyslexia?
Companies looking to innovate and think outside the box in order to remain one step ahead of their competitors may be interested in harnessing some of the inherent skills possessed by people with dyslexia. Dyslexics are naturally creative problem solvers, and they excel at seeing the big picture, often becoming adept at communicating clearly. Their early struggles helped them learn how to read others and determine who is able to help them best.
The idea that people with dyslexia may have specific strengths when it comes to perceptual reasoning or visual spatial tasks – working with pictures – continues to be a point of study in academic circles. Astrophysicist Matthew Schneps, director at the Laboratory for Visual Learning at the Harvard-Smithsonian Observatory, has suggested dyslexia enhances the ability to identify patterns out of vast amounts of visual information. The ability to quickly identify patterns from a large pool of visual data is an asset in the visual sciences, such as astrophysics.
Evidence also suggests that those with dyslexia are able to process information in their peripheral vision more quickly that those without it. Strengths in these types of tasks lead to a natural aptitude for solving puzzles, reading visual data on charts and graphs, creating videos, drawing and inventing. Dr. Von Karolyi, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, concluded, “dyslexia should not be characterized only by deficit, but also by talent.” Businesses would absolutely benefit from having people with these skills on staff.
While individuals with dyslexia find themselves in just about every industry and line of work, areas that seem to be a natural fit include: acting, photography, art, music, architecture, computer programming, carpentry, aviation, and leadership roles in a variety of settings. One study found that up to one-third of successful entrepreneurs in the United States identify with having dyslexia. That is an astounding statistic, given that according to the Dyslexia Research Institute, an estimated 10-15% of the population is affected. Out of all successful entrepreneurs, dyslexics are also more likely to become millionaires.
In fact, in 2007, the New York Times reported that dyslexics were twice as likely to own two or more businesses as someone without the condition. They were also more likely to delegate authority and excel in oral communication and problem solving. Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson is a prime example of a highly intelligent, but struggling student with dyslexia who became an overwhelmingly successful entrepreneur. Charles Schwab, Henry Ford, Invar Kamprad (founder of IKEA), Anita Roddick (The Body Shop) and David Neeleman (JetBlue) are additional examples of people who have succeeded perhaps with the help of dyslexia.
When asked about his struggle with dyslexia, Scott Sonnon, a martial arts world champion and author, said: “I didn’t succeed despite my dyslexia, but because of it. It wasn’t my deficit, but my advantage. Although there are neurological trade-offs that require that I work creatively [and] smarter in reading, writing and speaking, I would never wish to be any other way than my awesome self. I love being me, regardless of the early challenges I had faced.”
Just as large corporations like SAP and Freddie Mac have wisely looked into accessing the potential that has been previously overlooked in people with autism, companies would be prudent to investigate ways to harness the creativity and unique perspective of the person with dyslexia as well. After all, their competition may be headed by a dyslexic person.
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Griswold, A. (n.d.). Want a Competitive Edge? Hire People With Autism. Retrieved February 23, 2015, from http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2014/03/28/autism_at_work_companies_like_sap_and_freddie_mac_are_hiring_people_with.html
Morin, A. (n.d.). 11 Great Quotes About Dyslexia. Retrieved February 25, 2015, from https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/dyslexia/great-quotes-about-dyslexia
Paul, A. (2012, February 4). The Upside of Dyslexia. Retrieved February 23, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/05/opinion/sunday/the-upside-of-dyslexia.html?src=me&ref=general&_r=0
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