Is Your Child Masking Their Dyslexia?

Halloween masks can be great fun, but is your child wearing a “mask” all year long?

Halloween masks can be great fun

Secretly Dyslexic

Mike was funny and gregarious. He showed his smarts in class discussions, but come time to sit down and work, he would play “class clown” and entertain his neighbors instead.

Unfinished schoolwork was sent home, and added to Mike’s pile of homework. To get through the load, his mom sat with him and sped up the process, inadvertently becoming his ‘reader’. Homework was turned in correct and led Mike’s teacher to think the problem was a lack of motivation and attention.

Mike was actually quite seriously dyslexic.

Raquel’s doctor thought ADHD was the reason that as a third grader, she was still reading at first grade level. Unfortunately, medication couldn’t solve the reading problem, because Raquel was dyslexic. She couldn’t pay attention when the class was reading, spelling, or writing. She not only had difficulty processing the sound in words (phonics made no sense to her), but when she looked at a page, she felt disoriented and “seasick”, as the words seemed to swim around on the page.

Alex was a senior in high school in Advanced Placement classes. He masked his struggles with English by doing math homework for girls, in exchange for their writing his papers. He was later diagnosed with mild dyslexia.



Dyslexic students are often misunderstood. At school, they may be perceived as bright, verbal students who don’t always put in their best effort on assignments. Some are so animated and charming, that only their parents know how much they are struggling, and how much effort and time it takes for them to read and write.

Sometimes a student’s reading problem can be hard to identify because other skills are so strong. For Jordan, letters and words may be hard to look at, and sounds might not make sense, but he uses his powers of deduction from pictures, his own knowledge, and what he’s memorized from group readings or lectures to figure out what the page might say, and answer the questions.

This is a taxing process, and oftentimes his mind will drift away. (After all, what he can create in his mind is far more entertaining than a jumble of words and letters that don’t really make sense.) Hence, Jordan, like so many others, is wrongly pegged as ADD.

Common Characteristics of Dyslexia

It is hard to pay attention when confused or when information doesn’t make sense, as is so often the case for dyslexic students. However, attention challenges experienced by dyslexic learners, which are so evident in relation to schoolwork and homework, are not generally pervasive, as in the case with true ADD/ADHD.

While every dyslexic student is different, common characteristics include:

  • Good intelligence
  • Good comprehension
  • Strong ability to visualize pictures/real things (versus letters and words)
  • Creative thinker
  • Weak ability to retain an accurate image of words (sight words for reading and spelling)
  • Weak phonemic awareness (ability to think about the sounds in words)
  • Extremely poor decoding skills (sounding out words)
  • Visual disorientation when looking at a page (i.e. letters look 3D, wiggle, pulsate, or move around on the page)
  • Family history of dyslexia
  • Strong talents in other areas such as math, arts, mechanical, or athletic abilities

Don’t be Fooled – Like everyone else, these kids are survivors. At a conscious, or sub-conscious level, we do what we have to do to cope with the cards we’re dealt. And smart kids, coping with dyslexia and other learning challenges, can fool the important people in their lives. Here’s what these students might say…

I can fool you into thinking:

  • I don’t qualify for special services/help at school
  • I’m lazy
  • I just need to try harder
  • I’m not really that smart
  • School’s not my thing
  • I don’t care
  • I’m a bad kid
  • I have ADHD
  • I’m just a class clown
  • I’m just shy

 The truth is:

  • I’m working harder than all my friends to do the same work, but it takes me twice as long, and it’s only half as good.
  • I’m already trying so hard, I think I’ll burst if one more person tells me to try harder
  • I’m smarter than a lot of the kids in my class, but for some reason, some parts of school aren’t working for me
  • School’s NOT my thing – but not for the reason you think. I’d like it if I could be successful and my efforts paid off.
  • I do care! I hate struggling, but if I act like I don’t care, maybe people will notice my attitude more than my F’s.
  • I’d rather be known as the bad kid than the dumb one.
  • I can pay attention to things I understand, but when I just don’t get it, my mind drifts away.
  • If I can make people laugh, they forget how “lame” I am with schoolwork.
  • If I’m super quiet and ‘shy’, maybe no one will know that I’m missing half ofwhat your saying and feeling really lost.

There’s No Need to Hide…or Seek.  TLC offers a Solution!

It is commonly believed that Dyslexia cannot be corrected – that you just have to cope with it. This is simply not true. While there is no overnight solution, most learning and attention challenges can be dramatically improved or completely corrected.

At our center, we identify and develop the weak underlying learning / processing skills that provide the critical foundation for learning but are not generally taught. ADD meds will not solve dyslexic challenges, but retraining the auditory and visual systems to accurately process sounds and letters on a page WILL get the brain ready to learn, retain, and comfortably use reading & spelling skills.


To learn more, call 858) 481-2200 to schedule a FREE consultation with Executive Director Maria Bagby.








The Role of Sleep in Learning, Memory, and Health

“I’ve always envied people who sleep easily. Their brains must be cleaner, the floorboards of the skull well swept, all the little monsters closed up in a steamer trunk at the foot of the bed.” ― David Benioff, City of Thieves

Recent findings in research studies related to sleep and learning lend support to some long-held hypotheses about why we sleep, what happens in the brain during sleep, and why it’s important; especially for learning. In one area of research, the findings provide evidence for a long-held hypothesis that during sleep, the brain cleans itself (1).  Another series of reports illustrate why sleep is so much more important for a child’s learning than it is for an adult.  The findings add a compelling new dimension to our current understanding of how sleep helps the brain reprocess newly learned information thus securing memories and learning (2).

Seminal studies about sleep and learning have shown unequivocally that people trained to complete a procedural memory-based task showed improved performance when a period of sleep followed the training (3).  Even a nap in the middle of the day could benefit some learning.  But to understand what is actually happening in the brain when we sleep we’ve had to wait on the right technological applications to allow us to peer into the brain and accurately measure activities and events during sleep.

