Developmental Coordination Disorder, or more commonly known as Dyspraxia, affects approximately 6% of the population. As the condition affects a person’s coordination, spatial awareness, fine motor skills and speech, it can negatively affect a person’s chances of getting a job. However, more and more employers are looking to neurodivergent individuals, as they can see that the strengths a person develops as a result of having the condition, can make them an excellent team member and employee.
So based on my 11 years of employment in companies such as The Public Appointments Service, Bank of Ireland and Dell Technologies, here are some of my top tips for Dyspraxic people in joining large organisations. (It may be useful for people with other types of neurodiversity as well):
- Avail of Assistive Technology
There’s lots of assistive technology that can help Dyspraxic people in the workplace. The problem is finding the right equipment. Dyspraxia.ie is a very good site to visit as they have a list of assistive technologies for you to use. All equipment is covered under the Disability Awareness Training Support Scheme grant, so it will come at no extra expense to the employer if you ask for it.
- Create a task manager
This is probably my number one tip for any Dyspraxic people entering the workforce. There are different types of software out there for this, but my tip would be to do this in a number of steps:
- Create a spreadsheet
- On the spreadsheet put down the date, what the task is, who gave it to you, is it a daily, weekly, monthly or one-off task, what date is the task due by, and any additional information you need
- Then use the highlighter tool and a traffic light system. If you leave it blank it means you haven’t started the task yet. Green means the task is done. Orange means the task is ongoing and red means there’s an issue with the task.
- This means that when you have meetings with your line manager you have a record of everything that is being asked of you and how your tasks are progressing.
- Disclosure of your condition
There’s a saying that ‘once you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve only met one autistic person, you have not met everyone who has the condition.’ This can be expanded to all types of neurodiversity, particularly Dyspraxia.
Therefore, disclosure in the workplace is extremely personal to each person with Dyspraxia. Some people may be very open about it. Others may believe that it could be harmful to their standing in the workplace or their progression in their current job.
It’s a personal choice, but I found that my career only really began to take off when I embraced being open about my Dyspraxia in the workplace. I found neurodivergent allies and new opportunities. I was included in jobs, meetings and events, I never would have been if I had stayed silent about it.
- Do a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) of yourself
I recommend doing this for everyone looking for a job, but particularly people with Dyspraxia. Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses is one thing but asking those closest to you to list them reveals what other people perceive to be your strengths and weaknesses. This will lead to your opportunities and threats. When you join a large organisation, you’ll know what you are good at and what you need to work on. You can relay this info to your manager if you wish to.
- Find your way around a large office
Having a terrible sense of direction is a common trait of Dyspraxia. So if you find yourself in a large office it can be quite difficult to find people outside of your section, or find certain meeting rooms etc. This is where locating landmarks becomes essential. There are a few different methods to become more acquainted with the office:
- Tour the office multiple times in your first few days. If you have the time, take a few tours around the different floors of the office. Ensure you know where certain rooms are. That way you’ll know how long it takes to get to that room to ensure that when you need to go there for a meeting, you know where it is and you’ll get there on time.
- Look for landmarks. If you need to find an office, desk or room, then look for landmarks near the venue. That way if you are lost you can ask someone where it is in relation to that landmark and find your way from there.
- Find out what works for you if you prefer to Work From Home (WFH) or in the office.
Even before the pandemic, large organisations were offering employees the opportunity to work from home or work in the office. This is different for everyone, depending on their circumstances. For example in Dell Technologies, I liked to switch between the two. On days I needed to concentrate on writing or something creative, I worked from home. Other days, when I needed to bounce ideas off people or organise events for example, I worked in the office. This is very personal. It’s about what works for you and your manager.
- Join an Employee Resource Group
One of the best things you can do if you join a large organisation is join an Employee Resource Group. These are groups of people that come together that have a shared interest. It could be due to their gender, ethnicity, culture, LGBT status or disability, to name a few. By joining the disability ERG, you will find like-minded people who can act as allies and ensure that you find your tribe in the workplace. I highly recommend the True Ability ERG in Dell Technologies. I presented to them about having Dyspraxia in the workplace and a few years later they hired me!
