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



Handedness and Brain Development.

Your child’s hand preference can shed light on the progress of their overall brain growth.

Handedness is one of the easiest and most accepted way to prove that each brain may look similar, but can express individually. In fact, even most radiologists cannot look at an image of a brain and tell you a person’s hand preference. It has been suspected for years that hand dominance can play into someone’s skill set. These increased skill abilities can be as simple as being more inclined in art style activities (left handed people) or numbers (right handed people). Of course, this does not mean those are the only options, but can prove once again that each hemisphere is specialized in certain activities more than the other.

During the first year or so of life our brains are simply focused on growth and development. In these first days of life specialization has not even begun to emerge. This means that each task a child performs should be completed equally on both sides. This includes; rolling, swatting at objects, breastfeeding, grasping, and any other movements big or small. Towards the end of the first year, and heading into the second a child begins to gain a handed preference. This is a very important milestone to be completed, because it shows that their brain has developed to the point of specialization.

Besides just a handed preference we should have a dominant ear, eye, and foot! All of these should be on the same side in order to show proper differentiation. Now this instantly raises a red flag for many when they think about people that are ambidextrous. Some individuals, including myself, share skill sets with either hand or either foot. When it comes to sports these athletes are looked at as “lucky” to have the ability to throw with either hand or bat from either side of the plate to throw off a pitcher. Although these traits may come in handy when it comes to athletics or simple tricks, this actually is a bad thing to see. With a short review in the literature you will find that people who are ambidextrous have an increased chance of many mental diseases, MS, some chronic diseases, and even earlier death!

This should be truly eye opening to see that when the brain is not working in coherence with itself the issues that can potentially arise. Of course, many of these studies have smaller cohorts and at times are not reproducible in further trials. But just the mere fact that someone has made any kind of correlation shows that brain specialization and development is vital in order to live a long and happy life. This is true no matter if you or your child expresses issues like ADHD, SPD, ODD, dyslexia, or not. It can simply just show because they kick a ball with their left foot and throw a ball with their right.

This is not a scare tactic, but simply an idea to bring to light that most people are not aware of. Brain differentiation/development goes hand and hand with sided preference. If dominance does not show to be equal side to side then that means most likely their brain is immature in some areas, and they likely still have primitive reflexes or some areas in the brain that need to be worked on. Luckily our brains are “plastic” which means they have the ability to grow, develop, and repair themselves until the day that we die.

When these areas are helped through the development process or weaker areas in the brain are worked on, sometimes things will equal out to one side. The more I learned about this I realized that my own brain has some developmental issues, through performing therapy on myself my eye dominance actually changed! Most of the time in older kids and adults large changes in hand or foot preference most likely will not happen but sometimes in younger kids especially, these will be seen as specialization occurs.

Whether your children are young or old, keeping an eye on their overall development is the best way to ensure their success in life. This also includes being informed on signs to look for to track if issues arise. Remember, for the most part no one spends more time with your children than you. If you suspect something strange or potentially problematic, spend the time to find an answer from a licensed healthcare provider that will hear you out.

As always if you or someone you know is experiencing issues that they are looking for answers for do not hesitate to reach out to Dr. Jake to set up an appointment or free consult.

Dr. Jacob Boraas

Functional Healing Institute


Why therapy may not be benefiting your child (as much as it could).

Growing a brain is similar to growing a tree. A trees strongest, and most important part is usually the roots. The roots are where the nutrients come from, and without them, a tree would just fall over and die. This can be compared to a brain in the way that a brains initial growth and development begins in the brainstem (like the roots). The brainstem is mainly under control when we are first born it holds reflexes to keep us safe, and aids in proper development. At some point the brainstem needs to hand over the controls to the rest of the brain to take over during the maturation process. 

As a tree begins to grow, large limbs reach out and eventually blossom into leaves, but this is all dependent on proper supply from the roots. A brain is the same way, initially growing from the brainstem upwards into an area called the motor cortex and then blossoming in all directions into proper development of a brain through connections in our brain cells called neurons. This process of development and neurologic expansion is all dependent on the idea that initial growth has properly been achieved, but the fact your child is in need of therapy indicates that somewhere during development something did not go as planned. 

Luckily this is nothing to be worried about, because proper development can still be achieved with the correct modalities. The problem is most therapies involve advanced tasks in problem solving, speech, advanced movements, and more. If a brain did not mature properly, areas of the brain that control these difficult tasks is not reachable. It would be much like trying to put leaves on a tree that has not grown limbs, it is simply not possible. 

Underdevelopment of the nervous system is many times held up by things called primitive reflexes. Some of these reflexes come online before birth, and help us in many ways to thrive when we are young. During the first two years of life our brains go through a specific sequence in growth with some reflexes going away, and new ones coming online. Many times abnormal development can be linked to just the persistence of these reflexes past their time frame. 

These reflexes may also return even if they did go away at their intended time initially. This is a protective mechanism that our brain goes through during trauma, both physically or emotionally. Our brains actually have the ability to “unhook” certain pathways in the brain to avoid remembering trauma or to salvage areas that are still functioning properly after physical trauma (I.e, concussion, stroke, etc). Similarly these reflexes need to be worked through again, additionally adding advanced therapies to promote growth of these pathways again. 

The goal of this write up, is not in any way to discourage therapy. Once proper bottom-up growth of the brain is achieved therapy is vital to continue growth and development of the brain for your child. This is simply to shed light on the fact that proper development must be ensured before working through issues, and can be a potential barrier if progress in care seems slow. Under development of the nervous system can cause more of a wrestling match then the synchronous harmony it should be and may cause; sensory processing, dyslexia, speech issues, behavioral problems, and nearly every other neurodevelopmental delay in children. Beginning with working through developmental milestones will lead to a smoother progression in learning advanced tasks, and overall progress. 

If your child or someone you know is experiencing issues in development, school, interacting with others, or have other concerns, reach out anytime for a free consult. We would be honored to come along side you in your child’s care to ensure they become the proper adults they aspire to be one day. 

Dr. Jake Boraas

Functional Healing Institute