Sleep is critically important to a child's learningIn the most recent report, regarding the brain’s self-cleaning mechanism, the research group provides direct evidence of specific cells active in clearing the brain of toxic metabolic byproducts – but only during sleep. Earlier work by the same group showed that the brain anatomy included a network of microscopic, fluid-filled channels that removed toxins from the brain; much like a waste-transport system for the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Many questions remained about how and when these channels were regulated.  The most recent studies showed quite elegantly that during sleep, the channels increased in size and flow of CSF.  Relatively large amounts of CSF were flowing through the brain during sleep, but not when awake.   They even demonstrated that certain waste product proteins, known to be associated with Alzheimer’s disease were cleared twice as quickly during sleep.  Although these studies were performed in mice, they results certainly fit with the long-standing view that sleep is for recovery.  The results are tantalizing for their possible implications for sleep disorders as related to Alzheimer’s or other neurological or neuro-developmental diseases in humans.

The other series of reports from behavioral neurobiology labs present exciting and compelling data regarding just how important sleep is for your child.   We all know that children are happier tend to behave better when they’re well-rested.  And the relationship between neurodevelopmental disorders and sleep-related problems has long been recognized.   Specifically, children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities (LD) or combined ADHD/LD, have a much higher rate of sleep-related difficulties and it is likely that the sleep difficulties contribute to and/or exacerbate the behavioral manifestation of these disorders (4).  But what about children not specifically diagnosed with a neuro-developmental disorder or a sleep-related problem?  How important is sleep beyond just resting the body for the next busy day of school and play?

Recent studies are showing that sleep is even more important for children than it is for adults when it comes to learning.  Dr. Ines Wilhelm at the University of Tübingen’s Institute for Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology has shown that when sleep followed training, children showed greater gains in the specific training knowledge than adults. The studies indicate that there is enhanced processing of memory during sleep in children compared to adults.  The children benefitted more from sleep when challenged with recall of specific learned tasks.

This may come as no surprise when one considers that during development of humans, as with most species, most of the basic lessons of life and survival need to occur in childhood.  Children sleep longer and deeper, and they must take on enormous amounts of information every day. And the children’s ability to excel at recall of specific learned information is linked with the large amount of deep sleep they get at night. In other types of memory, the children benefitted only as much as the adults; not more so.

If your child/student is not performing to his potential academically, you really need to look at the whole picture: healthy eating, positive social experiences, and quality, deep, undisturbed sleep at night.  If they are having trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep, this could be undermining all the other measures you’re taking to try to help them and ensure their success in school and beyond.

Therapeutic Literacy Center in Solana Beach offers assessments for learning disabilities as well programs and exercises using state of the art methods and technologies for developing underlying “mental tools” needed for success.

“Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

(1)  Science 18 October 2013: Vol. 342 no. 6156 pp. 373-377
(2) Nature Neuroscience 16 391–393 (2013)
(3) Science 294, 1048 (2001); Pierre Maquet, et al.
(4)   Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Vol 19(3), Jun 1998, 178-186.

Is there a difference between hearing and listening?

I spent Easter weekend with my parents, siblings and nieces and nephews. It was a crazy time full of fun and laughter. As the Easter egg hunting came to an end, the excitement over the yummy treats they had just received was overwhelming. Candy wrappers were being opened, sticky fingers were everywhere and sugar began to take its toll as it replaced the sweet smiling faces with grumpy faces.

“No more candy until after dinner…” rang in my ears as I saw my niece lunge for another piece. She stopped for a second and then proceeded to place the chocolate egg in her mouth. She had heard the instruction, but didn’t really listen to what was asked of her. The temptation of the creamy chocolate was just too much and she let herself indulge in it despite the repercussions.

There is a distinct difference between being able to hear and being able to listen. Sometimes it has to do with whether or not we want to listen and follow directions, other times it may deal with an auditory processing issue. Hearing and listening are two very distinct abilities.

Hearing is a passive process wherein the ear is able to hear incoming sounds at a normal threshold. It is a process that is based on one’s biology. The ear is complicated and in order to function properly it needs all of its pieces. Hearing is based on having all the pieces and having them work together. When a sound enters the ear, it is considered hearing. Just because a sound enters the ear does not mean that it is understood. This understanding deals more with an individual’s listening skills.

Listening on the other hand is an active process. An individual has to be able to focus on the sound entering the ear while tuning out any distractions. It is a focusing activity that requires an individual to tune out distractions and tune in to relevant sounds. It deals with one’s ability and motivation to listen. If something is not working properly for hearing, it will affect an individual’s listening skills. Being able to hear sounds is the precursor to being able to listen.

Listening requires concentration and an individual has to focus on certain sounds in order to understand words. If a child is sitting in class, surrounded by other kids making noise, and has an auditory processing issue, they are unable to pick out what the teacher is saying. It is no wonder that they would struggle in a class full of distractions and sounds. Being able to identify a child’s auditory issues can change the way that they perform in class and in every other environment.

Ideal listening occurs when the ear is able to lessen the lower frequencies and background sounds while being sensitive to higher frequencies that are associated with language. Due to this it is so important to understand that an individuals ability to listen is affected by their ability to discriminate and distinguish sounds in different contexts. When a child cannot discriminate sounds, it leads to difficulties in class with following directions, reading, spelling, attention, concentration, and cognitive overload.

The difference between being able to hear and listening is so important because it transfers to every area of a person’s life. The good news is that there are ways to help with any auditory issues that a child may have. Here at TLC we have different listening programs and therapies to help a child deal with any deficits that they may have.

Give us a call today to learn more about our programs and how we can help your child deal with listening issues!

Understanding the Difference between Hearing and Learning

Does My Child Need Educational Therapy?

What is Educational Therapy?  Is it Really Any Different from Hiring a Good Tutor?

A recent Newsweek article stated that “42% of Americans believe there’s ‘great need” for children to receive private outside tutoring.”

Why is this?

A variety of reasons really. Many parents are looking for “the basics” as a countermeasure to “educational innovations” in the last 30 years. Some are looking to build up their child’s self-esteem with individual attention. Others are looking for their children to get ahead through “preliteracy” and enhancement programs.

