Diana Hudson explains why people with dyslexia often struggle with time management and finding their way around
Despite being intelligent and articulate, many people with dyslexia have difficulty getting to new places and arriving on time. Drawing on my experience of living and working with dyslexics, and as someone who has dyslexia, I would like to suggest a few reasons why these everyday tasks can cause such problems.
It is known that people with dyslexia often read inaccurately. Place names can be particularly difficult, as there are no reference points in a sentence to suggest that there has been a misreading of the word. It is also quite common for dyslexics to read the beginning and endings of words, while not taking in much in-between; so Coventry can be confused with Canterbury, Shaftesbury with Salisbury or Northampton with Nottingham. Initially, a place name may be remembered only vaguely, so the traveller knows they are going somewhere in the North beginning with B, but whether it is to Bradford, Burnley or Blackpool needs further reinforcement.
Misreading forms for advance bookings is another pitfall. Hiring a car for the wrong day, month or, in our case, a year ahead of the required date can easily occur. Similar problems arise for train, boat, bus or flight bookings.
Even if the correct destination is in mind, someone with dyslexia can easily slip up at stations and find themselves on the wrong train or bus. This can either be due to misreading the signage or getting to the wrong platform. Busses are especially difficult as the stops are not generally labelled. Dyslexic travellers may be confused but are often too embarrassed to ask for help.
Interpreting timetables with small lettering, a 24-hour clock and a huge amount of information in a small amount of space can be daunting and overwhelming. Some dyslexic travellers will find this almost impossible to do and often rely on asking an official or consulting the internet.
Space and position
It is known that people with dyslexia can get lost very easily. Some dyslexic people find it difficult to tell left from right and can turn the wrong way. For them, following written or verbal instructions involving numerous turns can be difficult. Emerging from a building, or even a room in a long corridor, and turning 180 degrees in the wrong direction happens all too commonly and clearly this is not a good starting point.
Maps can be helpful visual aids but they do need to be orientated correctly and this can be problematic, especially if the reader has poor awareness of their location in relation to north, south east or west. Sat Nav and mobile map apps can be a great help, but only when the letters and numbers are pumped in correctly, and errors can occur.
Distances can also be misjudged: “It was a lot further than I thought” is a common cry.
Many people with dyslexia find it very difficult to read an analogue clock and can struggle if this is the only clock available. Luckily, most find that digital time information is much easier to access.
Not allowing enough time to make a journey is another common problem. Often, there is a lack of forward planning, with insufficient time being allocated to make the journey. Sometimes, enough time has been allowed in theory but when it comes to it, other activities have taken longer than expected, so they are very late setting off. It can therefore be very easy to miss transport connections.
Short-term memory is generally poor in people with dyslexia, so verbal instructions will be quickly forgotten. House names and numbers and road names may only be remembered vaguely: for example, “I think it had a “two” in it” or “The road name is some kind of tree”.
Times of meetings and contact details may need to be re-checked several times, along with the name of the person they are meeting. It may take a few visits to a location before journey and venue details are firmly locked into long-term memory. Sometimes, frustratingly, the same route errors will be made more than once.
Other common dyslexic traits are disorganisation and a lack of forward planning, which can both cause all sorts of difficulties. Leaving insufficient time to pack and gather essential items can result in lateness and arriving without some of the key items needed for the visit.
Ways of coping
People who have dyslexia are usually aware of their difficulties and generally learn to cope well in the end. They may overcompensate and arrive very early but this can give them time to relax and focus on the purpose of the meeting. A few key coping strategies can help a great deal; whether travelling for work, meeting a friend or going on holiday, many of the same criteria apply:
- plan ahead
- make tick lists for essential items
- pack the day before, if possible
- check details in advance, including train times and platforms, bus numbers or the walking route
- aim to arrive early, as this allows for slippage and is much more relaxing; I usually try to be at least an hour early, when possible
- have a practice visit to the location, if this is feasible
- double check the arrangements
- have the destination address and contact details written in several places, with appropriate names and a phone number
- don’t be afraid to ask for advice from officials or fellow travellers
- have a plan B; while sat nav and map apps can be a great help, they can sometimes lead to the wrong location, and batteries can fail or run down when you need them most, so it is worth working out alternative arrangements and routes in advance
- enlist a “travel buddy”.
About the author
Diana Hudson runs inset training for teachers and mentors teenagers and adults with specific learning difficulties. She is the author of Specific Learning Difficulties: What Teachers Need to Know, published by Jessica Kingsley.