Q&A Interview with Dr. Phyllis Books,
Author of Reversing Dyslexia: Improving Learning and Behavior without Drugs
1) Q. Your main area of practice is chiropractic. While many people equate regard the profession of chiropractic with the skeletal system and “bone cracking,” how would you explain to the layman how a doctor of chiropractic becomes a dyslexia specialist?
Or, to break that question down into two parts:
One: How would you explain chiropractic to the layperson? and
Two: What is the relationship between chiropractic and dyslexia?
1a) What is “chiropractic” in layman’s terms?
”Chiropractic,” in layman’s terms, is a natural, non-invasive way of addressing physical pain and misalignments stemming from the nervous system. The central nervous system is comprised of the brain and spinal cord. So if there is a communication breakdown in signals reaching the brain, a problem in the way the brain interprets the signal or in the way the information is sent back out through the nervous system, a chiropractor is one choice for how to correct a neurological issue.
1B) How does a chiropractor become a dyslexia specialist?
I stumbled upon the dyslexia-chiropractic/neurological connection in a strange way. An incident happened my senior year of college that baffled me for 20 years. I was asked to observe a second grade classroom in the lab school, where the children of the professors and graduate students went. All the children came from a background where reading was valued, yet some of these children, no matter what methods were employed, couldn’t read. I was totally baffled. And no one could explain to me why these kids couldn’t catch on to reading. So it was my curiosity and determination to help the children that initially pushed me to figure out where the problems were actually coming from.
Most chiropractors are kept busy dealing with low back pain, migraines, sports injuries and more direct “bones and muscle” issues. They do not concern themselves with the fact that the chiropractic practice involves much more than just physical ailments. In reality, chiropractic philosophy assesses so much more; it addresses the relationships of skeletal and muscular function to overall body and brain function
My initial medical background trained me to look at various “systems” such as the neurological, circulatory, and musculo-skeletal, and see how one affects another. However, I knew that fixing physical symptoms may not necessarily fix the problem. My communication background encouraged me to look beyond physical issues to find out where the communication went awry. In fact, I looked at dyslexia and other childhood neurological disorders as communication breakdowns. Tackling the issue of phonemes and graphemes (the little sounds that make up words) at a higher brain and cognitive level, I found, actually helped to solve the problem. So I set out to find out where the glitches occurred and sought to retrain those pathways.
2) What other kinds of training or experience do you have that support or inform your particular views on dyslexia?
My master’s degree was in interpersonal communication. With that I learned that verbal communication applies to the body and the various organs and systems when it comes to sending clean and clear signals.
My background also includes: functional medicine classes, lots of psychology and neuroscience classes, allergy work, trauma release therapies, bioenergetics analysis, and studies of nutrition.
My background is long and eclectic. With a name like Books, is it any wonder my insatiable curiosity keeps looking for answers in books, classes, on the internet, anywhere and everywhere!
In terms of how my education affects my views, my interest in food and nutrition spills out into seeing how certain foods affect learning, focus and concentration. Improper diet is a big contributing factor in the development of learning disabilities, because chemical reactions involving food and getting information to various cells in the body affect one’s learning ability and emotions.
My work also includes utilizing techniques that soothe and heal the emotional turmoil that can affect learning, specifically the techniques and healing properties of acupuncture. Touch is very specific; it helps to elicit a neurological stimulation in a specific area of the body or brain. Acupuncture has done this for centuries via needles.
3) How do you think your ideas towards dyslexia differ from those using other treatments, techniques or therapies to deal with the disorder?
This biggest way my ideas differ is that I believe dyslexia can be a temporary issue and not a permanent condition. All traditional therapies are based on compensations and work around. Woven into the very definition of dyslexia is the statement that it is permanent. This is outdated and incorrect information. New science shows us without a doubt that brains can actually change. If brains can change (and they do) dyslexia can change.
Another way my methods vary is in length of treatment. Many therapies go on for months and years, but Books Neural Therapy is usually completed within three months. My experience is that if I go down to the root of the problem and correct it immediately, a new pattern can emerge – a healthy pattern without the symptoms of dyslexia. That’s a really cool thing about this work – once the body finally knows what “normal” feels like and new pathways are built, “normal” becomes a natural state.
4) What are the main symptoms of someone who is dyslexic?
Dyslexia most commonly is associated with reading issues. Sometimes it stops right there. Sometimes it includes problems with spelling, math (also called dyscalculia), dysgraphia (poor handwriting) or even poor motor skills (dyspraxia).
Looking just at reading inaptness is a disservice, because there are so many other issues associated with dyslexia. Here is a common list of dyslexic traits:
- Hand-eye coordination problem and poor motor skills
- Inability to focus or concentrate
- Low self-esteem or distorted self-image
- Poor sense of direction (often confusing right an left)
- Behavioral issues
- Difficulty making decisions and following instructions
- Tripping over words when speaking (not just when reading)
- Saying words in the wrong place in the sentence, or getting thoughts mixed up while speaking
- Spelling issues
5) Does it appear more in boys or in girls?
Dyslexia shows up much more in boys than girls. At one of the dyslexia schools in town, the ratio of boys to girls is about six boys for every girl. However, in my office, the number is about two boys for every girl.
6) Does economic status play a role?
Curiously, economics does not play a role. Dyslexia is prevalent among some of the richest and most influential families in America. Dyslexia shows up around the world, albeit in slightly different forms in different countries. So people of every sex, color, and economic level can be besieged with dyslexia.