But what if your child has a learning disability and tutoring didn’t work? “But we’ve done tutoring. Why didn’t it work?”

Even with the finest teachers and great effort, most students with moderate to several learning disabilities have never had their problems “remediated” (corrected). Students with learning disabilities have differences in the way that they process or think about, information.

Many tutoring centers do an excellent job of teaching basic skills. However, if there is something different or breaking down in the students’ information processing, they may not be able to hang onto or use the skills they are taught.

Educational therapy focuses on developing thinking processes as well as basic skills. Some therapies for learning disabled students focus specifically on developing thinking processes. While this is important and may help the students to be more comfortable, teaching processing alone does not generally teach a student to read. If tutoring, special education, individual instruction and extraordinary help from parents did not work before, it is not because your child can’t learn.

The key to unlocking a learning disability lies in a combination of developing the underlying/ supporting thinking processes, as well as “laying down” the basic academic skills. Working on either area by itself may make some temporary gains, but will not long-term correct the learning difficulties in the long term.

Myths about Learning Disabilities 
Due to their consistent failure, along with the amount of money, time, and energy spent, educators, parents, and students are now assuming several conclusions, even though they aren’t true:

  1. There are many people who can never learn phonics.
  2. Because they “can’t learn phonics” they will have to be taught by sight or whole language.
  3. Nothing will help a poor speller except “spell check” or a secretary.
  4. Forcing yourself to read and reading consistently is all you need to be a good reader.
  5. If they would try harder, they would learn.
  6. Many people, especially those with learning disabilities, just cannot, and will not, be able to express themselves through speaking or writing.
  7. For a lot of people, especially girls, math is hard and will always be hard.
  8. “Off the wall” responses in discussions, lack of attention, comprehension, following directions, and poor social awareness is the result of Attention Deficit Disorder. (It could be, but be careful! These are also symptoms of language comprehension deficit).
  9. Attention problems cannot be controlled without medication.
  10. Once LD, always LD – which suggests that there is little hope of remediation.

We at the Therapeutic Literacy Center have learned through years of successes with students that none of these assumptions are true!

Students with attention challenges and learning disabilities, including dyslexia, can learn and can become successful students.

What is the difference between tutoring and educational therapy? Tutoring generally focuses on one or more of the following areas:

    • Basic academic skills
    • Specific subject areas (Algebra, History, Spanish, etc.)
    • Study skills
    • Test preparation
    • Enrichment

Tutoring is very beneficial for students who are behind, need a little extra support to keep up, have specific needs in particular subjects, and who want to get ahead. Educational therapy focuses on developing thinking processes as well as basic skills. At the Therapeutic Literacy Center, processing development may include:

    • Memory training
    • Attention awareness and control
    • Phonemic awareness
    • Increasing auditory processing speed
    • Language comprehension processing
    • Elimination of visual symbol confusion
    • Visual-motor perception and skills

As these areas of processing develop, we are able to begin teaching students the basic skills in reading, comprehension, writing, speaking, math, and studying. With the thinking processes to support them, the students are now able to hold onto the skills and become “learning-abled.”

How long does it take? 
Education therapy is not a quick fix. But neither is it a forever process. Our goal for students is that when they leave us they will be comfortable, independent learners. In order for this to happen, students must be diagnosed properly, come frequently, and come long enough to get processing and skills to an automatic level.

Therapy time for students depends on the number and severity of issues to be dealt with. As a broad average, we generally see students between 12 to 24 weeks. We see clients for a minimum of 3 hours per week because we want our clients to see and feel their improvement quickly.

Why does it cost so much? 
Education therapy is often more expensive than traditional tutoring. While generalizations can certainly be made about learning disabilities, the bottom line is that each student has unique needs and often a fragile ego and low frustration tolerance when it comes to academics. For these reasons, the therapy is generally most effective when provided on a one-to-one basis.

The specialized techniques that are successful in correcting learning disabilities are different than traditional approaches and require extensive training for the clinical staff, even those with many years of teaching experience.

In our center, and many educational therapy centers, on-going training and consultation are constantly provided.

How can I afford this?… How can I not? 
I remember a  conversation from childhood with my friend from next door.  I could tell she was parroting her parents as she questioned me about why my brothers had braces on their teeth, or why we went to the doctor’s (for check-ups) when we weren’t actually sick.  Apparently, her parents had told her that my parents had more money than them so that’s we could do those ‘extra’ things.  Quite the opposite was true I knew.  We didn’t have the same money they spent on the latest, most fashionable toys, clothes, and shoes.  I realized early on that parents could have different priorities.  Today I know that some parents resign themselves to the ‘fact’ that their children will never be ‘readers’ or will always have to struggle in school because the cost of Educational Therapy seems too high.

“How can anyone afford that?” they wonder.  What I wonder is, “How can anyone not?”

When my daughter was eight, her orthodontist said that if we did not start treatment right away, she would end up with TMJ (jaw problems). It was terribly expensive. How could we afford it?…How could we not?

It is important that we, as parents, provide opportunities for our kids that help them to feel good. Since a great deal of childhood is spent in the classroom, a child’s self-esteem is understandably going to be tied up in his success in that environment.

Educational therapy is an investment (like braces) in a child’s present and future. When a child realizes that for the first time, she can read her textbook, it is a very big deal. It will change her view of herself and increase her self-esteem in all arenas of her life.

Is It Ever Too Late? 
The amazing thing about the brain is that it loves to learn and change. Learning is literally like food for the brain. Scientific studies have show that through learning, new pathways can be developed in the brain to think about things in a way that you never could before. So you are never too old to learn to read or overcome your learning disabilities. We see many high school and adult students. We even have dyslexic adults, who have completely eliminated print from their world, come and learn to read. It’s never too late.

7 Things Every Parent Should Know About Learning Challenges

Does your child have learning challenges? Here are 7 things you need to know in order to understand them, help them, and create a better future for them.

