Decoding Dyslexia - Book Preview
Updated: Jun 4
Jennifer Poole, Ph.D. conducted a comprehensive study of 14 different methods for dyslexia, including Davis methods, and published her results in the book, “Decoding Dyslexia” ( Matador, 2008; ISBN 978-1906510510). She concluded that the key element for a successful approach to dyslexia was to resolve disorientation. She noted that the Davis method was the only approach that used the “orientation” terminology and was expressly based on recognizing and addressing disorientation.
Symptoms of this are the main - if not only – focus, possible ways of helping the child are currently being denied wider application. For example, the DORE programme has received excellent research support, (Reynolds, Nicolson & Hambly, 2003). Despite resistance to its implications in some quarters (Elliott, 2005) this research has been well supported, (Nicolson 2003) and a variety of PRI exercise-based programmes have also been successfully running within school settings for some time. Rather, it appears to be the inability of phonological theorists to comprehend the connection between the child’s ‘behaviours’ of dyslexia and the underlying structures upon which phonological processing depend which now forms the major obstacle to providing optimum help for children. It is of interest, for example, that Frith’s causal model of dyslexia, (shown in Chapter 1, Figure 2) allows only for a ‘brain’ causation and is therefore severely limited. But as this study has suggested, the role of the environment could sometimes be as much as 100% in dyslexia, regardless of genetic brain inheritance. The ability to perceiving dyslexia as other than a ‘brain fault’ would appear to be the first step towards knowing what to do about it. The individual sensory problems noticed by different researchers are also likely to remain ‘unconnected’ unless it is understood that the compound effect of any single sensory difficulty is likely to be disorientation due to poor sensory synchronicity. Equally, if a child is unable to make sense of the code used for literacy, s/he may become cognitively disorientated. Learning to read using a code that allows the child to orientate as they learn (as in multi-sensory teaching or going at the developmental pace of the child) can prevent this. It would appear from this study that some children are more easily disorientated than others for a variety of reasons which are often essential to their identity. But that most, if not all, can be assisted by adapting the environment to meet their needs. These ideas are discussed further in Chapter 10.
rather than being fixed like ‘hardware,’ that programmes are able to act and new learning can take place. Each programme enables this process in its own way. This all-brain sensory effect would help explain why many of the models are effective despite focussing upon different senses. No single sense is actually separate from the others or from the act of creating a meaningful relationship with the perceived environment. Interestingly, it is becoming more and more clear that perception is a multisensory act and that regardless of the specific senses involved, the underlying principles which govern perception are multisensory ones. (Calvert, Spence & Stein, 2004). It can now also be seen why the more senses involved the better, (e.g. by incorporating touch, physical coordination and cross-lateral movement) in order to enable body/mind sensory integration pathways to develop, onto which literacy can then more readily be mapped.
Ron Davis’s Orientation Theory
One of the programmes described in Chapter 5 - the Ron Davis Method - adopts the concept of Orientation Counselling as part of its programme. In fact, this is the only programme to directly utilise the term orientation or address this problem as key in dyslexia. Davis uses the concept to describe the perceptual distortions which occur within a child whose genetic identity is purely visual, believing that dyslexia is the result of the inability to form a meaningful visual image for a word. Within the orientation theory of dyslexia hypothesis as I suggest it here, this represents a ‘Type 1 dyslexia’ in a child with a visual genetic identity (GI). And although this is undoubtedly an important part of the problem, it provides only a partial explanation. Davis is quite right in his view that orientation can result from incompatible thinking styles but, as this study suggests, orientation can also take a ‘Type 2’ body/mind form.
How Orientation Develops
The developmental path of the human has evolved to bring about orientation within a gravitational environment. In the womb, the primitive reflexes and development of the vestibular system prepare the child for the change from aquatic to air-based life. The vestibular is fully myelinated by 5 months after conception and the basic material of the brain has usually developed by about
2 months later. At birth the infant brain is able to process sensory stimuli, a process begun in-utero, and can recognise its mother’s and, where present, father’s voice and any music that was played frequently before birth, (Bremmer, 1994, Hepper, 1991). Brain development following birth consists almost exclusively of synaptogenesis: an explosion of dendrite and synaptic nerve growth which ‘wires’ together and establishes areas of brain specialisation. Maximum density of around 150% adult level is seen between 4-12 months of age in the infant. This is followed by the ‘pruning’ of under-utilised brain connections until, by 2 years of age, synaptic density in the infant matches that of adults. The brain is ‘moulded’ in response to whatever environmental sensory stimulation it receives and humans are extremely shaped by their cultural surroundings. This is because, in order to allow the proportionally large head to pass through the birth passage, human infants are in effect born ‘too early’. Consequently, a high percentage of an infant’s brain development takes place following birth. Areas such as those to the frontal cortex continue to grow and adjust for between 10-20 years. Brain metabolism (glucose uptake) is also above that of adult levels in the early years peaking at c4-5 years of age. The brain is 60% fat and, as described in the EFA model in Chapter 6, relies upon DHA (Omega 3) to enable this growth. A rich source of Omega 3 is found in breast-milk, as shown in Table 3 of that programme. Consequently a newborn baby that is breast-fed will automatically receive the essential food necessary to form the development of brain pathways in response to new sensory stimuli. In addition an infant’s rooting and sucking reflexes have evolved to occur instantaneously at birth and enable physical contact with its mother and start to feed.
