Tag Archives: demystification

Dealing with the Issues

My previous post described the beginning of Mel Levine’s January talk, and ended with a case in point describing a young child and the learning issues with which he was diagnosed. This post describes one avenue for dealing with those issues, along with how Mel Levine, in general, deals with children and young adults who come his way.

There are a number of ways to deal with wiring issues (that often translate to learning issues), some of which can be overcome or circumvented.

The young man mentioned in the previous post, diagnosed with an auditory processing issue and dyslexia, learned the letters of the alphabet over a two year period. From second to third grade he met regularly with a speech and language therapist who used the Orton-Gillingham method. He also met for several weeks with an occupational therapist, where the focus was on understanding where his body was in relation to the space around him.

By the middle of third grade he was reading, and as a young adult he is described as an avid reader with an outstanding vocabulary. His penmanship has not changed much in the intervening years; while legible, a quick glance at his writing might cause you to think the writer was younger than his late teenage years. He is better able to follow directions when they are phrased precisely and clearly, and for oral directions, stated slower rather than hastily spewed out. Other areas impacted by the dyslexia include processing abstract information, which in this case translates to mathematics. One-on-one tutorials have been found helpful for developing an understanding of some of the mathematical concepts.

Mel Levine noted that his approach in dealing with “students who are innocent victims of their own wiring” is to “strengthen strengths.” This plays a large role in the demystification process championed by his organization, All Kinds of Minds. Mel explains the process in this brief article, Demystification: Taking the Mystery Out of Disappointing Mastery. You can gain further insight into the philosophy behind the practice by viewing any of the videos or listening to the audio interviews on the Media page. (There are also transcripts available for all talks). Essentially, the student is made a partner in the process, and the process involves having the student understand their strengths and weaknesses. In other words, the student learns about how s/he learns. Another word for that is metacognition 🙂

In conjunction with Dr Levine, Channel Thirteen, the New York public television station, produced Misunderstood Minds, a content rich site that “profiles a variety of learning problems and expert opinions”. The site includes many simulations and hands-on activities related to attention, reading, writing and mathematics. It is well worth the time to investigate these activities, as they provide a glimpse in to what it is like to have wiring anomalies that impact learning.

The other key, not just for kids with wiring anomalies but for all young adults (indeed, for each of us), is to find your niche and “then all else will fall into place”. My next post on Levine’s talk will continue with this idea.

Meanwhile, if you or someone you know has learning issues, below are organizations that have plenty of helpful information to get you started in understanding your or their wiring. The first site focuses on dyslexia, but the other three include extensive information on a range of topics.

Dyslexia Teacher: Symptoms of Dyslexia

Kids Health – Dyslexia

Learning Disabilities Worldwide

National Center for Learning Disabilities: Dyslexia

Next post: A Niche in Time, continuation of Mel Levine’s talk


Work Life Readiness: Equipping Kids’ Minds Before 24

The title of this post is the title of the talk given by Dr Mel Levine in mid-January to parents and teachers in my community on the coast, some 30 miles north of New York City. He captivated us, an audience of about 400, for two complete hours, as he spoke and took questions.

Levine is a pro at presenting, having been doing this for probably over 19 years. (I first heard him speak 19 years ago.) His life’s work is filled with counseling children and young adults, so it is no surprise that both his books and talks are peppered with anecdotes. He looks out at his audience and makes eye contact with those in the front rows, he uses humor but gets serious where needed, and he appreciates that we all listen differently. To that end, he hands out an extensive outline of his talk for those who want to follow along, take notes, or just relax and listen but have something to jog their memory when they’ve gone home. This talk revolved around his 2005 book, Ready or Not, Here Life Comes, which I have not read.

Levine’s handout runs ten typed pages; my notes span one and a half. I attended his talk for many reasons: because I have two sons, one age 23 and the other soon to be 17; because I have always enjoyed hearing Levine speak; because I am a teacher; because I know a student who will be doing a related independent study next year; and because I am interested in the brain and how we learn. So what did he have to say?

