I have only one piece of advice regarding how to deal with learning disabilities in the workplace. This goes for the employee, yes, but to the employer in full, blinding, direct, straight-forward, unclever, non-literary, plain-speaking force: listen. Listen! LISTEN!
LISTEN, DAMN IT!
*Pleeese*…LISTEN. If your employee indicates, if not directly, then to the best of his or her cognitive and emotional ability, that they have a unique problem and need help to perform their job successfully, take it seriously. Please do *not* dismiss this as another meeting off of today’s checklist! Do NOT think that the problem is solved just because the employee has said something to you. Do NOT put it upon the employee to figure out how to accomodate himself. The very difficulties that prevent the employee from deriving the most satisfaction from, and successfully perfoming his or her job, are likely prohibitive in terms of that employee “taking the initiative” or “accepting personal responsibility” for figuring out a solution to said difficulties.
I know that sounds terribly obvious, but you’d be surprised how many supervisors are loathe to expose their own ineptness at handling a situation that, by its very nature and definition, is a rarity. Lest said manager is in the social services or perhaps education or job training industries, this concept of dealing with atypical work and social styles is likely as overwhelming to him as learning a new job or one’s coworker’s names or the new client’s information or that new safety procedure or these new curriculum frameworks is to the learning disabled employee.
How can you bridge this chasm? What practical AND attitudinal adjustments can be applied today so that the work and general milieu can improve for everyone? You can start by eliminating that word “difficult”!
The disabled employee who has the guts to disclose is not being “difficult”!
Do you wish to understand what difficult is, from the perspective of someone for whom sometimes the most basic of functions is indeed a challenge? If yes, or if in fact you already get it, then you are the kind of person, the kind of supervisor who need not be lectured by me. And God bless you for it. If that isn’t you, then let me tell you about difficult.
Difficult is finding a clever way to ask your teacher, your boss, your spouse, your children, your students, your family, and perfect strangers to repeat what they just told you – because it didn’t click! Not just once. But most of the time. Everyday. Try doing that without looking like you weren’t paying attention. Try doing that while maintaining a shred of self-worth and poise. Try doing that without feeling like the recipient of contempt, resentment, disrespect, or a condescending pat on the head.
Difficult is explaining that you were late because you got lost. Lost – on the way to your job. The job you’ve had now for a year or longer. Try it. See if the slacker whose grandmother died 3 times this year doesn’t sound more credible. Then, a year from now, maybe two or three – hang your head in shame as your kid or your friend or someone else dear to you explains to you between putts or casts or football tosses that they had “the weirdest brainfart” (this) morning, and too, ended up on an unfamiliar road during the commute that they have been travelling for quite awhile.
Right – if life were only so just!
Difficult is having to ask that boy from your scout troop, or little league team, or class, or your kid’s friend, or your *boss* (or boss’s boss) what is his “name again?”.
Difficult is having to suffer through the ramblings of the visually oriented manager as he explains his “system” – while containing your frustration that as a kid caused you to smash more than one of your possessions. Difficult is THEN having to figure out a way, without hurting this mid-level manager’s precious pride, to learn the job or info YOUR way, as an auditorially oriented learning-disabled worker. Oh – and doing so while getting that day’s work done as well. And the next day’s. And the next.
Difficult is knowing that you are smarter than that little ball of conceit who rated you lower because he felt you “were disorganized, inefficient, and…..(breathe!)…. careless. Difficult is resisting the urge to take said supervisor by the what nots, place your shoes on his feet and telling him to walk.
Difficult is maintaining your composure while you are the recepient of THE most preventable insensitivity. Difficult is retaining your value as an employee, because your value as a human being is, of course, not enough to justify that paycheck. Difficult is channelling your frustration and finding appropriate ways (like writing!) to deal with it.
Yes – that is some difficult stuff. And of course it would be impossible to have you know the experiences and mind-set of your diff……erent employee. Life doesn’t work like that. I don’t know YOUR shoes, nor how they fit, nor how it is to walk in them. Nor you mine. In lieu of understanding through common experience, that is – empathy, there is only one way for us to communicate and relate..in the workplace and everywhere else.
And that is to *listen*.