Tag Archives: dyslexia

Revisiting Dyslexia

I have written a number of posts about dyslexia and in the process came into contact with Ann Farris. Ann left a comment on one of those posts, which led to us exchanging emails, the last one being a year ago May. Better late than never, and with thanks for her permission, I am posting below an article that she wrote about her journey with dyslexia.

Dyslexia, Hyperlexia and Beyond

Twenty plus years ago when I was Director of the Opera-Musical Theater Program at the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, DC, I was diagnosed as being heavily dyslexic and told there was nothing to be done to help me. Being in my mid-forties and enjoying a very successful career as a producer/manager in opera and World Expositions I was not willing to accept the testing officer’s opinion. I set out to learn more about this condition called dyslexia.

This article describes what I’ve discovered over these last two decades about my particular condition, my process for healing and the successes I have had.

My Diagnosis

Typically and simplistically a dyslexic is defined as someone who has trouble sounding out and reading words and who has a poor vocabulary. However, even though I had been diagnosed as ‘dyslexic’, that definition did not fit me. I had two other issues: I did not seem to have the skills to comprehend the content of what I was reading and any effort I made only brought on a sense of inner rushing up the core of my body, a searing pain in my arms and across my eyes and a feeling of confusion in my brain. As a result when these discomforts would take over, I would simply “space out”. Concentration was very challenging. In 1983, no one in the scientific, medical or academic community seemed to have any solution.

Elimination of Refined Sugar and Emotions

By chance, someone advised me to go off refined sugar. I decided to try it and to my amazement after a period of time the painful inner rushing within my body all but stopped. I then undertook extensive therapy to understand and learn how to handle the emotional issues that I had experienced during my lifetime. I knew somehow that this training was important to my becoming the kind of a reader who could easily comprehend the content of what I was reading.

My Senses

I became proficient in understanding my body from a sensory point of view. I discovered that not only are my senses highly developed but also I have a synesthesic talent which enables me to feel one or more senses simultaneously. There’s a downside to this skill which is that all this unasked sensorial information can cause real confusion in my brain. But as I learned about my synesthesia I was able to differentiate between the confusion that was generated from my senses and the confusion that seemed to come from my “dyslexic” condition.

Reference: http://web.mit.edu/synesthesia

Whoosh

Once I could differentiate between the feelings that came from my senses and those which came from my emotions I realized there was yet another inner feeling that could confuse me. I call it the “whoosh” because it appears suddenly through my head and into my chest and can require me to physically stop my current activity because I am in confusion. Learning to meditate and understanding myself from a metaphysical perspective gave me the tools to master this feeling.

Reference: The Other Side of Dyslexiawww.dyslexiadiscovery.com

Retesting and Brain Gym

In November, 2005 I made two decisions. I would become licensed in Brain Gym® 1. (Educational Kinesiology) a movement-based program that is very effective in correcting dyslexic challenges and, I would be retested. Much has been learned in the 20 years since my first diagnosis. I wanted to see how the scientific community would assess my dyslexic condition now.

Reference: http://www.braingym.org

Hyperlexia

This time the testing resulted in a different diagnosis. My primary issue is hyperlexia, dyslexia is secondary (only 20% of my problem). The reason that I could not easily comprehend what I read came from the fact that I was not creating images of the content while I was reading. The tests revealed that my reading comprehension was at a grade 3 level. (And I am a graduate of Yale!)

Reference: http://www.k12academics.com/disorders-disabilities/hyperlexia

Lindamood-Bell

To correct this situation I took the Visualizing and Verbalizing for Language Comprehension and Thinking Remedial Program at Lindamood-Bell. While the counselors were very skilled the training process was very challenging for me. The process of learning how to create images was physically very painful and my brain, emotions and body fought the process the whole time. And, all the emotional issues that I have ever experienced came up to be revisited. It was not a happy time in my life. I advanced myself to a grade nine reading comprehension level — quite an achievement I felt. But as I began to face the challenge of imaging “theoretical” words, phrases or paragraphs my emotional interruptions plainly were not going to support my advancing any further. It was time to stop and reflect. While I was proud of my progress I somehow felt the process drummed out of me a desire to read.

