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Supporting Employees With Learning Difficulties 

Employee working differently

It may be the case that you didn’t even know your employee had a learning difficulty when you first hired them. So many difficulties are hidden, and many individuals with learning difficulties don’t even realise they have them themselves, until they find themselves struggling with certain tasks at work. This causes a problem for you as a business owner though – because you’re unprepared and not sure how to support your employees with learning difficulties in the best way to ensure they’re comfortable and productive at work. Today we’ll walk you through the best ways to support individuals working with disability and difficulties to ensure both you and they are getting things right.  

The Difference Between Learning Difficulties And Learning Disabilities 

It’s important that you understand this distinction as an employer, because how you’ll support an individual with a learning difficulty will be different to how you support an individual working with disability.  

Learning Difficulties Explained 

An individual with a learning difficulty will struggle with certain tasks, but it won’t stop them from completing them. They may just work around certain parts of it, and it may take them longer than others to complete the task you set them. There are no impairments here, simply challenges. Some examples of learning difficulties include: 

  • Dyslexia – where the employee may struggle with tasks involving reading, writing, and spelling 
  • Dyscalculia – where the employee may struggle with mathematics and tasks involving numbers 
  • Dyspraxia – where the employee may struggle with physical tasks that require coordination 

Learning Disabilities Explained 

An individual with a learning disability may simply not be able to complete a task at all. Certain tasks will be impossible for them because of a disability affecting their cognitive abilities and skills, meaning they are impaired and unable to complete certain tasks. 

Learning disabilities can affect anyone, but certain conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy, or Down’s syndrome could make an individual more likely to suffer from a learning disability.  

The Key Thing To Remember As An Employer 

This is the most important thing you’ll read today: 

All employees – whether they have learning difficulties, learning disabilities, or nothing at all – are valuable assets to your business. 

All of your employees add value and bring unique skills to your business. Those with learning difficulties will often have great potential and a resilience to obstacles because of their ability to think their way around a problem. Those with learning disabilities will often be hardworking and reliable as dedicated and loyal employees, making them the perfect asset to your team.  

But it’s true that hiring an individual with a learning difficulty or disability means you’ll have to potentially change the way you work as an employer. This is brilliant, though, as it inspires innovation and business growth. The key to making your employees successful is giving them the right environment for them to thrive. So how do you do that for employees with learning difficulties and learning disabilities?  

Supporting Employees With Learning Difficulties  

When you hire an employee with learning difficulties it’s important to remember that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to the support they need. One individual with dyslexia might require far more support with reading than another, who might find writing more difficult than reading. 

The point is, learning difficulties exist on a spectrum, and certain individuals will need more support in one area than another. That’s why we aren’t putting together a guide on supporting individuals with specific learning difficulties. Instead, we’ll provide you with common good practices that will make you a better employer and business owner, whilst supporting your employees in the most effective way possible. 

1. Don’t Fear The Learning Difficulty 

Employers that are unfamiliar with different learning difficulties may find it hard to understand the symptoms and therefore might fear the worst. As an employer, this is perhaps the most unhelpful thing you can do.  

Instead of assuming an individual with dyscalculia will come into work being unable to work with numbers at all, discuss with your employee how their learning disability manifests itself, and the sort of support that has worked for them in the past. 

2. Work Together 

The most supportive thing you can do as an employer is work with your employee to create a plan that works for them. It may be that they don’t know what help they need, because they’ve never been offered support in the past – and that’s OK.  

Together you can sit down, look at their job role and responsibilities, discuss the areas they are struggling with the most, and then look into ways other people with learning difficulties have been able to perform similar tasks more effectively. 

3. Trial & Error 

Be prepared for some element of trial and error here. As you try and support your employee as best you can, you may experience a few missteps. Have honest reviews with your employee during these times. Find out what they think is working and what isn’t, and adjust accordingly. 

The important thing here is offering support to begin with. Few employers know how to support individuals with learning difficulties effectively. Become one of those that do. 

4. Focus On Their Strengths 

All of your employees have strengths and weaknesses – that’s the nature of being human. And whilst all your employees will need to work on their weaknesses, including those with learning difficulties who are finding certain tasks more difficult, it’s also important to highlight their strengths.  

In your reviews discuss what’s going well. Compliment them on their original thinking, or their intelligent responses, or their ability to foster excellent client relationships. Whatever their strengths are, highlight them, and use them to further your business potential.  

5. Look At Your Onboarding Process  

Supporting your staff retroactively after they’ve been hired is one thing, but imagine the difference you could make to your employees’ wellbeing if you included open, and sensitive conversations about learning difficulties right from the start. 

