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Silent struggle: dyslexia’s impact on adults’ untapped potential

Inclusive environments can enable individuals with dyslexia to thrive and contribute
Conceptual image showing the viewpoint of a dyslexic person trying to read and the jumble of letters they perceive. (Photo credit: gratuit)

Elvenia Gray-Sandiford

Imagine a scenario where a wealth of potential lies dormant, overshadowed by the perception of “not good enough or not smart enough.” This is the unfortunate reality for many adults living with a dyslexic brain. Dyslexia, a neurological condition impacting word and number processing, transcends childhood and adolescence.

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, prompting efforts to place attention not only on children but also on adults, as children who are missed or undiagnosed grow into adults with dyslexia. As we observe this month, it becomes an imperative moment to shed light on the challenges faced by adults and champion their rights and support.

Despite the crucial need for intervention and support, many adults encounter difficulties navigating a world that misinterprets their capabilities. Unfortunately, this struggle is frequently overlooked due to insufficient support, accommodation, and societal misconceptions. It’s crucial to note that barriers to success are not inherent to dyslexia but rather are societal constructs born out of ignorance.

Dyslexia doesn’t define a person’s life or intelligence. Everyone doesn’t start at the same point, as Professor Susan Stevens of Mount St. Vincent University’s Family Science Department illustrates with a metaphor. It’s like a group of people riding bikes up a hill, where the wind affects everyone differently: some are pushed up, and some are held back. Individuals with dyslexia face the wind head-on, making it much harder to ride up, while individuals who are not facing a learning difficulty leverage the wind at their backs as a tool to help them get to the top of the hill. This uneven playing field impacts the potential for everyone to reach the summit.

Nancy Nixon, a registered psychologist in British Columbia specializing in screening and working with individuals with dyslexia, sheds light on the often misunderstood nature of learning differences. According to her, “Dyslexia’s unique cognitive difference leads to a silent struggle, where the untapped potential is overshadowed by a prevailing sense of inadequacy.” Nixon emphasizes that dyslexia transcends mere reading difficulties; it represents a distinctive cognitive difference impacting both education and cognition.

Sadly, individuals with dyslexia often perceive themselves as inferior due to societal misunderstandings. It’s disheartening, she said, to witness them confined to low-paying jobs, with their skills and talents frequently overlooked or undervalued. This results in limited job opportunities and the depreciation of their valuable skills.

Dyslexia can significantly influence individuals’ educational and career paths, creating barriers and limiting success in language-dependent professions. People with dyslexia not only compete with their peers in the workplace or academia, but also contend with a system that overlooks them. The system is unprepared for their specific needs, necessitating continuous self-advocacy, resulting in the stressful experience of being left behind and struggling to catch up.

It’s not intentional exclusion; rather, like many hidden differences, people with dyslexia are simply not considered. By acknowledging and addressing dyslexia in these settings, organizations can create inclusive environments that enable individuals with dyslexia to thrive and contribute their unique strengths by providing tailored support and accommodations for equity in opportunities.

Emotionally and psychologically, dyslexia can evoke embarrassment, shame, and anxiety, hindering academic and professional performance. Society must nurture a supportive, inclusive environment recognizing dyslexia as a learning difference, empowering individuals to embrace strengths and conquer challenges.

Dyslexia isn’t a limitation; it’s a unique way of processing information. Nixon’s perspective highlights the broader impact of dyslexia beyond its immediate challenges, underscoring the urgent need for societal understanding and support.

Through implementing supportive measures, individuals grappling with this cognitive difference can experience equity, diversity, and inclusivity, ensuring individuals are not limited by learning differences, and creating a world where every individual, irrespective of their learning journey, contributes to collective success.