The infant’s brain is extremely ‘plastic’ and it is crucial to perceive the cortex itself as continually developing from birth onward. In a baby’s cortex there are as yet no specialised areas such as those illustrated previously in Fig. 13. And, as Goswami points out:
“Although adult brains all show this basic structure, it is thought that early in development a number of developmental paths and end states are possible. The fact that development converges on the same basic brain structure across cultures and gene pools is probably to do with the constraints on development present in the environments.” (2004, p3)
Specialisation takes place as experience builds up associations, which result in recognition and memory. As this occurs neuronal connections are made between the appropriate sensory areas to the association areas in the cortex. In a developing brain, where the pathways have not yet been established, any lack of consistent sensory input and/or poor nutrition will necessarily affect the establishment of such pathways.
It was suggested in the Primary Reflex Inhibition Programme (PRI) described in Chapter 4 that insufficient reflex movements made by infants after birth, (primitive reflexes) or as they adjust to a gravitational environment, (postural reflexes) will result in these reflexes being retained (Goddard, 2002). However, given ample space and freedom of movement a baby will naturally inhibit each reflex over the time-line shown in Table 2 in the PRI programme. In environments where infants are routinely carried around in a sling or on their mother’s back it has been noted that physical orientation is excellent. Rocking is also an automatic response in mothers when holding their babies. Ayres believes:
“The sensation of gentle body movement tends to organise the brain. - In addition to calming the baby, carrying and rocking provide sensations that are essential building blocks for other sensations and for self-determined body movements.” (1991, p17)
The process of maturation is instinctive in human infants and only requires environmental opportunity. Crawling is vital, as described in Brain Gym in Chapter 4, because it enables increased development of neuronal connections across the corpus callosum, which unites the left and right hemispheres. Interestingly, Hannaford (1995) of Brain Gym suggests lack of visual tracking ability, common in children with literacy problems, may be due to insufficient bodily movement as this strengthens the development of eye muscles. As eye-hand co-ordination replaces the earlier simple tracking of objects the eye will lead the hand-movement, making it possible to connect movement with sight. This is clearly essential for writing, reading and drawing, playing an instrument, sport or dancing. Increased physical interaction with the environment from infancy and as the child grows will therefore enable sufficient multisensory experience to enable orientation.
Touch is vital at and from birth onwards. The process of birth through the birth canal is crucial for providing the Reticular Activating System (RAS) in the brain stem with the ‘wake-up’ stimulus necessary to the infant’s proprioceptive and vestibular senses. Because these are key to orientation within gravity, infants that lack this birth experience are likely to be at risk of poor sensory orientation of the whole body/mind type. As outlined in Chapter 4, much of the newborn’s initial sensory learning is through the skin and action of the primitive reflexes. By the second year s/he can tell where s/he is touched and direct a response voluntarily. Knowledge of the physical body enables awareness within gravity and therefore orientation. However, un-integrated sensations from the skin will prevent spatial awareness leading to trouble learning to do buttons and zippers, for example, and the child may become dyspraxic and/or frequently drop things. As Ayres (1991) states:
“The ability to plan movements depends upon the accuracy of the child’s touch system”, (p8).
The first 2 years of an infant’s life are crucial for visual integration. In the Magnocellular Theory in Chapter 3, Stein in particular stresses the centrality of binocular focus and convergence. Visual convergence is crucial to enable meaningful grapheme/phoneme, (visual/auditory) mapping during literacy and was found to be very weak in Stein’s dyslexic groups. The human infant has evolved to visually converge on its mother’s face through gaze during holding and breast-feeding. Innately a newborn baby displays a preference for faces and in particular for the mother’s face, (Field et.al 1982) smell and voice, (DeCasper & Fifer, 1980). One immediate interaction that proceeds between the mother and newborn child is mother-to-child eye contact. Klaus, Kennell and Klaus (1995) observed that mothers alone with their infants shortly after birth show a strong interest in eye-to-eye contact. Several expressed the view that once the infant had looked at them they felt closer to him/her. Parents showed a remarkable increase (from 10% to 23%) in the time spent in the en face position - parent and infant face-to-face with their heads aligned in the same parallel plane - from the first to fifth minute after birth. A newborn baby mature at birth (i.e. not premature) can see clearly but has a short range of focus which will converge at about 8-10 inches (20-25cm). This is the distance which separates the infant’s face from its mother’s when the baby is held or breast-fed. Each time the child looks at the face the multisensory neural pathways for convergence will ‘fire’ and the connections become stronger. The child is more likely to gaze at the face if spoken to by that person, (Bremmer 1994) thus increasing auditory/visual multisensory firing associations. Convergence, if it is not exact at birth, will therefore establish as the child is frequently held, fed and talked to, while eye contact is made, with or without additional visual stimulation.