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Why Poor Readers Get Bad Advice

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When we make a connection between reading and incomplete lower brain development, we come up with different solutions.

Many people lose their place when reading.

That’s why it’s become standard to tell such people to place their finger under each word as their eyes move across a line. Problem solved, right?

Unfortunately, no. In fact, when looking at the bigger picture, this compensation only makes matters worse. Ouch. How can that be?

Well, for starters, the underscoring-finger-remedy overlooks this very important question: Why do people even lose their place? Now, when we ask that question, it opens up a whole new way of looking at the problem.

Turns out if we explore how the eyes are intended to work naturally with the brain, we discover many reasons why we may lose our place when reading. And guess what? Those reasons also explain why we may read a whole page, yet have no clue what we just read.

However, the whole point of reading is to comprehend the text, right? That’s why the finger-under-the-word approach is one step forward and three giant steps backwards. In truth, that recommendation totally interferes with our ability to understand whatever we’re reading, while also guaranteeing that we’re always going to be a slow reader.

Here’s why that statement is fact. When we place our finger under each word, we’re only allowing the brain to process one word at a time. Even a well-organized brain is going to have trouble staying focused when spoon-fed words that way.

For example, if we tell our eyes to only look at the word our finger has underscored, we can just process that word—and nothing else. That means if we’re at the beginning of a sentence, our brain will only see the word “The” if that’s the first word.

Yet, when the brain is organized as intended, it’s capable of taking in a whole line or more with one fixation. So, with the very same time it took the finger-under-the-word person to process the word “the,” other people have already read the entire line, “The dog chased the cat down the street.”

Simply, the more words we can process in one glance, we not only read faster, but it’s also easier for the brain to understand what’s written—and stay interested.

Which brings us back to the question: What needs to be in place so that the eyes and brain can work together . . .  so we’re able to read quickly and comprehend text easily—and without ever losing our place?

Well, there are a myriad of natural vision skills that make this possible. When the brain is organized as intended, we use these automatic skills without any conscious awareness as we read.  But that means we also have no awareness if we’re trying to read without some key neural networks in place. We just know we struggle.

So, here are some specific vision skills and how incomplete lower brain development relates to them.

Peripheral Vision

Peripheral vision helps our eyes stay still on a word. Peripheral vision also guides our eyes to track smoothly across the page and enables us to look ahead at upcoming text before our eyes are actually there.

Lower Brain Connection: If the pons is underdeveloped, we will have little or no peripheral vision.

Eye Fixations

Our eyes have to be able to stay still for about a fourth of a second in order for the brain to process whatever they’re looking at. Also, if our eyes move to the next fixation too quickly, then the last image presented will erase the first. That’s because the brain cannot perceive two distinctly different images in each ¼ of a second period.

Lower Brain Connection: If we have poor vestibular processing, our eyes are likely to be “jumpy.” In fact, words may often move around the page while we read.

Eye Saccadic Movement

Efficient eye saccadic movement is when our eyes effortlessly move from one fixation to the next. Here again, we need good peripheral vision (the eyes need to look ahead to know where to land). We also need to make one big, accurate “jump” from the end of one line of text to the start of the next line below it.

However, if we have poor eye saccadic movement, we will skip over words, or our eyes will move forward and then backwards within a line of text, or they’ll often land in the middle (not the beginning) of the next line. We may also skip multiple lines when trying to get to the start of the next line.

Lower Brain Connection: Both pons and midbrain development are related to eye saccadic movement.

Eye Teaming

With natural eye teaming, our two eyes align together. When this doesn’t happen, text often blurs, making it difficult to keep our place. We may also see the ending letter of one word shift into the next word. Or, we missed words while our eyes were trying to get in better alignment.

Lower Brain Connection: Natural eye teaming happens at the very end of midbrain development.

Retained primitive reflexes are yet another reason people lose their place when reading. For example, a retained Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (which is associated with pons development) makes it difficult for the eyes to cross the midline effortlessly.

When this reflex is not integrated, it’s almost as though a wall separates our two brain hemispheres. So, sometimes—it’s as though our eyes then “hit” that wall—bouncing them elsewhere (and once again, we’ve lost our place).

Of course, people have only had the best intention whenever they told others to underscore words with their finger when reading. They simply did not know the above information.

But that’s why we need to share—with as many people as possible–how incomplete lower brain development is directly related to problems with reading. Most of all, since it’s possible to go back and organize the brain at any age, we don’t have to lose our place, read slowly, and keep re-reading text, over and over again, to finally understand what’s written.

And here’s the biggest bonus: When we read with a well-organized brain, we now enjoy reading.

So, maybe . . . there are even lots of people out there who “think” they don’t like to read—but that’s only because they haven’t yet experienced what it’s like to read with all their highways in place.

What’s Not Often Shared About Depression

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Most people have yet to connect the possible link between depression and incomplete lower brain development.

