A brief history of the Accredited Dyslexia Champions™
The Dyslexia Champions™ training & accreditation programme was launched in 2017 at Imperial College London. The programme was designed to equip individuals with the necessary skills to enable them to listen, inform and guide their neurodivergent colleagues towards specialist support. These volunteers provide a place of ‘safety’ where individuals can speak about work-related challenges and find out what screening and support might be available to them …and therefore enable them to make informed decisions.
Imperial College London already had a comprehensive process of support in place which staff could access via the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Centre (EDIC) however it was found that people were delaying accessing this, fearful it could have a negative impact on their career progression etc. Therefore, the role of an Accredited Dyslexia Champion – the knowledgeable, qualified and impartial first point of contact, who could provide some initial ‘First Aid’ (hints and tips), was seen to be an important addition to the overall support process.
There are now Accredited Dyslexia Champions in a number of organisations, including Barts Health NHS, Alder Hey NHS Trust, UCL, UNISON… all making a real difference in terms of psychological safety and helping to ensure people do not struggle in silence.
We (Right Resources Limited UK and the Accredited Dyslexia Champions) are proud to have been short-listed in the Neurodiversity category of the Employer’s Network for Equality & Inclusion (ENEI) Awards 2019 – (with Right Resources Limited UK being the only ‘support provider’ shortlisted alongside 4 major employing organisations). This I believe is testament to the value of this role.
In their training the Accredited Dyslexia Champions cover the following subjects; dyslexia and neurodivergent ‘conditions’ from a workplace perspective, wellbeing related to this, legal considerations, what a process of support might look like and listening skills. We use blended learning with two workshop days, 3 webinars and two sessions of one to one mentoring during the personal study period when they complete an OCN Level 2 assignment entitled Neurodiversity - pathways to support.
Thank you to all the Accredited Dyslexia Champions - you are making a real difference in helping to ensure neurodivergent colleagues feel supported …and encouraging your workplaces to become neuro-inclusive.
You may have already heard something about the role of an Accredited Dyslexia Champion – about them being; approachable, knowledgeable and impartial work colleagues who, following their training about neurodivergent ‘conditions’ in the workplace, are qualified to provide foundation information and signposting. However, with the next training programme fast approaching, I thought it would be a good time to share a couple of examples of the great work some of these, now qualified individuals, are doing – not just making it safe to talk about challenges with worktasks and providing foundation information, but helping ensure their employing organisations are more able to ‘tap into’ and utilise any latent potential within a neurodiverse workforce.
The first example is an Accredited Dyslexia Champion, who works in an equality and diversity role within an organisation employing over 7,000 staff. He realised after undertaking the training that there was no clear process of support within his employing organisation. On investigation it was found that what people could access and how well (and appropriately) they were supported was very ‘hit and miss’, depending on who they spoke to and where they were located. The Accredited Dyslexia Champion was instrumental in bringing together a number of key members of staff, who had been doing their best to provide information and guidance – yet were not themselves qualified in this, and he helped facilitate a collaborate approach to producing a comprehensive, accessible process. This process, based on what the Accredited Dyslexia Champion was able to share with the group, now helps ensure staff are able to access appropriate support and, when on this ‘journey’, each individual can expect to receive the same level of service.
The second example relates to someone who is a Union Learning Rep working within an NHS organisation. She herself shares several really useful examples of how being an Accredited Dyslexia Champion has helped people access support and how she has been able to offer guidance to line managers related to need to implement ‘reasonable adjustments’ as recommended within a workplace needs assessment. This particular individual was also an extremely valuable contributor to a recent NHS dyslexia/neurodiversity network learning event I had the pleasure of being involved in. During the event I did an online presentation and Q & A and then the Accredited Dyslexia Champion did a follow up activity with the group to discuss what their ‘next steps’ might be following what they had learnt in the session. As a result of her involvement, a number of NHS organisations are now actively moving forward on their journey to help make their workplaces more dyslexia/neurodivergent-aware organisations.
When asked what they had learnt from attending the network event in their group discussions these are some of their key points they listed:
Delegates on the Dyslexia Champions™ training & accreditation programme come from a cross section of organisations and these individuals undertake a range of different roles. These are just two examples of the positive impact these individuals are now having within workplaces. I will share more in future posts.
Regardless of where they currently work…and the role they do, every one of them has given feedback stating how valuable this training has been to them and to their organisations.
If you’re interested in becoming an Accredited Dyslexia Champion and becoming a catalyst for positive change within your organisation you can find more information here.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Janette Beetham – Founder Dyslexia Champions™
Staff Dyslexia & SpLD Consultant – Imperial College London
We’ve recently seen an increase in the number of people talking about neurodiversity and at long last this is beginning to get the attention it deserves. However, accompanying the increased awareness it would appear we are also seeing an increase in the number of people who are simply seeing this as a business opportunity which I believe is a less than helpful situation ...not least because if people are brave enough to speak out and seek support we should ensure the information and support they are provided with is appropriate and of the highest quality.