Dr Levine began by describing young adults, particularly those who have learning difficulties. These students, he said, are “innocent victims of their own wiring.” That line hits home. Sadly, there have been, and continue to be, teachers who blame the student when work is not done and information is not learned, rather than acknowledging there is always a reason behind the action (or lack of action), figuring out what that reason is (or getting help to figure it out), and then working with the student to deal with that “it”.

Case in point: When a young man I know was in first grade, his teacher was indignant that he did not know his ABCs, and complained that he was not trying hard enough. He was six years old and told his parents that he wasn’t smart because his teacher said he did not know his alphabet. It turned out he had an auditory processing dysfunction and was dyslexic. Can you imagine what it feels like, at the young age of six, to already feel you are not smart?

Having an auditory processing issue coupled with dyslexia meant, for this child, that he was unable to put sounds to letters of the alphabet and often misheard words that did not have definitive sounds, thus misinterpreting what he heard. Multistep oral directions were difficult for him to process and follow. Reversals filled his writing, meaning that several letters and numbers resembling other letters or numbers were flipped with one another. (For instance, upper case “E” and the number “3”, the numbers “9” and “6”, lower case “p” and “q”, and so on.) The hearing of language, which comes naturally to most of us, was a foreign affair. An intense finger grip made written language both physically and mentally tiring to write. He was, as Mel Levine says, an innocent victim of his own wiring.

Next post: Dealing with the issues.

Here Comes Mel Levine

readyornotherelifecomes.jpgReady or Not, Here Life Comes is Mel Levine’s most recent book. Published in 2005, it covers a range of topics dealing with preparing young adults (and their parents) for life after high school and college. On January 17th my husband and I had the pleasure of settling in to a packed auditorium where Dr Levine talked about this topic. This was our third time in about eighteen years hearing Dr Levine speak, so we were already familiar with his engaging style. We’ve predisposed to hear his update about the many animals he raises on his farm in North Carolina, among them geese, dogs, swans, peacocks, pheasants, and donkeys, to name a few!

Before I tell you about Levine’s talk, though, for those of you who do not know him, here is an introduction. Dr Mel Levine is a pediatrician and Professor of Pediatrics at the University of North Carolina Medical School. He is best known, though, for being the co-founder with Charles Schwab of All Kinds of Minds and the Schools Attuned program. Schools Attuned provides training to teachers in, and assists schools with implementing, the programs of All Kinds of Minds. The All Kinds of Minds approach is compelling because it does away with the negative labels that so often stymie both the students who are labeled and the faculty who are charged with teaching them.

amindatatime.jpgLevine’s approach is to uncover what is not functioning well within the student’s brain while also determining a student’s strengths. This process is called demystification, and can become an eye-opener for a struggling student and his or her parents. It is often the beginning of a fresh, positive approach to dealing with learning issues, and doing away with the stigma that often travels with kids who have been negatively labeled from year to year. In 2002 Dr Levine wrote A Mind at a Time, which is a most helpful primer for parents and teachers that covers the neurodevelopmental constructs behind the All Kinds of Minds approach.

You can get to know Dr Levine a bit more in this insightful September 2006 interview with Marge Scherer, Editor in Chief of Educational Leadership. The interview, Celebrate Strengths, Nurture Affinities: A Conversation with Mel Levine, is a well-focused lens both on Levine as an individual, as well as on his philosophy. And if you blinked in surprise that he lives on a farm with a multitude of animals, you can hear them at the beginning of this January 2005 NPR interview, Mel Levine: Teaching All Kinds of Minds, which begins on his farm. The NPR site also has seven additional audio clips of Dr Levine giving his views on a number of related issues. If you are interested in learning more, here are some additional books by Mel Levine:


Keeping a Head in School: A Student’s Book About Learning Abilities and Learning Disorders

All Kinds of Minds: A Young Student’s Book About Learning Abilities and Learning Disorders