Reference: http://www.lblp.com

Svetlana Masgutova Method and Reflexes

Shortly thereafter, in February 2006, as part of my training to become a Brain Gym instructor, I took a class on reflex pattern integration from Svetlana Masgutova. The originator of the Musgutova Method, she is the Director of International NeuroKinesiology Institute of Movement Development and Reflex Integration™, the author of 80 works on psychology, education, NeuroKinesiology, Edu-Kinesthetics, Art-Kinesiology™, and movement development. Her work draws out new levels of potential from physical and mental challenges, ranging from cerebral palsy, paralysis and developmental delays to post-traumatic stress and learning disabilities.

Reference: http://www.masgutovamethod.com

Effect on Baby in Utero of a Mother’s Emotional Trauma During Pregnancy

This class was a turning point for me. Masgutova’s research in Russia of clients with different learning processes showed that some people developed while in utero their neuro-developmental basis for dyslexia, hyperlexia, autism, etc. In some of these cases, the mothers experienced emotional traumas while pregnant and that trauma was then transferred to their child. The result physically is that some of the reflexes which usually developed when the baby is in utero do not develop correctly causing incomplete neurological connections in the brain formation. This was my case.

Interestingly, not long after I had been first diagnosed with dyslexia, my mother told me that while she was pregnant with me she was faced with a major emotional challenge which she thought I should know about. It is extraordinary to me that that revelation would become so important a clue, twenty years later.

Bowenwork

Around the time I was working with the Masgutova Method I was also introduced to Bowenwork. In this process a body work specialist applies “relatively few, gentle ‘moves’ over muscles and other soft tissue addressing the whole body, stimulating it to reset and heal itself. The healing may occur at all levels as needed: physical, chemical, emotional, mental, energetic, etc” (2) I had a sense that Bowenwork might assist me in controlling my need to space out. This proved to be true. It taught me how to stay in my body while moving through different emotional states like anger or fear, an important skill for good reading.

Reference: http://www.bowtech.com

“Switching On” My Brain

Since February, 2006 I have worked with the Brain Gym Balances and also with Masgutova Reflex Integration processes to correct the emotional issues linked to the underdeveloped reflexes. These processes have been amazingly effective in helping me solve the hyperlexia/dyslexia. A Brain Gym session called a balance involves discovering the emotional or physical issue to be handled, stating a positive goal to resolve it, and identifying and then implementing the movements to most effectively connect the parts involved. The goal is to allow the whole brain to function eliminating a tendency to “switch off” any part of the brain.

Link of Emotional Issues and Underdeveloped Reflexes

In my case most of these corrections have involved the reflex patterns that were underdeveloped in utero and the first three years of my life due to my mother’s stresses that were passed on to me. As I have released the emotional issues around the underdeveloped reflexes and done the simple exercises the reflex patterns are correcting themselves. The result seems to be that my brain has been gently reprogrammed making it ready to handle learning. The brilliance of the combination of Brain Gym (Educational Kinesthetics) with Svetlana Masgutova’s reflex work has proven to be the tools I needed to learn how to heal my hyperlexia and dyslexia. Had I known about this approach before I feel sure it would have made Lindamood-Bell a much less painful process. Maybe I would even have come away with the desire to read.

Balancing It All

How am I measuring my success? Intellectually, as my imaging skills improve, I am more willing to venture into the theoretical reading material. I now have the confidence that I can control the emotional eruptive behaviors that were stopping me from imaging theoretical words or concepts. Now, when the emotions appear I simply apply the integrative movements. By balancing the emotions and the reflexes simultaneously, I am able to continue reading. I am learning that concentration must be stress-free so that my brain will function as I need it to.

Progress At Last

The last twenty years have been quite a personal journey. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Now, I feel like a new person. To experience the joy of comprehending what I read is such a gift and such a relief. To watch an opera performance and be able to remember the next day the staging is a new experience. Am I done? No, not yet. That does not bother me. I am making progress without the enormous stress. My ultimate goal is to have the confidence and desire to know that I can pick up a book, any book and enjoy reading it.

1. Brain Gym® is a registered trademark of Brain Gym International/Educational Kinesiology Foundation, www.braingym.org.

three-birds

Copyright 2009 Ann Farris
All rights reserved

PERMISSION MUST BE GRANTED BY THE AUTHOR FOR USE ON WEB SITES AND FOR OUTSIDE PUBLISHING
Dyslexia Discovery
PO Box 170036
San Francisco, CA 94117
http://www.dyslexiadiscovery.com

Brain Power from the New York Times

Throughout 2009 the New York Times published a series of six articles that discussed the latest findings in brain research. Here they are, starting with the most recent.