As well as seeing this increase in people ‘getting on the band wagon’ as a business, I believe there is also a degree of confusion over what the word actually means. The lack of clarity has prompted me to write this post because in this situation when seeking support services etc there is the risk of taking a provider ‘on face value’ and we may commission someone without really checking their credentials, which may result in getting either incomplete or inaccurate information and guidance.
So, firstly let’s look at what the word neurodiversity actually means and then look at the current use of the word.
The word neurodiversity relates the diversity of human brains and minds – the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species. (Which when viewed in the wider context, actually relates to each and every one of us…because we are all individuals and therefore every brain is different). However, there are those individuals who have a brain that functions in ways that diverge from the dominant societal standards of ‘normal’ and these you may also see referred to as being Neurodivergent depending upon who has written the article.
Neurodiversity is a natural and valuable form of human diversity and as such should be accepted and respected just as diversity of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age and physical abilities.
However, here are a couple of quotes which indicate the currently accepted usage of the word:
‘Neurodiversity is a concept where neurological differences are to be recognized and respected as any other human variation. These differences can include those labelled with Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyscalculia, Autistic Spectrum, Tourette Syndrome, and others'. (2011 US National Symposium on Neurodiversity).
Neurodiversity is a relatively new term that refers to people who have dyslexia, autism, ADHD, dyspraxia and other neurological conditions'. (ACAS 2017).
Whilst these statements have become acknowledged and accepted, often when we read articles about neurodiversity we see reference to only one or two of the neurodivergent ‘conditions’ which also adds to the confusion. This is especially the case with regards to Autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder / Autistic Spectrum Condition) as the term is thought to have first been used by Judy Singer, an Australian social scientist who herself has Autism. (The word neurodiversity first appeared in print in an article by journalist Harvey Blume in 1998).
In light of this, it is important to understand that neurodiversity-related posts and articles are commonly either written from the perspective of the author’s own areas of specialism or they may be written by someone who gives their own personal perspective of what they feel neurodiversity is – both of which can be useful but will not necessarily give a comprehensive and accurate overview of this multifaceted subject. So, my advice, when reading posts about neurodiversity, is to check the authors background and their credentials and/or check the credentials of those they are quoting within the article.
As with any subject area, ideally if you are seeking specialist advice & training services or searching for speakers etc there is an essential 'triune' of ingredients to consider, as seen in the diagram below – however this is especially important in relation to neurodiversity as it is essential that what you ‘buy’ should if possible include the various recognised neurodivergent ‘conditions’.
Ideally, your chosen neurodiversity-related services should be a service provider who sits in this ‘sweet spot’ where all three of these areas overlap (indicated with a heart in the diagram).
So, when buying-in to either post & articles or neurodiversity-related services it is important to check for authenticity, experience & quality...it's too important to get wrong.
Caveat Emptor - buyer beware.
Janette Beetham MIC FRSA
Right Resources Limited....for a thriving and productive neurodiverse workforce.
Janette is an experienced consultant & coach specialising in dyslexia & neurodivergent conditions in the workplace. She is the Staff Dyslexia &SpLD Consultant at Imperial College London and Senior Consultant to the BDA (British Dyslexia Association, 2017). She works with individuals and organisations across all sectors providing solutions-focused consultancy and support.
In 2017 she published a paper entitled:
Workplace Dyslexia & Specific Learning Difficulties―Productivity, Engagement and Well-Being
She is also the founder of the Dyslexia Champions training & accreditation programme (a training programme which covers 7 neurodivergent 'conditions').
10 Things Every Employer Should Know About Dyslexia & 'Neurodivergent Conditions'.
1. It's widely accepted that most dyslexic/neurodivergent individuals have strengths/positive attributes which could significantly benefit their employing organisation.
2. Lack of ‘organisation-wide’ awareness of what dyslexia and other neurodivergent conditions really are, means there is still stigma and prejudice within workplaces.
3. When individuals know where to go to find out what support is available to them within the organisation they feel safe and they usually welcome the opportunity to have a conversation about it.
4. These neurodivergent ‘conditions’ are commonly accompanied by anxiety - and an unsupportive workplace culture commonly results in lack of disclosure if & when an individual starts to experience difficulties.
5. If there is a recognised, accessible process of support in place, seeking and accessing appropriate, tailored support can be a straightforward, positive experience which is relatively low cost.
6. Reluctance to disclose when these individuals are experiencing difficulties can impact on their wellbeing…and in the longer-term, if no support is accessed, this can have a negative impact on mental health.
7. Providing appropriate, professional, workplace-focused support to neurodivergent members of staff in a supportive environment is likely to enhance wellbeing and increase engagement.
8. HR departments may assume they understand how dyslexia & other neurodivergent conditions such as dyspraxia, dyscalculia, ADD… can impact within the workplace and they may believe they are meeting legal obligations but unless they have undertaken professional training with a recognised 'body' their policies may be inaccurate and their processes may not be appropriate.
