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Autistics and Dyslexics make good spies

“I’m often looking through a lot of data and I find that my dyslexia helps me to see the bigger picture and spot patterns that aren’t always obvious to everyone else around me. I also find that my approach to finding solutions is very different.”

Charlotte’s face isn’t visible in the Made by Dyslexia’s video podcast, instead she has an avatar to hide her identity. That’s because she is one of the intelligence analysts working at the United Kingdom's prestigious GCHQ: Britain’s Code Breakers and cyber security agents tasked to keep the UK safe.

“We’re committed to recruiting people with dyslexia and other neurodiverse individuals into the organisation.”

says Jo Cavan the Director of Strategy, Policy and Engagement at GCHQ.

“We are about three or four times more likely to have apprentices with dyslexia than on other apprenticeship schemes. It’s mission critical for us, and since our inception we have looked to hire individuals who are neurodiverse, and as a result we have a thriving community of colleagues that think differently.”

The organisation goes out of its way to hire dyslexic brains and other neurodivergent thinkers. “Great minds don’t think alike” they proudly announce.

As the scope of the digital world mushrooms, intelligence agencies need ‘out the box thinkers’ who seem to thrive in this new and unpredictable world .

“Most people only get to see the jigsaw picture when it's nearly finished while dyslexic cryptographists can see what the jigsaw looks like with just two pieces.”

says Tom West in Seeing what Others cannot see. Tom’s book (premium members can catch a summary here) traces the stories of minds that struggled in early years of formal education and then went on to do extraordinary things in the sciences and in mathematics.

Tom maintains that some brains are just better at harder things. Like being a spy!

Kate Griggs,founder of Made By Dyslexia and host of the D.Spot vlogcast explains the Five strengths that make Dyslexics great spies.

  1. Seeing the big picture

  2. Spotting patterns in events and data and communications

  3. Finding different solutions - ‘thinking out the box’

  4. Thinking laterally to solve complex digital puzzles

  5. Simplifying complicated information and analysing data

Rob, also coolly covert on the show, describes his role as a “transformational innovator” . He explains that his ability to see a clear solution in 100s of bits of information or an alternative possibility in a problem others cannot solve is because of his dyslexia.

He collaborates, trusting others to ‘make things happen in the right order’ which he admits to not being good at. In turn, others depend on him to intuitively know just what the ‘right things to do’ are.

This ability to see a clear solution in the midst of many variable factors, complex data and loose ends is a dyslexic super power in the real world where big problems must be solved urgently.

It’s the big irony Tom keeps pointing at in this month’s episode of Wonderfully Wired: You can find easy math, science, reading and arithmetic difficult and struggle to follow procedures and explain simple calculations - and then see through the most complex puzzles no one else can.

The groundbreaking ideas that Tom studied were seldom adopted early, often taking decades before others (who think more procedurally) discovered that those ideas were right all along.

A combination of visual thinking, dynamic reasoning and great intuition allows a dyslexic spy to come to conclusions that are absolutely right without being able to explain how he or she got there.

Imagine working for an organisation that trusts your superpower instead of demanding proof of your process.

Suzanne Wilson Heckenberg, President of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA), the US Intelligence Community explains why autism also makes for good espionage.

“Individuals on the autism spectrum often display exceptional talent in pattern recognition, processing complex information, visual-spatial tasks, attention to detail, and the ability to sustain focus for long periods of time – skills that are highly valued among intelligence analysts. Neurodiverse employees make rational decisions more consistently than neurotypical people and are less prone to cognitive bias.”

But how do Wonderfully Wired candidates even get considered for such prestigious jobs?

How does a dyslexic or autistic person overcome the large amount of paperwork and standardised testing that paves the road to careers like these? Wilson further explains that background tests flag neurodiverse people for habits that are traditionally viewed as suspicious like fidgeting, not making eye contact or answering questions too literally.

GCHQ has an answer to that too.

The organisation has decided that the gift offered in the Wonderfully Wired mind is worth the adjustments that need to be made to the recruitment process and in the workplace to accommodate the challenges faced.

They’ve adjusted the process of recruitment and offer unique in-house apprenticeship programs.

Imagine working for an organisation that trusts and desires your superpower so much that it does whatever it needs to to accommodate your challenges to unlock that gift.

Now imagine if schools thought like that?

All of this makes me want to ask my child and yours: If you can choose between being good with 8th grade math or saving your country from a terrorist attack, which would you choose?

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