1. Attention problems are often a symptom, not the real issue
In her book, Why Our Children Can’t Read Dr. Diane McGuinness says, “The worse you are at something, the more brain cells you need to do it, the harder it is to keep doing it, and the harder it is to keep your attention focused on what you’re doing” When it takes more effort to do something, the brain burns more glucose, using energy, which can eventually lead to exhaustion. In order for the brain to efficiently process information, it has to regulate levels of attention.The two major attention control systems in the brain involve:

  • attending for a certain amount of time
  • being able to keep out distractions in the surrounding environment

Learning things that are difficult makes holding attention to that task, over a considerable span of time a struggle. When learning is difficult, the ability to block out distracting background or peripheral noises is stressed or decreased.

When new things are learned, or concepts are still a novelty, more energy is required from the brain to pay attention. Over time, with an efficient processing system, this effort to pay attention diminishes as tasks become more innate and automatic. However, if a student’s processing system is not working efficiently, it may take longer for skills to get to that comfortable, automatic level, increasing the likelihood of attention challenges .

The inability to pay attention is very often a symptom of inefficient information processing.

2. “Try harder” is a dirty term… 
Believe it or not, trying too hard can be counter-productive.In order to be an efficient learner of anything, we need to be able to use all of our mental resources. Our two hemispheres in the brain each have unique thinking capabilities which compliment each other and work best in cooperation.The right side of our brain let’s us experience the whole or the “big picture.” It is more intuitive and less structured.The left side is logical, orderly, and verbal. It allows us to break information into small bits in order to learn new things and communicate.When both hemispheres of brain work together, learning can be easier and more fun. Telling a struggling learner to “try harder” may actually cause him to “over focus” with the left side of the brain. He will try and try to make sense of the pieces, but without the “big picture” support of the right brain, he will become more confused and frustrated. Dr. Paul Dennison of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation calls this “switching off.”The cycle of being stuck can often be broken by movement. Integrating movements for this purpose can be found in Brain Gym activities.
( ) Our words can also help trigger clearer thinking for learning. Instead of saying, “Try harder,” try saying something like, “You got this part exactly right. Now let’s take a look at this.”

3. Respect the effort… 
Being smart but having to work harder and longer than anyone else in your class, or trying hard and failing anyway is painful for both the individuals with the learning challenges and their families.As we work with our children or our students with learning difficulties, we first need to respect the great amount of extra effort that is needed for them to perform. Constantly reinforcing that effort and celebrating each small success encourages them to keep going.

4. Coping is NOT the final answer… 
All of us have both stronger and weaker areas of ability, talent, and interest. WE naturally gravitate toward those things that are our strengths, and often find ways to get around the weaker areas.As an adult, if you am terrible at playing tennis, you may choose to cope with that by not playing tennis. But what if the area that is weakest for you is reading? “Getting around” it or just coping with a reading disorder is not easy or comfortable in today’s society.Those of us who work with the “learning disability” / dyslexic population, do them a great disservice if we do not seek to understand and address the underlying skills and differences in thinking that cause the learning challenges. Teaching them compensations and coping strategies is simply not enough. 

5. Look at the whole child… 
If your child/student is not performing to his potential academically, you may want to ask these questions to understand the variety of factors that affect a child’s academic performance.:

  1. Does my child enjoy learning?
  2. Is my child eating a variety of healthy foods?
  3. Is my child getting enough sleep and maintaining good sleep patterns?
  4. Does my child independently complete homework and follow through on responsibilities?
  5. Is it easy for my child to communicate what he needs and wants?
  6. Is my child able to be kind, considerate and compassionate in social situations?
  7. Does my child have self-confidence and experience social acceptance?
  8. In general, does my child feel safe and protected at home and school?
  9. Do I know my child’s strengths and weaknesses? Does my child lack skills to perform successfully at school?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, take a look at what piece of the learning puzzle they affect. If it’s a matter of changing dietary habits or improving sleeping patterns, these are things that can be worked out in the home.

However, if communicating is difficult for your child, or if s/he has low self-confidence, low social acceptance, or struggles to independently complete his work, there could be underlying factors to your child’s difficulties in school that need consideration.

6. Underlying processing skills MUST be addressed in order to make lasting changes 
The most common cause of learning challenges is inefficient mental tools, or processing skills.In order to have good information to learn with, individuals must be able to:

  1. Pay attention
  2. Remember
  3. Quickly and accurately process what they see and hear

When any underlying processing skills are weak, the individual will be a less efficient learner than she/he could be.

A person has a learning problem if he makes more mistakes than the average person or has to work longer or harder than the average person. Only by addressing the underlying issues can the individual become a truly independent learner. Underlying processing skills that affect learning are memory, attention, processing speed, auditory and language processing, visual processing, and logic and reasoning.

7. The brain can change… 
Recent brain research tells us that the brain has plasticity , or the ability to change with training. Through intensive training that “stretches” an individual’s thinking, chemical and physical changes can occur in the brain. Because we know this kind of “neuro-rehabilitation” is possible, we also know that with the right tools and strategies, new, higher functioning neuropathways can be developed to enhance a student’s overall processing and performance.Our brains are continually modified by our experiences. This implies that programs which target processing and motor skills can improve those areas in students with brain injuries or motor or learning disabilities.  (More about Plasticity)


The Upside of Dyslexia?

My son is Dyslexic and I admit that I all too often fall into the mode of lamenting that he (and my family) must ‘deal’ with his condition.  I wallow and worry about how he struggles in school and at home.  Together we suffer through the standard approaches to learning and doing things, and we spend time and money for targeted therapy and remediation.  I muse to myself that it sure would be nice to spend time and money on other endeavors instead.

People are always talking about the need to find the upside of situations, of pointing out strengths instead of weaknesses, of celebrating achievements instead of noting shortcomings.  This is supposed to be the ‘new age’ of appreciating differences and lauding what the differences bring to the table, right? At the smorgasbord of humanity should we really be complaining that all the burgers don’t have the same shape and taste?  That someone is ‘doing it wrong’?  Most of us ‘get’ this but we still fall into societal expectations (limitations?) about performance and achievement.  We keep finding ourselves spending too much time lamenting the inability to measure up.