Perhaps during the interview or the first few weeks of a new employee starting work with you, it might be a good idea to mention what you’re doing as a business to try and be more inclusive and supportive to individuals with learning difficulties. Stress that this will not affect their application or new job status in any way – make it clear that it’s your job as a business owner and manager to get the best out of your employees. Let them know you only hope to support them in any way you can. 

6. Have Honest Conversations With Your Entire Staff  

A lack of discussion of learning difficulties in the workplace can lead to many members of staff simply staying quiet about the areas they might also struggle in. Supporting learning difficulties ought to be seen as a part of your business culture – starting from the top and trickling down to every employee.  

If they aren’t discussed and supported in the wider business, then employees may feel unable to come forward. If you want the best from your team, create a business culture where everyone is supported. 

7. Support Your Entire Team To Increase Understanding 

Of course, every person with a learning difficulty is different. And that means there will be some individuals who feel comfortable sharing their difficulties and others who don’t. Either way, educating the wider team is a great way to show support and help others understand learning difficulties better. 

Team workshops and lessons around learning difficulties is a great idea. If your employee feels comfortable, it might be a good idea to ask if they would be willing to discuss how their learning difficulties affect them and what they do differently to others. It will increase understanding and patience in the team, and help everybody work better together in a more mindful and efficient way. 

Supporting Employees With Learning Disabilities 

All employers need to understand the best way to support those working with disability – disabilities of all kinds, but today let’s focus on learning disabilities.  

Just as with learning difficulties, supporting those with learning disabilities is always best done by focussing on the individual, rather than the disability. That way, you can work out a path forward that benefits them as the employee, and you as the employer. 

1. Think About Your Recruitment Process 

Did you know that some of the biggest barriers to people with learning disabilities during the recruitment process are: 

  • Formal interviews 
  • Qualification requirements  
  • Online applications 

Some individuals with learning disabilities find the recruitment process particularly difficult due to a lack of familiarity with technology or anxiety over the formal process. Many won’t apply for a position based on a lack of qualifications – some of which are unrelated and unnecessary for the job role.  

Take a look at your recruitment process. Is it as inclusive as it can be? Could you make reasonable adjustments to support those with learning disabilities in applying in the first place? 

2. Reasonable Adjustments During Recruitment 

Some examples of reasonable adjustments might include: 

Job AdvertisementSimply advertising your job online could mean that individuals with learning disabilities are not able to access it. Have you considered leaving physical job adverts in relevant places?
Recruitment DaysPerhaps an advertisement isn’t the right way to go at all? Recruitment days are an excellent way to encourage everyone to come down and see what your business is all about. And it means everyone has equal chance of being seen.
Practical AssessmentsWhen it comes to the interview process, it might be a good idea to support individuals with learning disabilities with practical assessments rather than formal interview questions.
Support On The DayAllow those with learning disabilities to bring a loved one or job coach with them to help them feel more at ease and better prepared for the interview/assessment.
Informal SettingKeep things as informal as possible. The more at ease you make anybody feel, the better they’ll perform on the day. Make the entire process feel more like a chat than an interview if possible.
Be ClearWhen speaking to individuals with learning disabilities it’s best to make sure you’re as clear as possible. Use plain English and ask what you want to know. The more to the point you are, the better responses you’ll receive.

3. On The Job Support 

Once an employee with learning disabilities joins your business, you might want to consider how you can support them on the job. Think about: 

  • Offering a job coach or mentor to keep them on track during the initial days and weeks of employment 
  • Being patient with progress and allowing more time for individuals with learning disabilities to get to grips with their new role 
  • Adjusting how you work – perhaps not every individual in your business requires a checklist of jobs that need completing that day, but someone with a learning disability may find this easier to stick to than a verbal list of instructions 

4. Ask 

It’s such an easy thing to do, but so many employers fail to do it: simply ask your employee what would help them do their job. Then put support in place based on their suggestions.  

5. Carve Out A Role 

Remember, learning disabilities mean that some individuals can’t complete some tasks. It’s not a question of competence, but a question of ability. Some employees simply can’t complete some tasks. So, rather than trying to make your employee with learning disabilities fit the job role perfectly, you should carve out the perfect job role for them. 

Sit with them and ask which tasks they’re unable to complete, and ask which tasks they enjoy and think they’re good at. Then you can think more carefully about the role you’ve hired them for, and make some adjustments to focus on their abilities, and minimise their disabilities.  

Supporting Employees With Learning Difficulties: Conclusion 

Supporting employees with learning difficulties and those working with disability is an important thing to get right for any employer. You have to support ALL your employees effectively.  

The best way to do this is show patience, understanding and acceptance. Work with your employee and find out what will help them. Then make some reasonable adjustments to ensure they’re being supported effectively in the workplace. 

And remember, good management of individuals with learning difficulties and disabilities is just good management. You can use all of the above tips to make yourself a better business owner for all your employees.  


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