What is Dyslexia/Learning Disabilities and Can They be Helped?

How a kid performs in school greatly affects the rest of their lives. This changes the outcome of career, confidence, and their ability to take on the world. It is reported that 1 in 5 students or 15-20% of the population has a language-based learning disability, most commonly dyslexia. Unlike many other neurodevelopmental problems such as ADHD, autism, etc. these learning problems affect males and females similarly in numbers. No matter how smart a child is during school a lot of the time if he/she has poor reading skills, they consider themselves to be “dumb”. With how high the overall affected population is, this is a scary problem affecting much of our population. 

So what exactly is a learning disability? In 2002 the IDA Board of directors created a definition used by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development or NICHD that follows. “Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

There are six specific subtypes of issues that can be used to further define the specific dyslexia, but we will not get into those individually.

The ability to read and understand what is being read, is a greatly important tool for each person to have in order to learn effectively as well as interact with the world in a proper manor. The National Research council reported in 1998 that 40% of adult Americans did not feel comfortable enough with their reading skills to read a book from start to finish. This does not mean that these individuals are considered to be illiterate, but it does mean that their specific skills were not felt to be strong enough in order to enjoy reading.

Schools and government aid spend millions of dollars each year to help children that are falling behind and have lower than average reading skills. Although the extra attention does seem to help many of these kids, it is a very small gain that takes much extra help and still leaves the child far below their specific grade level skills. 

These issues all arise in the brain, how it is functioning, and even more specifically how it is processing input. A large emphasis is placed on the eyes, because they are the only part of the brain that extend outward of the skull and can be examined without any kind of special imaging. Although many of us take our sight for granted, it is one of the most amazing systems, and is infinitely complex. Very small muscles need to pull at specific angles, open and close to allow more or less light in, and work simultaneously together in order to follow objects, look at an object moving quickly towards us, or just simply be able to focus on another person during communication. 

Once information comes into our eyes, it is transmitted all over the brain to be decoded in order for us to interact with whatever the stimulus may be. We have a variety of different specialized cells in our eyes that are better at tracking things in our peripheral vision, see certain colors better than others, better at slow movement or fine detail recognition, and much more. Once again, all of these have to not only be working their own specific jobs properly, but also interacting between each other in the way that they are intended to. All of these visual inputs also work very closely with our ears or auditory input, which could be another location that can be the point of concern. 

Learning disabilities can originate in many different areas of the brain, and means someone is ineffectively doing their job. The brain essentially is “wired” improperly or “weak” in specific areas, and not firing to the strength and magnitude required to proficiently perform. Luckily our brains are plastic, and this simply means that they are always changing for better, or worse, and able to heal in ways far greater than we will ever be able to fully understand. 

Our brains are the single most complex object in the entire universe. There are more connections between our neurons (brain cells), than stars in the sky. Brains develop on a specific pattern in a specific way, and if a part of the chain does not do its job along the way problems can arise later in life. Luckily nearly all of these issues can be helped with the power of plasticity and the proper input to strengthen the areas of concern.

So what is to be done with learning problems? Firstly, checking how the person has developed, did they hit their milestones? Any issues during pregnancy? During the birth process? Injuries or illness early in life? These questions and many more can start to point the clinician to areas to start honing in on and further investigate. 

One of the first steps in the healing process is to ensure that all primitive reflexes are being suppressed in the proper way. Primitive reflexes are automated reflexes we are born with that help us to thrive at a young age because we are only born with around 20% of our adult brains. They live in our deep brain centers, but most of them should be gone by around 18 months of age. However this is not the case with nearly all neurodevelopmental kids/adults. Suppressing them is easy, but takes some time and active participation to strengthen areas in need of the brain and allow proper growth from there on.

Next is looking a lot at the eyes, as previously stated. Are the eyes tracking objects in space together the way they should be? Are all the muscles working in the proper fashion to help in doing their own specific roles? The eyes also have many “reflexogenic” or automated functions that are checked and worked on to point to specific areas in the brain that could be of concern. 

Many at home games, worksheets, and other exercises can be utilized to further promote specific functioning of the brain depending on the problems of concern and exact reasoning the issue has arose. Sometimes even simply changing up the child’s workspace, or limiting distraction can make significant changes in their ability to focus. 