  • Studying Young Minds, and How to Teach Them – explains how our brains learn math. It turns out there are optimal developmental times and methods for introducing our brains to math, and they aren’t when/what you might have expected.  The following comment got me thinking about when and how we teach reading:

A similar honing process is thought to occur when young children begin to link letter shapes and their associated sounds. Cells in the visual cortex wired to recognize shapes specialize in recognizing letters; these cells communicate with neurons in the auditory cortex as the letters are associated with sounds.

The process may take longer to develop than many assume. A study published in March by neuroscientists at Maastricht University in the Netherlands suggested that the brain does not fully fuse letters and sound until about age 11.

  • Surgery for Mental Ills Offers Both Hope and Risk – talks about psychosurgery and its impact on those with O.C.D. (obsessive compulsive disorder). To paraphrase Shakespeare: To intervene via surgery or not to intervene via surgery. That is the question.
  • After Injury, Fighting to Regain a Sense of Self – reminded me of anecdotes shared by V.S. Ramachandran in his book Phantoms in the Brain (probably THE book that pulled me in to the world of our brains). Essentially, injury can cause the brain to play some cruel tricks on itself, including fiddling with one’s sense of self. Is there a spot in our brains that defines who we are?
  • In Battle, Hunches Prove to Be Valuable –  Call it intuition, a hunch, a feeling in your gut, but most likely you’ve experienced that sensation where you just “know” something to be so. While this article discusses the sensing of danger, it made me think of how we size up people in general, for instance, being “street smart”.

But United States troops are now at the center of a large effort to understand how it is that in a life-or-death situation, some people’s brains can sense danger and act on it well before other’s do.

Experience matters, or course: if you have seen something before, you are more likely to anticipate it the next time. And yet, recent research suggests that something else is at work, too.

Small differences in how the brain processes images, how well it reads emotions and how it manages surges in stress hormones help explain why some people sense imminent danger before most others do.

  • At the Bridge Table, Clues to a Lucid Old Age – An avid bridge player, my 78 year old Aunt Joan would love this article! The article discusses the 90+ Study, which “has included more than 14,000 people aged 65 and older, and more than 1,000 aged 90 or older.” The question seems to be, which came first – being cognitively active and thus having a sharp brain, or having a sharp brain and thus being cognitively active. One area in which all scientists agree is the importance of social connections for maintaining brain health.

In isolation, a healthy human mind can go blank and quickly become disoriented, psychologists have found.

“There is quite a bit of evidence now suggesting that the more people you have contact with, in your own home or outside, the better you do” mentally and physically, Dr. Kawas said. “Interacting with people regularly, even strangers, uses easily as much brain power as doing puzzles, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this is what it’s all about.”

  • Brain Researchers Open Door to Editing Memory – This title opens up all sorts of questions related to ethics. On the other hand, what about a brain that has some unhealthy parts? I did enjoy one possible way of thinking about how our brain keeps memories:

…brain cells activated by an experience keep one another on biological speed-dial, like a group of people joined in common witness of some striking event. Call on one and word quickly goes out to the larger network of cells, each apparently adding some detail, sight, sound, smell. The brain appears to retain a memory by growing thicker, or more efficient, communication lines between these cells.

Dyslexia – The Shaywitz’s morning talks

Go ahead, say the word out loud: Dyslexia. Dr. Sally Shaywitz says part of the problem in dealing with this learning difference is that people are reluctant to use the word. By using the term, the learning difference becomes something tangible that can be dealt with. Indeed, as a result of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), scientists have “taken a hidden disability and made it visible”.

What, exactly, is Dyslexia?
Most people I’ve spoken with tend to think of dyslexia as a difficulty with reading. They are correct, to a point, but there is more to the definition.

Dyslexia is an unexpected difficulty in reading, in relation to intelligence, motivation, education or professional status. (S. Shaywitz)

This “unexpected difficulty” is what makes life frustrating for children and adults who have dyslexia, because people with whom they interact – parents, teachers, colleagues – often do not understand dyslexia. A common response on the part of a parent or teacher is that the person [who has dyslexia] is not trying hard enough, or needs to do more work. Further complicating the issue is that dyslexics tend to be intelligent and can have a high IQ but a low reading score. Thus, someone who appears to be intelligent but not able to keep up with the work load is branded as being lazy or not interested. (The data for this comes from an ongoing longitudinal study, conducted by the Shaywitzs, that measures reading and IQ over time.)

