The advantages of dyslexia in accountancy

According to the NHS, an estimated 1 in every 10 people in the UK has some degree of dyslexia.

They will all have found ways to cope with it, but generally speaking, dyslexia can make reading and writing tasks a challenge.

What is dyslexia?

Typically, people with dyslexia may find spelling, reading and writing more difficult. They are usually diagnosed at school, but for some people, it may only become a problem when they go to college.

Dyslexia ranges from real difficulty in reading and writing, to having the occasional problem with spelling. People with dyslexia may confuse the order of letters in words, mix up b and d, or guess at words they find hard to recognise.

They may also find it more difficult to follow written instructions and find planning and organisation more of a challenge. However, they are often very good at problem solving, lateral and creative thinking, and coming up with new and innovative ways to tackle problems, so they can be a real asset in an organisation.

Looking at the positives

In accountancy, while dyslexia can make written examinations quite challenging, it can also be an advantage when it comes to taking a fresh and creative approach to complex problems.

Robert Albert MAAT, who is now 33, was told in college that he had dyslexia, and has found that despite some of the challenges he faces, his dyslexia has also given him a unique perspective which makes him a valuable member of the team where he works.

“I always enjoyed working with numbers,” he says. “I initially wanted to do an AAT apprenticeship, but I couldn’t find a job, so instead I went to college and did A level accounting, business studies and IT.”

He was diagnosed as dyslexic at college and was given 25% extra time for his exams.

The affects of dyslexia

“Dyslexia takes different forms and affects people in different ways,” he says. “I am a slow reader, but I am good with numbers. For me, it can be an issue because there are time pressures at work – we are hired out by the hour.  When I first started working, I used to worry that I was not getting things done as quickly as other people.

“In professional career, I did find it a struggle in the early years before I was diagnosed, especially because time was important in meeting budgets.  I was feeling stressed because I felt I was not really working to same standard as the other people in my office. My employer sent me for a dyslexia assessment and they came up with ideas on how to help, which included using colour filters to read text.”

He says he initially found things tough until he started developing his own coping mechanisms. He discovered he had qualities that were unusual and useful to an employer.

Coping mechanisms

“The way my mind works is great for accountancy because it gives me a different perspective from other people,” he says.

“It also means that I am less likely to write a letter and more likely to pick up the phone. That helps to build up relationships with clients. I work full time and I also run my own practice at home.”

One of his coping mechanisms is to listen to music while he works.

“It helps me tune out the white noise and allows me to concentrate on what I’m doing,” he says. “Everyone has challenges and each one of us has to find ways of working around them. My message to people with dyslexia is not to be afraid but to make the most of your different perspective.”

As an example, he can look at a tax problem a number of different ways, and enjoys using spreadsheets and designing formulas.

“I’ve never been great with words but when comes to numbers I know I am going to be alright,” he says. “It’s about finding a way to use your strengths and not see them as weaknesses.”

Studying AAT with dyslexia

Robert Albert is now a MAAT and just applied for FMAAT, the highest level of membership you can achieve within AAT.

In the end, he didn’t request extra time for his final AAT papers because had taken A level accounting, and felt confident that had understood the course. He still uses a variety of methods to help him, including using colour filters to make text easier to read, noise reduction, and limiting distractions.

“I love what I do – I like dealing with people, and helping businesses grow,” he says. “I look at people like Richard Branson and see that dyslexia is not stopping him from being innovative and trying new things. Everyone has their mountains to climb – go and find what works for you and don’t be afraid to experiment.”

AAT publishes guidance on how students can access qualifications and assessments if they have individual difficulties.

The document: Guidelines for the application of reasonable adjustments and special consideration in AAT assessments says, awarding bodies and centres can make “appropriate reasonable adjustments to standard assessment arrangements, wherever this is required to enable access”.
In practice, this means allowing extra reading time for people with dyslexia.

If you need extra help with your AAT qualifications, AAT has an extensive range of study support for students, including practice assessments, careers advice and networking events.

Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.

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