9. Employees in ‘dyslexia/neurodivergent-friendly’ organisations are more likely to fulfil their potential and make valuable contributions. (It is important to remember that neurodivergent individuals have helped shape the world we live in and these include; Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Henry Ford...and many more).
10. It is estimated that 1 in 8 of the population are dyslexic/neurodivergent . If employing organisations are not providing appropriate support innumerable employees are likely to be ‘treading water’ (not making expected progress) at best… and if they don’t feel able to reach out when they need help there is an ‘unseen’ cost in terms risk to wellbeing and mental health as well as costs associated with reduced productivity, absenteeism etc.
Being ‘dyslexia/neurodivergent-friendly’ makes good business sense. It’s good for people and good for the employing organisation. An increasing number of employers are now starting to see the benefit of having Accredited *Dyslexia Champions within their workforce. These impartial, knowledgeable volunteers have undertaken a course of study (*which includes 7 neurodivergent ‘conditions’ and other subject areas such as listening skills, wellbeing & mental health) equipping them to be able to answer questions and provide signposting which enables people to make informed decisions about whether to seek formal support …or not.
This role has the potential to act as a catalyst for positive change and already some of these individuals are making significant contributions towards ensuring their employing organisations become more ‘dyslexia/neurodivergent-friendly’ organisations.
It means a great deal to be sent a testimonial from a client ... and we are delighted to be able to share this with you.
At High School, I really struggled writing essays and with math but was one of the more capable students in my Music, Drama and English Literature classes. I always felt that I was only just keeping my head above water in the academic subjects and couldn’t understand why this was. My confidence and self-esteem was really low during this period and after dropping out of doing my A Levels, I felt really lost and wasn’t aware of what my strengths or skills were.
I took a number of jobs after leaving College, including a Store Trainer role at a Supermarket and a Medical Receptionist role at a GP surgery. What I really liked about both these roles, was that they needed me to verbally communicate and written communication was very low. I started to realise that verbal communication was a strength of mine and also the ability to empathise with others.
In 2007, I moved to London and started working for a large training provider in an administrative role. I found the role incredibly challenging as the volume of admin was really high and my organisational skills weren’t strong enough to cope with this. Again, I found myself trying to keep my head above water which knocked my confidence and caused me to feel intense anxiety and stress. I somehow managed to stay in this role for 3.5 years until I moved into a different role as an IT Software Trainer.
The IT Software Trainer role was great on one hand, as it allowed me to use my verbal communication skills but on the other hand, very challenging as the complexities of the software were difficult to grasp. I also had to read and respond to very long emails with multiple questions, which put a lot of pressure of my working memory. Again, I started to beat myself up over why I couldn’t remember things and also compared myself to others around me.
After about 4 years in this role, I attended a Specific Learning Challenges Awareness presentation by Janette Beetham. As soon as Janette started to describe some of the challenges people with dyslexia face, I started ticking a few of them off in my head and came to the realisation that I could be dyslexic. After completing a questionnaire that gives an indication whether or not you may have dyslexia, I then decided to go for a screening. As soon as we met, I realised this was someone who really wanted to help me, wasn’t going to judge me and someone who I could talk freely to. During the screening it was clear that I had difficulties with my working memory and towards the end of our meeting, Janette asked me ‘do you find yourself apologising a lot?’. At this point, I started to cry and was overwhelmed with emotion, the question made me realise that I had been apologising all my life for difficulties I had no idea that I had.
Janette was a great emotional support to me and explained clearly what the challenges were that I was facing but also made me realise what associated strengths I had. After the screening, I immediately felt my confidence rising as I finally had answers to why I struggled with certain things. Shortly after the screening, I met Janette again for a workplace needs assessment. This was extremely helpful as we were able to go through all parts of my role, identify the challenges and then Janette suggested a few strategies which helped me cope better. Once I had put these coping strategies in place, I felt I had control over my work tasks and the confidence to talk to others about what I found challenging, and what adjustments would be helpful.
I later met with Janette again for some specialist coping strategy coaching as I was moving into a new role which would present new challenges. The support I received was amazing! It really helped to boost my confidence, allowed me to gain control over my work and also made me realise what my strengths were. I would strongly recommend anyone that believes they have a specific learning challenge to get support from Janette as the support I have received has completely changed my life. Thanks to seeking specialist support, I have increased self-awareness, better self-esteem and the belief that I can do anything I put my mind to.
Thank you for writing this and saying we can share this David, we believe others will be inspired by your story.
I’m excited to be able to tell you about this straightforward and very practical initiative. I’ve wanted to share this for a while now, but I've been so busy getting it up and running that there has been very little time to share an update with you. However, with two pilots now successfully completed I believe the time is right for me to share this post.
To see the original post which includes a video interview with one of the recent graduates as well as links to the academic paper please click here.
Accredited Dyslexia Champions making it safe to talk about challenges in the workplace.