What causes Dyslexia?
Dyslexia can be, but is not always, genetic. The odds are that if someone in a family has dyslexia, a parent, sibling or child may also have it. No one specific gene has been identified as the dyslexic gene, and it is thought that a number of genes each “contribute a tiny amount”. The result, as seen in countless fMRIs, is that specific areas of the brain are impacted by simply not turning on in the process of trying to read, and this “disruption of the posterior reading system is universal” across cultures and languages.

Humans are hard wired for speaking but not for reading. Someone with dyslexia can pick up information using modalities other than reading (hearing, seeing, touching…), process that information and learn from it, remix it, and make use of it. It is when they try to use reading as their source for taking in information that their difficulty manifests itself.

Our brains are plastic!
I’ve written extensively about brain plasticity. What it means is that our brains are able to change; indeed, they change as we learn. What this means for dyslexics is that intervention can change the brain of a dyslexic, and the earlier the intervention, the better. The process of reading is broken down into myriad steps, and there are specific programs designed that teach non-readers how to tap into these specific steps.

The parts of the brain that are impacted (“disrupted”, as the Shaywitzs call it) deal with being able to read rapidly, automatically, and engage in pronunciation, spelling, and meaning. These last three are in the occipito-temporal area, which is the rear left side of the brain. “Non-impaired readers tend to base their reading on sound; dyslexics base their reading on memory.” Just imagine how overtaxed your working memory would quickly become if you had to rely on it for the bulk of your reading. If you can imagine that, then you can begin to understand why intelligent people who are dyslexic can readily become wiped out from the process of reading, particularly within a demanding school environment.

Good teaching can change the brain the way neuroscience cannot – non-invasively. (B. Shaywitz)

Additional Resources provided on a conference handout by the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity:

The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity
Overcoming Dyslexia by Dr. Sally Shaywitz
•  The Dyslexia Knol by Dr. Sally Shaywitz
Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic
Bookshare.org

Professor Garfield – for kids
Teachers’ Lounge at Professor Garfield
SparkTop.org – for kids

What Works Clearing House – “scientific evidence for what works in education”
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)

Parents Education Network – “coalition of parents collaborating with educators, students and the community to empower and bring academic success to students with learning and attention difficulties.”

Summer Sharing and Paring

garbagePailIt’s vacation, June 21, and officially the first day of summer. It’s also been an extremely rainy June, providing me more time indoors than at the pool. Last year by this time I was swimming daily half miles in our neighborhood pool; this year the weather has allowed just 3 swims since the pool opened on Memorial Day. It’s been somewhat likewise with our kayaking.

Rather than get frustrated, I have used the time to majorly clean up and out my files, papers, desk and email. There is something immensely satisfying in seeing my load get lighter, in overfilling a garbage pail, in organizing my Google Docs into folders, in paring down my collection of books. I like the act of organizing; heck, I volunteer to organize professional development at school!

So I’m starting the summer by paring down, but also by sharing. Here are some goodies to ponder for the summer.

HOW DID I GET INTO THIS PLACE?
In my experience, most tenth graders do not decide they’d like to write a book and then not only follow through with their plan but self-publish and have the book sell over kristi book100 copies within hours. However, this young person is not your typical tenth grader. In fact, she is now a high school senior as of her last day of school a few weeks ago!

Back when she was in tenth grade, Kristi decided she wanted to pursue an independent study project as an eleventh grader, the project being to write a book that would serve as a guide for students with learning differences to help them navigate the world of high school.

While Kristi’s book is written for students at the school she attends, and where I teach, it is applicable to any student who has a learning difference and struggles with the process of school.

I had the privilege of being Kristi’s advisor throughout the process, which she initiated as a tenth grader, several months before her independent study proposal had even been submitted. The result of her fastidious organization and preparation is an 80 page book that is eminently readable and packed with useful content for both students and teachers. How Did I Get Into This Place? is available for purchase, which is exactly what my school did for all 170 faculty, staff and administrators as summer reading.

THE DANA ALLIANCE FOR BRAIN INITIATIVES
The Dana Foundation is located in New York City, at 745 Fifth Avenue. The Foundation provides resources, both in print and online, including The Dana Guide to Brain Health, a wiki that “is a practical family reference from medical experts.” In addition, the Foundation sponsors events such as the Learning and the Brain conference, “reports news, supports scientists, and supports arts education.” A senior project manager at Dana was most helpful in providing 40 copies each of two publications (Staying Sharp: Memory Loss and Aging, and Your Brain at Work) for me to hand out at the April CAIS conference at which I presented.

