Dorothy van den Honert: Dyslexia treatment still beset by ignorance

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PITTSFIELD >> If you want to be an opera singer, you will need a certain size and shape of the empty area behind your nose to achieve the resonance you need. If you want to be an artist, it's better not to be color-blind. If you want to be a professional basketball player, you can't be 5' 1". Of course if you are any of these things, nobody automatically assumes you must also be dumb. You adjust your life to your physical attributes.

If you want to be a speed reader, you must have a well-shaped bridge between the two hemispheres of your brain called a corpus callosum. But if your CC is slightly out of shape, you will be dyslectic, or a slow reader and worse speller. But the educational establishment seems to think that therefore you must also be dumb!

It was over 80 years ago that dyslexia was recognized as a neurological problem with reading that had nothing to do with IQ. It was 40 years ago that the physical abnormality that causes the reading problem was located. It was an abnormally shaped corpus callosum. This fact was discovered by a bright psychiatrist with a high speed camera! That was many years before brain scans were invented, so nobody believed him. But as soon as scientists could take an actual picture of the CC, the pictures showed that the psychiatrist had been right.

Not that the educational crowd believed him. They couldn't wrap their heads around the fact that somebody who couldn't read, couldn't spell, couldn't remember a series of numbers or do arithmetic wasn't necessarily dumb.

The state of Massachusetts apparently didn't realize that the official federal definition of dyslexia goes something like this: a severe reading problem of neurological origin in a person of average or above average intelligence! The number of dyslexic people in a country is between 10 and 20 percent.

The educational establishment apparently wasn't listening. A very nice high school principal offered to let me put a demonstration program of 12 kids in her school. She said she was sure she could find enough dyslexic students for the program. I asked her how big her school was — 2,000 students!

Then there was the heartbreaking story of the little boy whose frantic mother called me for help. The third grader wanted more than anything to take trumpet lessons so he could be in the school's band. His teacher told him that since he couldn't read books, he couldn't read music, either, and she wouldn't let him apply! Apparently this genius thought that seeing a black dot to tell you where to put your fingers on an instrument was the same thing as identifying letters.

I have yet to find a teacher who knows that dyslexia occurs when the corpus callosum is out of shape. Why haven't the scientists told the teachers? I dunno. Of course it is not a scientist's job to morph their information into teaching techniques. But it is certainly arguable that it is the teaching establishment's job. And a quick search of Google produced 35 articles describing how an out-of-shape corpus callosum causes dyslexia.

So how do you teach a dyslectic kid to read normally? According to Michael Gazzaniza, one of the top neuroscientists in the country, what the language area needs in order to develop and work well is to have its info arrive in "one final cognitive path" and not a flood of jittery signals. If the CC was causing the trouble, I decided to teach the students without having their lessons go through it. Happily, this turns out to be easy, fast, and cheap. You only need a piece of cardboard off a legal pad bent a certain way. And if your dog chews it up, you can always make another one.

Look at my website, dyslexia.org, to find out how to do it. I have used the technique on pupils from six-years-old to 45 with 100 percent success. It takes only a fifth of the time necessary to use the popular programs, even those that use an excellent phonics method, because they unwittingly send their excellent phonics method twice through the CC, one from the right side and one from the left.

The trick is not so much in the material you use as the delivery system. (As I always tell parents, penicillin will cure pneumonia, but not if you rub it on your arm.) Now you can begin to add up the cost to the taxpayers who shell out millions of dollars for four or five years of special education programs and still don't get good reading.

Maybe the most serious loss to the United States of leaving dyslexia ineffectively treated is to rob the country of scientists, architects, artists, and other bright people whose talents are diluted by inaccurate or poor reading. If you saw a partial list of brilliant people who have struggled with it, it would knock your eyes out.

The CC must be the busiest place in the world, since every time you see or think something, buzzilions of signals zip across it with lightening speed. I like to think of it also as the most expensive piece of territory in the world, when you think of the cost of using it twice instead of once.

Dorothy van den Honert is an occasional Eagle contributor.


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