Consider the situation of the dyslexic child who is having academic difficulties in school.  You know they’re not lazy so you get help and do everything you can to help them struggle less and feel good more often.  So What’s the Upside of Dyslexia? Is there anything else besides waiting for results to celebrate?  Waiting to say “Hooray, you’re fixed.â€

In all that waiting, I forget to remind him and myself of his unusual strengths and gifts. I KNOW Dyslexics experience the world differently and I need to find a way to appreciate that – and believe it.  But I always end up immersing myself in literature and other venues to figure out how to ‘fix’ that.  I gotta step out of that kind of thinking more often.  We all do and maybe what I found can give you a boost as well.

I recently came across the work of Dr. Matthew H. Schneps, a founding member of the Science Education Department at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Astrophysics?  Yes. But wait, it gets better.

Schneps founded the Laboratory for Visual Learning (LVL) to carry out research on how individual differences in neurology such as those associated with dyslexia, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorders, affect how people learn science.  His work has led to a number of spinoffs such as the development of an innovative technique for reading for people with dyslexia using mobile devices, but what I found most rewarding were the descriptions of visual advantages that dyslexics have in our world.

Dyslexics get the whole pictureFor example did you know that that many people with dyslexia have sharper peripheral vision than others?  The brain processes separately the information from the central versus the peripheral areas of the visual field.  And the brain seems to trade off on these capacities. The key to reading is being adept focusing on details located in the center of the visual field while being less proficient at recognizing features and patterns in the periphery.  As it turns out, people with dyslexia have a bias in favor of the periphery and so can quickly take in a scene as a whole; they get the “visual gist†more readily.

As an astrophysicist, Schneps and other scientists in his line of work must make sense of vast quantities of visual data and accurately detect patterns or anomalies.  He suggested that a condition of dyslexia may actually enhance the ability to carry out just such a task.  Indeed, one study he conducted showed that astrophysicists with dyslexia outperformed their non-dyslexic colleagues in assessing visual data (radiographs) to identify distinctive characteristics of black holes.  In another simple experiment, he blurred regular photographs to the extent that they resembled astronomical images.  Dyslexics easily caught on whereas typical readers failed to do so.  Still more studies demonstrate enhanced peripheral capture and whole scene capture by dyslexics as compared to non-dyslexics .

I’m only scratching the surface here and I certainly don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that we should simply ‘celebrate’ the gift of dyslexia and leave it at that.  Reading and other academic pursuits remain a real challenge for those with dyslexia and other related disabilities.  We have lifetimes of work ahead of us as we work to remediate weaknesses. But identifying the distinctive aptitudes of those with dyslexia helps us understand the condition more completely.  I plan on keeping an eye on Schneps’ work and LVL to increase my understanding and help me appreciate my son and other dyslexics for their unique abilities – not just their ability to overcome certain learning challenges.

Happy New Year!

Diagnosed with Learning Disabilities? Now What?

What do do and how to find help when your child is diagnosed with a learning disability

“Help!   My Child Has Just Been Diagnosed With Learning Disabilities.   Tell Me What That Means.   Where Can I Get Help?   What Should I Do?”

With e-mail becoming such a widespread tool, I am getting the opportunity to hear from parents all over the nation, and even, sometimes, other parts of the world. Many of the feelings and questions seem to be universal, no matter where they come from:

  • My child has a learning disability. How can I learn more about this?
  • Where can I go to get help?
  • Is there hope?

Learning disabilities and attention disorders are perplexing because they may cause very “able” individuals to be unsuccessful or “disabled” in certain situations. There has been a tremendous amount of work done in this field in the last twenty years. This is by no means an exhaustive list of references, but here are a few of my favorites that I think will give any parent or teacher some new insights into learning disabilities, or better stated, learning differences.

Learning Disabilities / Dyslexia / Language Learning Disabilities

  • Conway, David. Help!!! A Handbook on Solving Learning Problems . Gander Publications (800) 554-1819.
  • Davis, Ronald. The Gift of Dyslexia . San Juan Capistrano, CA: Ability Workshop Press, 1994.
  • Hannaford, Carla. Smart Moves . Arlington, VA: Great Ocean Publications
  • LaVoie, Richard. How Difficult Can This Be? P.B.S. Video. 1994. (800) 344-3337.
  • LaVoie, Richard. Learning Disabilities and Social Skills . P.B.S. Video. 1994 (800) 344-3337
  • Smith, Joan M. Learning Victories . Sacramento, CA: Learning Time Products, Inc. 1998.
  • Directory of Facilities and Services for the Learning Disabled . Novato, CA: Academic Therapy Publications.
  • Smith, Joan M. You Don’t Have To Be Dyslexic . Sacramento, CA: Learning Time Products, Inc. 1993
  • Tallal, Paula. Fast ForWord . Reference: Scientific Learning Corporation, Berkeley, CA

To find help in your area:

  • The International Dyslexia Association (410) 296-0232 FAX – (410) 321-5069
  • Learning Disabilities Association (LDA) (412) 341-1515
  • CHAADD (Support Group for Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder)

Attention Challengers / ADD and ADHD / Tourette’s Syndrome

  • Dornbush, Marilyn, Ph.D. and Pruitrt, Sheryl K. M.Ed. Teaching The Tiger – a Handbook for Individuals in the Education of Students with Attention Deficit Disorder, Tourette Syndrome or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder . Duarte, CA: Hope Press
  • Hughes, Susan. Ryan, A Mother’s Story of her Hyperactive/Tourette Syndrome Child . Duarte, CA: Hope Press
  • Hallowell, M.D., Ed and Ratey, M.D., John. Driven to Distraction . N.Y. Simon and Schuster, 1994
  • Silver, Larry B. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder . Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Press, 1992.
  • Hartman, Thom. Attention Deficit Disorder…A Different Perspective . Underwood Books, 1997.

Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities

  • Thompson, Sue. The Source for Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities . East Moline, IL Linguisystems, Inc. 1997.

Learning / Study Skills

  • Amen, M.D., Daniel. Secrets of Successful Students . Mind Works Press. Fairfield, 
  • Archer, Anita and Gleason, Mary. Skills For School Success . Curriculum Associates, Inc. (800) 225-0248.
  • Healy, Jane. Endangered Minds . New York: A Touch Stone Book, Simon and Schuster, 1990.

To the question, “Is there hope?”… Absolutely! 

Individuals with learning disabilities generally have something different or perhaps not completely developed in the way that they process or think about information. The way that they process is not wrong, but it may not be efficient, particularly for academic tasks.

Give the future back to your child. Dyslexia isn't a terminal illness.Because they are obviously intelligent and generally do some kinds of tasks very easily, parents and teachers may, at first, see the learning disabled student as lazy or unmotivated. With very few exceptions, learners of any age want to be successful and would if they could.

While we never want to take away a student’s thinking style, the key to teach the learning disabled student is to help him or her to develop the underlying thinking processes that will allow him to take-in, remember, and use information efficiently.

Creating a solid foundation of basic skills is a critical piece of the picture, but only when the brain has been prepared to understand and hold onto those skills.

Students are often taught compensating strategies to help them cope with their learning disabilities. These are helpful and important but they are not enough! Students with learning differences need to be taught in a different way, because these students can learn.

Individuals with learning and attention challenges often have wonderful talents or abilities in other areas. These may tend to get overlooked in the confusion and frustration of poor school performance. Many of the outstanding artists, musicians, actors, athletes, and inventors of our time have had differences in thinking that caused “learning disabilities.” Yet, it was precisely those differences that were the key to their success.

As we seek to help students work through and remediate their inefficiencies in learning, it is also important to notice and encourage their areas of strength and uniqueness.

Dyslexia: What is it?

So What Is Dyslexia Anyway?

Here we explore Two “Classic” Symptoms and what they may actually mean.

We often wonder, “Is my child dyslexic?” or “Am I?” and “What exactly is dyslexia?” “Should I seek dyslexia assessment, or dyslexia therapy for my child?” However, in our experience, and in that of most people working in the field, not everyone who has difficulty with language or reading has “dyslexia.”

When you hear the word “cheese,” what comes to mind?

Some people picture a slice of yellow American cheese in its own individual wrapper. Others see a “wedge” of white cheese just cut from a “wheel.”  Still others picture Swiss or blue cheese.

What about products with cheese – cheeseburgers, cheese danish, cheese pizza, cheese puffs. How about cheese concepts – “How Cheesy” or smile and say ‘Cheese!'”

They all contain cheese, but what exactly is cheese?

The same can be said of “dyslexia.”

Everyone has different ideas about what dyslexia means. The word “dyslexia” is actually a medical term meaning “difficulty with words.” That’s a pretty broad concept.

Let’s narrow this down just a bit.

There is current brain research indicating that people with dyslexia probably have physiological differences in the brain structure and how it processes, or thinks about, information.

At the Learning Center, we look at a dyslexia diagnosis from an educational standpoint. In other words, what can we do to overcome any limitations dyslexia might place on students’ ability to learn. We have worked with students with reading disabilities for over 13 years, and in that time we have come to recognize a couple of major symptoms that we would call “classic dyslexic symptoms.” These are: A significant phonemic awareness deficit, and a strong visual spatial thinking style.

What Is Phonemic Awareness and How Does It Affect Reading?

Phonemic awareness is a person’s ability to think about the number, order, and identity of individual sounds within words. It is the underlying thinking process that allows a person to make sense out of phonics, the sound system of our language.

The basic reading process is made up of three parts: Auditory (phonics), Visual (sight word recognition), and Language (the ability to use context clues and learn and apply new vocabulary).

In order to be an automatic, comfortable reader, all three of these processes need to be working efficiently together. If they are not, reading can be a frustrating struggle.

Current research and our clinical experience strongly indicate that weaknesses in the auditory part of the basic reading process, or inability to easily understand and use the phonetic code of the language, is a key factor in reading and spelling disorders.

A phonemic awareness deficit almost always keeps a person from being an efficient reader and speller. It usually causes individuals to be “disabled readers” in spite of the best efforts of parents and teachers.

For the second grader, it can mean being diagnosed as “developmentally delayed.” For the bright and creative seventh grader, it can mean spending countless frustrating hours doing homework and still failing. For the adult professional, it can mean making a “career” out of hiding the inability to read and write on the job.

Individuals with a phonemic awareness deficit find it terribly difficult to use phonics for reading and spelling. It has been said that these people simply cannot ever learn phonics. However, ongoing research in the field of auditory processing has shown us that this is not true. These individuals can be trained to develop their phonemic awareness and become effective readers.

People with phonemic awareness deficit may experience the following:

  • Not accurate beyond their memorized vocabulary
  • Low level of sight vocabulary
  • Virtually no ability to sound out and/or blend words
  • Many times bright and motivated
  • Having to work “too hard” to read, spell, etc.
  • Poor grades
  • Written work is inaccurate
  • Confuse words in reading that look similar (such as quietly and quality)
  • Confuse words that sound similar (such as consonant and continent)

The Visual Spatial Thinking Style

The second “classic dyslexic symptom” is a strong visual spatial thinking style. People who have an auditory conceptualization deficit may or may not have the visual spatial thinking style.

Generally, these people tend to be bright, creative, “right-brained” thinkers, who think in concepts and pictures. They have the unique ability to see “in dimension,” or mentally “see” objects from all sides without actually moving their eyes or the objects. This talent lends itself to drawing, building, putting things together, and recalling concrete or visual information.

Many times, when “right-brained” children try to learn with the traditional “left-brain modes,” they are labeled as “attention deficit” because they mentally “leave” the classroom and create highly entertaining “movies” in their heads that are far more fulfilling and less disorienting than the symbolic ABCs and 123s.

