News Article

Dyslexia and me

Last Updated: 10 Oct 2016
Topics: Our people
How identifying a hidden disability revealed new strengths. One man's story of how he was catapulted into a successful career at GCHQ.

News article - 05 Oct 2016

We are marking Dyslexia and Dyspraxia Awareness Weeks with a series of internal events celebrating the unique contribution that people with alternative ways of thinking make to our mission of keeping Britain safe. 

The theme for this year’s national campaign is "identification of dyslexia".

Discovering you’re dyslexic can be a positive catalyst for change. This was certainly the case for Mike, who chairs our Dyslexia and Dyspraxic Support Group. This is his story:

“I discovered my dyslexia at university. I did well at school, but hit a brick wall when I started studying for my degree. My discovery was quite by accident: a dyslexic friend asked why I didn’t get extra time in my exams. It was clear to him and others around me that my mind works differently and they all assumed I knew I was dyslexic. Fortunately, the university had really good support mechanisms in place and after an informal assessment I was offered a full physiological assessment.  This concluded I was dyslexic and dyspraxic. It highlighted my biggest weaknesses were auditory and visual memory. My reading, spelling and writing were only slightly worse than average – this probably contributed to my late diagnosis. On the flip side, I found I had above average strengths in verbal reasoning and visual perception.

“My diagnosis helped me to manage my weaknesses and play to my strengths. I used to do lists and timetables to deal with my poor memory, and I found I had a flair for writing software (part of a bigger skill of breaking down problems in to smaller, simpler parts).

“It was the latter that I thought landed me with my job at GCHQ. I later learned that it was in fact down to my performance at the two-day assessment centre. There the assessment panel had been impressed how my own self-awareness had given me an intrinsic understanding of different team members and how they all contributed differently to the team’s success.  This, and my ability to simplify problems, highlighted to them that I would make a great project manager.

“Initially unconvinced, I joined the department on a two-year fast track scheme that involved a series of six-month job placements in different parts of GCHQ. This was a real opportunity to decide if I would stay technical or move over to project management.

“I have since built a career at GCHQ in project management based on my problem solving and team-leading abilities. Along the way I have been supported by the department in some of the areas I struggle with. For example, I have taken advantage of the neurodiversity advisor for specialist advice, I have benefited from specialist software and even been given coloured glasses. 

“The support group I run for dyslexics and dyspraxics is championed by a director on GCHQ’s board and by the Disabled Employees Network. Supporting diversity and disability is something I am proud to say the department takes very seriously.”


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©GCHQ 2016