THE YALE CENTER FOR DYSLEXIA & CREATIVITY
Who knew this center even existed! A colleague first introduced me to Yale’s center sometime in the spring when the center advertised A Special Conference for K-8 Independent Schools – Dyslexia & Creativity: New Research & Implications. The conference registration filled up quickly, and my colleague and I wound up on the waiting list. The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity has a worthy mission “to uncover and illuminate the strengths of those with dyslexia, disseminate the latest innovations from scientific research and practical advice, and transform the treatment of children and adults with dyslexia.” I leave you with another part of the center’s mission:

Dyslexia is often spoken of as a hidden disability. What is not at all appreciated is that dyslexia can be also a hidden source of great abilities and frequently unrecognized powers.

p.s. Ah, the SUN is out and I am going to go for a swim!

6/22/09 UPDATE: I missed the swim – sun was only out briefly, but the “sun” was shining on the Yale Conference wait list, and it turns out my colleague and I will both be attending the conference!

The Up Side of Dyslexia

One of the more interesting connections regarding people with wiring differences is the positive impact of dyslexia. Dyslexic students may confound their teachers, and cause those teachers to pursue alternative teaching styles, but in the long run, those same students may turn out to be the more creative and entrepreneurial.

There have been a number of articles written, and research studies carried out, showing that “dyslexics are extraordinarily creative about maneuvering their way around problems.” This comes from a December 2007 article in the NY Times Tracing Business Acumen to Dyslexia.

For a more in-depth article about some well-known dyslexics who are highly successful, read Overcoming Dyslexia, an article published in May 2002 in Fortune magazine. The article discusses Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin line (records and airways), Charles Schwab, developer of the discount brokerage business, John Chambers, CEO of Cisco (a technology company), and David Boies, “a celebrated trial attorney, best known as the guy who beat Microsoft” and also for pushing Al Gore’s case in the 2002 battle between Gore and George W. Bush for President of the United States.

The author, Betsy Morris, provides the best description of dyslexia that I have yet to see, and one that most people can probably understand.

What exactly is dyslexia? The Everyman definition calls it a reading disorder in which people jumble letters, confusing dog with god, say, or box with pox. The exact cause is unclear; scientists believe it has to do with the way a developing brain is wired. Difficulty reading, spelling, and writing are typical symptoms. But dyslexia often comes with one or more other learning problems as well, including trouble with math, auditory processing, organizational skills, and memory. No two dyslexics are alike–each has his own set of weaknesses and strengths.

I found it interesting to learn more about the characters mentioned in Morris’s Fortune article. Richard Branson participated in a wonderfully entertaining and illuminating interview, Life at 30,000 feet, at the March 2007 TED. Here is the opening text lead in to his interview: “When Richard Branson was at school, his headmaster predicted he would wind up either a millionaire or in jail.”

Charles Schwab may be one of the wealthiest people in America, having amassed a fortune running a brokerage business, but he put his money where his heart was – in helping others with learning difficulties. In addition to partnering with Mel Levine to create All Kinds of Minds, his Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation has undertaken a number of initiatives, among them SchwabLearning.org – A Parent’s Guide to Helping Kids With Learning Difficulties, and SparkTop.org, “the first website created expressly for kids with learning difficulties…”

CISCO Systems is a billion dollar technology company and its CEO is John T. Chambers, noted “for his visionary strategy, his ability to drive an entrepreneurial culture, and his warm-hearted, straight-talking approach.” Not content to merely run the company, Chambers is also involved in international philanthropy.

Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP came into existence in 1997 when David Boies and Jonathan Schiller joined forces to create their own law firm and build on their expertise.

Going back to our first character, Richard Branson, and his TED interview, I recently watched The Future We Will Create: Inside the World of TED, a 74 minute movie about the 2007 TED conference. Since the TED talks are available online, I had already viewed many of the talks highlighted in the movie. This second time ‘round got me thinking about something else other than the content of the talks: As many of the one thousand TED attendees are entrepreneurs, how many of them have dyslexia or other learning differences? It would be an easy poll to conduct, and a fascinating topic to discuss amongst them. I’m off to send TED curator Chris Anderson an email!

p.s. R – Happy 17th Birthday on the 16th!

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.