Many times these individuals suffer from episodes that have come to be labeled simply “disorientation.” It is the uncontrolled loss of focus triggered by confusion, and it almost always occurs when working with symbols or when listening.

When the person experiences confusion about symbols (such as numbers and letters) his or her brain tries to understand. However, these individuals will usually go to their most comfortable thinking style, which is “seeing” in dimension. This can cause them to perceive the letter or word from different angles, recording different images of the word or letter in their mind. This makes it very hard to retrieve the symbols and often results in number and letter reversals or words “moving” on the page.

Small pieces of the language such as punctuation marks and small non-conceptual sight words such asthe, of , and if may also be difficult for the visual-spatial thinker to pay attention to because it is hard to attach a concept or mental image to them.

Disorientation may occur when the individual is overwhelmed with too much information, particularly with language.

When disoriented, the person often loses track of what’s going on around him as well as losing track of time.

We don’t ever want to take away a person’s thinking style. It is a wonderful creative style that was and is shared by important individuals in our society such as Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, Bruce Jenner, Greg Louganis and many more.

Our goal is to help students develop other learning styles in addition to their own so they don’t have to suffer from confusion with language. “Dyslexic” symptoms, triggered by confusion about flat, linear symbols and small pieces of the language do not have to become a way of life.

There is help!

Thankfully, both of these most common and classic dyslexic symptoms can be overcome so that children and adults with average or above intellectual ability can become efficient learners.

Dyslexia and other learning disabilities are not diseases. They are simply differences in thinking or processing information that can be changed permanently . For some learners, the traditional methods of reading have not been successful. These individuals must be taught in a different way.

Through carefully researched and consistently effective methods, Therapeutic Literacy Center in Solana Beach helps clients to develop control over their thinking processes to make sense out of reading, spelling, written language and math.

If you have questions about dyslexia assessment, dyslexia diagnosis, or are considering dyslexia therapy, we can help.

What is meant by the term “Learning Skills”

“Learning Skills are a foundation for higher processing, without them even the brightest students will struggle.”  – Maria Bagby

So what exactly are Learning Skills ?  Can they be changed or improved?

All over the country there are regular classrooms that have individuals with the potential to be comfortable, independent learners, but they function like a computer that doesn’t seem to work, even though there appears to be nothing outwardly wrong with it.  The computer story is what learning challenges are like for many students.
Every day there are parents asking themselves “what’s wrong with my child?” They can see the intelligence, but when it comes to schoolwork, they are living with things like:

  • Taking 3 hours to do 45 minutes worth of homework
  • Need someone sitting right there with them in order to get their work done
  • Can’t keep their attention on their work for more than a few minutes
  • Don’t get it, in spite of lots of help and repetition
  • Appear lazy or unmotivated
  • Don’t recognize words from one line to the next
  • Can’t seem to get the “big picture” in a story or textbook
  • Seem disorganized
  • Cant’ follow directions

It just doesn’t “add up” and both parents and students end up “tearing their hair out” trying to make sense out of things that don’t seem to make sense.  Well, the reality is that many of these children have impaired ‘Learning Skills‘ that are not readily apparent unless they are specifically assessed by a professional.

Learning Skills - Successful learning requires a continuum of skills we develop and hone beginning in early childhoodLearning Skills - Successful learning requires a continuum of skills we develop and hone beginning in early childhoodLearning Skills - Successful learning requires a continuum of skills we develop and hone beginning in early childhoodIn “technical” terms, these ‘Learning Skills‘ are underlying processing and executive function skills and can include such areas as:

  • Phonemic awareness – the thinking process that supports phonics for reading and spelling
  • Comprehension
  • Attention
  • Processing speed
  • Auditory and visual memory
  • Visual and auditory processing
  • Language processing
  • Logic and reasoning
  • Integration and organization

So what exactly are Learning Skills ? Can they be changed or improved?

The good news
The Learning Skills building blocks can be “reprogrammed” or “retrained” to work more, which means that most students can become comfortable, independent learners in school situations. And because of the “plasticity” of the brain, this work can be done at any age. In computers, it is as easy as installing a new program. In humans, the concept is the same, but it takes more than a few minutes.  (More about Plasticity)

There are now tools/programs that remediate the inefficient Learning Skills so that a student who needed extra help can, over a matter of time, become both independent and comfortable.

“Patience is a virtue” the old saying goes. But for many students, going more slowly or repeating the directions over and over again, simply doesn’t make a difference. They can pay attention all day, but until they can process the information, it simply doesn’t make sense. And that becomes exhausting to the student, the instructors, and parents. I know how quickly I give up when the information on my computer doesn’t “work” properly.

Here at the Therapeutic Literacy Center, our sequence is:

  1. Evaluate and determine exactly what are the inefficiencies
  2. Apply the right tools to strengthen the underling skills
  3. Transfer those skills to academic areas until those skills are automatic

The focus is to invest the time to build a strong foundation of underlying Learning Skills -in the computer analogy, ‘install the programs’- so that the brain is ready to learn and hold onto the academic information, and then extra help will no longer be needed.

By using the right tools, students can strengthen and overcome the inefficiencies that hold them back. Rather than “limping” through academic life, these students can truly become comfortable, independent learners.

Auditory Connections – Is Your Child’s Learning struggle actually a Listening issue?

If your child experiences reading difficulties,  you’ve likely been researching the issue hoping for understanding of their learning struggle.  If so, you may have become familiar with Auditory Connections - Is Your Child's Learning struggle actually a Listening issue?the link between auditory processing and reading.  

Indeed, you may already suspect that your child exhibits some level of disability in terms of auditory processing and are now trying to figure out  if:

1- the experts know enough about it to have developed successful therapies, and

2- whether your child is a good candidate for these therapies.

Studies are still being done, research articles published, and books are still being written that emphasize the importance of auditory processing in learning to read, communicating with oral and written language, and developing adequate social skills.  At TLC, I have seen this verified over and over in my clinical work with students.