Children are our future leaders, teachers, business owners, and so much more. Ensuring that they get the proper services and are equipped with the needed skillsets to take on any endeavor that they plan to pursue is one of the best ways to give your child the biggest and brightest future. This is all any parent wants for themselves, and their children. Always remember a healthy brain is the best way to a healthy life.

Dr. Jacob Boraas

Functional Healing Institute



How to build a healthy brain.

Humans are amazing down to our genetic code, and there are no other creatures on the planet that can compare. Although we are a part of the primate family phylogenetically, clearly we are vastly different in many ways. One major difference is humans have the largest heads, yet the smallest birth canals. Besides a considerably more difficult birthing process, this is due to the fact that our brain nearly triples in size by age of 3 years old. We are only born with roughly 20-25% of our total brains. This means that early in life it is vastly important to help out babies develop physically and neurologically. 

The best way to build a healthy brain is to shower your child in stimuli whenever it is possible. This can include; light, sound, vibration, odors, tastes, temperature, gravity, and most importantly touch! Even though we are born with a good amount of our total brain cells our brains are rapidly developing, through branching between one another, as well as developing in maturation. Total brain growth is mainly connecting cells with branches either on the same, or opposite of the brain. 

The more a brain is stimulated the more it will increase in size, connectivity, and speed of overall processing. Success in engaging your child in proper neurological stimulation is based upon: how often they are exposed, how long they are exposed, and how intense the overall stimulus is. Overall the rule of thumb is to get your children moving at all chances possible, play music for your baby and don’t be afraid to speak with your child using a low tone of voice while still in mom’s tummy. Lastly, ensure your child is getting enough sleep to recover and grow. Early on in life baby will be sleeping most of his/her life, but even as your child gets older 8-10 hours of sleep is vital to ensure proper development. 

There was a study conducted on kittens many years ago looking at brain development changes. One of the groups of cats were never allowed to walk on their own. These cats were introduced to their environment by being carried around, and then returned to their cages. In the end the cats eyes never developed enough to see. It is estimated they were able to see some movement and most likely in black/white but overall considered blind. This goes to show how important it is for our children to be moving around and experiencing their environments through exploration. 

Our automatic reflexes that coordinate a majority of our lives during year 1-1.5 all live in our brainstem (area circled above). This area holds a lot of our body regulatory functions, and evolutionary simple aspects of life that are needed, but we do not directly coordinate. This can include options like: heart rate, breathing, digestion, etc. As we develop our brains grow and make new connections, getting more and more advanced during development. The dark line on top of the circles is outlining our motor cortex, which just like the name suggests helps control all body movements in part. This is an incredibly important area to develop early in life because our frontal lobes grow directly out of this strip (direction of arrow). Many scientists believe our frontal lobes are the main reason we have advanced so much as a species, and what makes humans special. Our frontal lobes control executive function, planning, impulse control, and really everything we are as a cumulative person. If early development does not progress properly to allow a child to learn to move their bodies efficiently, overall development may perish. Skipping steps or abnormal steps of development can make it difficult to grow a frontal lobe, and the rest of the brain. 

With a vast topic such as this, the direction can be taken on a variety of routes from: nutrition, sleep hygiene, body hygiene, socialization, toxin exposure, stress exposure, and so much more. All of these play an important roll in proper development, but I believe one of the most important overall is MOVEMENT. This means proper coordinated movement based on the child’s age. Beginning with early squirming, then batting at objects, then grasping at objects, into army crawl, regular crawl, propping themselves up, and then finally walking. Even after a child begins to walk there is nearly 20 years left of brain development so that importance does not end! Make your child go outside, make them get away from screens, take the steps, go for a hike, learn to ride a bike, teach them to cook, sign them up for sports, dance, theatre, etc. These will each aid in growing a brain that is well rounded and equivalent side to side. All of these steps are important, along with others, and will give your child the best odds to develop a happy & healthy life. 

If you have any questions or concerns reach out to me anytime or set up a free consult to talk in person! 

Dr. Jacob Boraas

Functional Healing Institute