7) What is the youngest age at which you or other experts can diagnose someone as dyslexic? Do they need to be of reading age?
It used to be around third grade, (8-9 years old), that dyslexia became obvious.
However, lots of self esteem issues can be well in place by that time. Kids know when they aren’t learning the same way as the other kids. The earlier we catch it the better for everyone.
Ask any pre-school or kindergarten teacher, and they can already predict who will have trouble. So a child can already be diagnosed when they are 4 to 6 years of age.
And therefore no, they don’t have to be at “reading age,” because reading is only one of the clues for dyslexia. The problem with “reading” starts long before a child learns to read. The difficulty starts in the neurological development, so not having a smooth gait while running, not being able to rhyme certain words, not hearing all the sounds and therefore not speaking clearly or pronouncing words correctly – these are all clues that trouble is brewing.
8) In your book, you put emphasis on the role of the different levels of brain development in learning. Could you explain this concept and how it relates to possible difficulties in reading?
Describe for me and my audience the differences between “right brain” and “left brain” thinking. How does our culture’s left-brain-biased learning approach affect a child’s development?
We approach reading a little backwards in this country. The neurologically appropriate time to introduce actual reading is around 8. Waldorf schools throughout the world do this. And some countries which have introduced reading very early are now seeking advice from countries that start teaching reading later. Why? When children are asked to read too early, the eyes are robbed of some normal developmental sequences such as exercising their “near and far” vision. Children naturally look into the distance in nature and then close up to see a rolly poly bug. Moving from near to far helps exercise the eye muscles. When we ask kids to only focus on near objects, such as a book or Ipad screen, their eyes can go into “ocular lock.”
Our educational system often starts with the latest part of the brain. We expect a child to learn in ways that their brain isn’t designed to do yet. Then when the child isn’t catching on, he begins to think he is the problem and there is something wrong with him.
9) How does nutrition factor in to a child’s learning abilities?
Have you ever heard the saying, “You are what you eat”? There is a lot of truth to that saying. If you eat organic, non GMO, non-processed food, your brain probably works faster than a brain that has been polluted by poor quality, highly processed convenient foods. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is creating a nation of obese and diabetic children in record numbers. Your brain is like the engine of your car. If you pour sugar into your gas tank, your engine is going to sputter and malfunction. Though our bodies and brain actually require sugar and fat to run, they don’t need low quality trans fats and high fructose corn syrup in regular doses. Children who eat lots of grains and sugar can have allergies to certain foods which make them overly emotional or give them “brain fog.” It’s hard to learn when your head is all clogged up with toxic substances. And low-quality nutrition during childhood can lead to deficiencies in vision, fine motors skills, language and social skills as well as an array of chronic illnesses lasting well into adulthood.
10) How do you think the sensory overload associated with today’s profusion of electronic media gadgets and screen devices are affecting—or will affect—our children and their learning capabilities?
Passive learning versus interactive learning is the issue with many screen devices, such as computers and TVs. With “screen time,” there is no live human being to interact with, to read body and social clues. There is something intangible but really important about being in the physical presence of another to pick up subtle clues and differentiations. When kids spend a lot of time staring at screens, whether their thumbs are moving or not, they are not reading the subtle nuances that children need to learn for daily living from sensing whether a person is safe or not to reading the clues on the interviewer’s face when applying for a job.
11) What are the biggest challenges parents face when dealing with a dyslexic child?
First of all, keeping a child’s self esteem intact is paramount. They often feel “broken,” that there is something wrong with them that because they can’t learn the way other kids are learning. Other kids can also be mean and say things that make them feel embarrassed and ridiculed. These feelings can then lead behavioral changes and issues, which can be difficult to work through and change.
Another problem is that dyslexia becomes a family affair. It’s not just the identified dyslexic who is affected; everyone in the family is affected in one way or another. Time is robbed of various family members when the dyslexic child has to go to tutoring, various therapies, maybe have a special diet, or special routines. Quality time for family fun activities are put on the back burner. Mom and Dad don’t always see eye to eye on what would be good for the child. Tension erupts, sleep cycles may be interfered with…everyone just gets worn down. The child then feels guilty. And the parents feel guilty because they feel they aren’t doing a good job as parents.
Probably the biggest challenge a parent faces is believing that real and significant change is possible for the child. Under the mainstream definition, dyslexia is considered a permanent condition. How discouraging is that? It’s hard to keep your chin up, when the prognosis is negative.
Staying positive, believing in your child, and standing by him or her while encouraging them to stay with difficult tasks, is absolutely critical. Kids can read if you believe in them or not. If they know you are behind them and supporting them, it gives them staying power and teaches them they are worth believing in.
12) Is there any advice you can give to parents seeking help?
Don’t ever give up on your child! Your belief in their abilities will push them to have faith in themselves, and allow them to stand tall on their own despite their disabilities. We have to be our best selves in order to be the example of how to overcome adversity, be resilient and stay positive.
Secondly, don’t cover your eyes and pretend the problem will just go away. One of the biggest problems parents face is becoming overwhelmed and then paralyzed, which results in no action at all. Your child needs your help.
Lastly, you know more about your child and his potential than anyone else. When someone in authority gives you advice about your child, listen to your gut. Don’t let yourself be talked down to or intimidated. No one knows your child better than you. In the field of dyslexia and in brain sciences, it will be important for you to judge for yourself what might be helpful for your child, regardless of what the establishment says, because brain studies are ever changing. You will need to stand tall and firm in yourself so you can stand firm for your child.