As I have worked in this area, I have been continuously reminded of the wholeness of learning and of the learner. I have previous written about the auditory system, (“Breakthroughs in Auditory Processing” at and its connections not only with the language center of the brain, but with the vestibular system (our system of balance and movement), and the automatic functions of the body (respiratory, digestive, and eliminatory).

When we use sound therapy to stimulate the auditory system, we find the results to be more global than the original goals of increasing phonemic awareness, reading, or language skills. Improvements in handwriting, posture, sleep habits, communication, social skills, confidence, calmness and math are a few of the peripheral changes we have seen.

Dr. Alfred Tomatis, a French ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat specialist), discovered in the early 1950’s that the ay we listen has a profound impact on nearly every aspect of our lives. He also discovered that many learning problems are the direct result of listening problems.  He distinguished hearing from listening, indicating that they are actually two different functions of the ear.

Hearing is the passive perception of sound.  Listening, on the other hand, involves the desire and ability to focus on selected sounds; to choose what sound information we want to attend to so that we can process it in a clear and organized manner.

Listening is closely related to attention and concentration, and integration, understanding and retention of auditory information, and therefore, critical to learning.

What happens when a person’s hearing is good, but their listening is poor?
Surprisingly, poor listening can affect a wide number of areas. Canadian Listening Therapist and author Paul Madaule has put together a checklist of abilities or qualities that relate to listening skills. There is no score, but this tool may be helpful evaluating an individual’s ability to listen, and therefore to learn. This checklist is reprinted here with the permission of The Listening Center, Toronto (

Listening Skills Checklist
Development History: Our early years
This knowledge about our younger years is extremely important in early identification and prevention of listening problems. It also sheds light on possible causes of listening problems.

  • A stressful pregnancy
  • Difficult birth
  • Adoption
  • Early separation from the mother
  • Delay in motor development
  • Delay in language development
  • Recurring ear infections

Receptive Listening: Our external environment
This type of listening is directed outward to the world around us. It keeps us attuned to what’s going on at home, at work, in the classroom or with friends.

  • Short attention span
  • Distractibility
  • Over-sensitivity to sounds
  • Misinterpretation of questions
  • Confusion of similar-sounding words
  • Frequent need for repetition
  • Inability to follow sequential instructions

Express Listening: Our internal atmosphere
This is the kind of listening that is directed within us. We use it to listen to ourselves and to gauge and control our voice when we speak and sing.

  • Flat and monotonous voice
  • Hesitant speech
  • Weak vocabulary
  • Poor sentence structure
  • Overuse of stereotyped expressions
  • Inability to sing in tune
  • Confusion or reversal of letters
  • Poor reading comprehension
  • Poor reading aloud
  • Poor spelling

Motor Skills: Our physical abilities
The ear of the body (the vestibule), which controls balance, muscle and eye coordination and body image needs close scrutiny also.

  • Poor posture
  • Fidgety behavior
  • Clumsy, uncoordinated movements
  • Poor sense of rhythm
  • Messy handwriting
  • Hard time with organization, structure
  • Confusion of lefts and rights
  • Mixed dominance

Level of Energy: Our fuel system
The ear acts like a dynamo (a powerful motor), providing us with the “brain” energy we need to not only survive but also to lead fulfilling lives.

  • Difficulty getting up
  • Tiredness at the end of the day
  • Habit of procrastinating
  • Hyperactivity
  • Tendency toward depression
  • Feeling overburdened with everyday tasks

Behavioral and Social Adjustment: Our relationships skills
A listening difficulty is often related to these qualities of interacting with others.

  • Low tolerance for frustration
  • Poor self-confidence
  • Poor self-image
  • Shyness
  • Difficulty making friends
  • Tendency to withdraw or avoid others
  • Irritability
  • Immaturity
  • Low motivation, no interest in school/work
  • Negative attitude toward school/work

At the Therapeutic Literacy Center in Solana Beach, we use Samonas Sound Therapy, Auditory Stimulation Training system,  metronome and audio-vocal training to stimulate the auditory system and improve listening and listening-related skills. As students become better listeners, they have also become better learners.

Here is one story:
John came to the learning center as a 7 year old. He had been diagnosed with apraxia, which affected his gross motor coordination, graphomotor skills (handwriting), and oral motor skills. When he started, John showed extreme difficulty with any fine or gross motor movements, organization, or coordination. He had difficulty articulating sounds and words and difficulty expressing himself in a way that others could understand. He was obviously very bright, but had difficulty with social and language comprehension. He had huge amounts of uncontrolled energy and serious attention problems. He could attend to a task for only 10-15 minutes with re-direction. He was a non-reader, had trouble making friends, and had poor self-esteem.

After 4 weeks of sound therapy, John had better control in swimming; more eye contact; clearer, more controlled language; and had begun asking questions about conversations and other things in general.

After 6-7 weeks of sound therapy, John was using larger words and more mature sentences and questions. His sentences were no longer fragmented. He showed dramatic Listening and Learning - Not always as straightforward as it seems. Find out about Auditory Processing Disorderimprovement in artwork (from scribbles to drawings), and showed better motor coordination. He started doing front and back somersaults in the pool, with control. He wrote a note on his own for the first time and posted it on his bedroom door. His self-esteem was reported as high!

John’s learning skills improved dramatically as a result of his listening therapy. His increased attention, motor coordination, articulation, communication, and auditory and language processing abilities allowed him to be ready for further processing skills development and academic skills. John is now reading at grade level!

Samonas Sound Therapy is a music and sound stimulation method that focuses on re-educating the ear and auditory pathways for increased attention, communication, listening, and sensory integration. This is accomplished through the use of specially modified classical music and nature sounds that stimulate the hearing mechanism to take in a full spectrum of sound.

Samonas was developed by German sound engineer, Ingo Steinbach. With his background in physics and music, Steinbach combined the principles of Dr. Alfred Tomatis with advances in technology and physics to develop the Samonas recordings.

Find out if your child’s learning struggle may actually be a listening issue.  Call or contact us today to talk about your child’s needs and how we and our tailored programs can help them overcome the challenges they are facing!