- Neurodiversity Hiring or Training Programmes
This is one of the main strengths of the modern-day workforce. Many of the world’s biggest companies are now seeing the benefits of having neurodivergent people in their organisations. Companies such as Dell Technologies, Microsoft or Mastercard have specific hiring programmes for neurodivergent people. This can be a great chance for Dyspraxic people to apply and gain access to these companies which otherwise would be unobtainable for some.
This is a growing trend within recruitment and retention of large organisations in Ireland. Often companies partner with or create their own mentoring programmes to ease the transition into the workforce, or to help a new hire in the workplace once they join the company. New hires can then ask their mentors questions instead of having to ask their manager. If you’d be interested in joining a mentoring programme, I recently published an article about mentoring programmes you may be interested in joining. You can see that article here.
- Organisational Issues
This is one of the most common issues with Dyspraxia in the workplace. Often Dyspraxic people are perceived as disorganised or messy. The best way to combat this is to organise yourself from day one. For me this was having things like essential documents on my desk before going to events for example. It can also be setting up folders in your documents folder so you can find things easily. Asking your manager about the most important documents or tasks will lead to you being more organised on those tasks.
- Remembering names
Memory can be another issue for Dyspraxic people. My tip would be: create a floorplan for your immediate office on your first day. Put in the layout of the office (desks, meeting rooms etc). Then put in the names of everyone who works at their desks. That way if your manager asks you to give something to someone and your not sure who it is, you have the floorplan to help you.
Alternatively, if you work in a fully remote company or one that uses hotdesking, ask for an organisational chart of the office. Add some of the people on LinkedIn and see if you recognise their faces when you meet them.
This is one of the best things about Dyspraxia. Most people with Dyspraxia have set routines around waking up, the clothes they wear, things they eat, mealtimes etc. This can be a positive in starting a new job. You can get into the routine of being early, instead of on time for work, walking to work instead of taking public transport for example, doing certain tasks at certain times, so you don’t forget them, etc. All of this will help you to become a more productive employee
This can be split into two ways:
- Training for you. When you join the organisation, be open about needing training for yourself. This can include training such as Microsoft Outlook, setting up virtual calls or training on certain software that the company uses. It will mean that you don’t look like you don’t know what you’re doing if you’re assigned a task on the service later.
- Training for your line managers and team-mates. This depends on your level of comfort with disclosing your condition and suggesting this type of training. If you do choose to disclose, then the Dyspraxia Association of Ireland, as well as associations of other types of neurodiversity, do give excellent training on Dyspraxia and other conditions in the workplace. The training could be an excellent way of showing your manager and colleagues your abilities while also making them aware of where you may need more help.
This is one of the most important ways my Dyspraxia affects me. Given that Dyspraxia affects spatial awareness, co-ordination and fine motor skills, I can’t drive. Anytime I apply for a job, I need to ensure that the job is easy to get to by public transport, or by walking distance. Otherwise there is no way I can get to it on time. If you’re like me, before you apply for any job, always look at where the company is located to see if it is easily accessible by public transport. However, this will be different if you are applying to a remote company.
- Using office equipment
This is another issue for most people joining a large organisation for the first time. Trying to figure out how office equipment such as printers work. It can also be an issue when booking meeting rooms, booking annual leave or uploading expenses. If the company has a how-to-guide on this kind of information, great. However, if they don’t, it could be an opportunity to ask if they could create one, or if you could look into creating one for them and store it in a shared folder. It shows initiative and will make it easier for others to join.
- Welcome Packs
This is a very under-utilised tool in a company’s arsenal of welcoming new employees to the company. Often, a welcome pack could include items such as ‘swag’ (t-shirts, pens or other merchandise from the company), information on surrounding areas to the office or general induction information on the rules or procedures of the company. However, it would also be important for items such as:
- An organisational chart
- ‘How to’ guides on using office equipment
- Information on local areas such as public transport or parking facilities
- Information on lunchtimes, if people are encouraged to bring food with them or information on food outlets close by
- Business cards or Leaflets if appropriate
- Information on sensory rooms, employee resource groups, mentorship schemes or mental health initiatives
All of this will not only help the Dyspraxic employee in joining the company, but it will also help other employees with neurodiversity or other minority groups in the office. In fact, it will be of great assistance to any new employee.