The facts about depression . . . are depressing in themselves:

  • Depression affects more than 21 million Americans annually.
  • It is the leading cause of disability of people ages 15-44.
  • Twenty-one percent of Americans will suffer from a mood disorder, such as depression, in their lifetime.
  • One in five Americans take psychiatric drugs, with antidepressants being the most commonly prescribed.
  • Depression carries a high risk of suicide.
  • In 2009 (the last year for which statistics are available), suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. (Note that homicides rank 15th.)
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were nearly 37,000 suicides and one million attempted suicides that year.

Those concerning facts certainly warrant looking at every possible cause of depression, right? Yet, there’s a reason most people have not considered. Namely, incomplete lower brain development may be linked to depression.

So, how is that possible?

Well, what if we’re driving off to work every day—where we have to write reports and answer to our boss whenever he demands an answer? What if, as soon as we get home, we interact with our spouse and kids, and then have to pay the bills and fix that broken toilet right after dinner, and a whole lot more–without ever realizing that we never completed our lower brain development during our first year of life? What if we have no clue that although we’re surely upright, we didn’t finish connecting key highways that give us some of the most fundamental, basic brain functions?

If so, then chances are we struggle with what often seems effortless to others. For example, we may try harder than our colleagues, yet still produce less. We may misinterpret what others say, so we think they’re judging us. We may find it taxing to process whatever we read or to follow what people are saying if there’s a lot of background noise. We may experience what seems like never-ending anxiety. The list goes on. No surprise that such a life then becomes a challenge to stay upbeat and positive.

But here’s where it gets worse. If our brain starts to sense that it won’t make a difference no matter how hard we try, then our brain actually starts to change—and not for the better.

In such case, we begin to experience what scientists have identified as “learned helplessness,” which has been documented through experiments that prove anyone’s brain can learn to be helpless.

For example, in one study, people were taken into a room where they heard a loud noise. These people were shown a panel with buttons and given the task of learning how to turn off the loud noise. However, no matter what button or pattern of buttons they pushed, the noise was unstoppable.

In the second part of the experiment, the same people were now asked to place their hand inside a shuttle box. The shuttle box was designed so that if a person put his or her hand to one side of it, there was an annoying, whooshing sound. However, if the person moved his or her hand to the opposite side, the noise stopped.

Yet, when this group put their hands in the shuttle box and heard the annoying noise, they just sat there. Their previous repeated failure to turn off the noise in the first experiment “taught” them to believe that they were helpless to turn off noise—even though the time, place, and task had changed.

Note that learned helplessness is not genetic. Rather, it’s caused by previous experiences that teach the brain a person’s efforts yield nothing positive and to then expect that same kind of negative outcome in future situations.

Hmm . . . that sure sounds similar to what happens to people trying to get through the day without basic brain functions in place. Simply, when lower brain development is incomplete, it doesn’t often matter how hard a person tries.

Yet, that experience of trying and trying without change ever coming about absolutely conflicts with what we’ve been told. How many times have we heard: If you try—and try again, you will succeed.

The only problem is . . . that’s a lie if we have incomplete lower brain development. Namely, all the effort in the world can’t change what isn’t neurologically in place. So, when we come up empty-handed, time and time again, what’s the probability we’ll remain positive and our brain won’t learn helplessness?

Of course, the brain is going to try to adapt in such situations. However, as it does so, the brain chemistry now changes. And ironically, it’s those changes that then make us even more vulnerable to be depressed.

So how does that happen? Well, since our incomplete lower brain development puts us in survival mode much of our daily life, and our brain has now “learned” helplessness, our body’s innate stress response is being activated all the time. That stress response then triggers a chemical reaction that affects our neurotransmitters . . . which then directly affects our mood.

For example, cortisol, which is part of this stress response, lowers dopamine production. Keep in mind that dopamine helps us experience pleasure.

This stress response also reduces serotonin, which just happens to be most important neurotransmitter in regards to ensuring we’re in a positive, happy mood. But guess what? When serotonin drops, now norepinephrine levels additionally drop.

Yet, we need certain levels of norepinephrine to be present since one of its primary mechanisms is arousal. Therefore, if we don’t have enough norepinephrine, we may feel less alert and experience low energy—both symptoms that are often associated with feeling depressed. And if that weren’t enough, GABA, a neurotransmitter linked to anxiety, is also lowered.

So, when we understand how this stress response affects us chemically, suddenly, it makes a whole lot of sense as to why we’re not upbeat and optimistic!

If that weren’t enough, this downward spiral continues. Turns out the more negative our mood and the longer such depression lasts, the more this stress response flips on and stays on. When that happens, we’re now more vulnerable for gastrointestinal disorders, infections, heart disease, cancer, endocrine disorders and more.

Wow. That’s quite a price to pay for maybe just not finishing our lower brain development the first year of life.

Yet, there is good news (thank goodness!). If incomplete lower brain development is a variable or even the main cause of our depression, we can do something about that. That’s because it’s never too late to go back and develop those highways, at any age.

Then, once those neural connections are in place, and we have those basic brain functions—we can now experience life with an organized brain. That’s truly very different life than one where the brain is not working as intended.

So, here’s the question: How many people are suffering and feeling depressed . . . unnecessarily? In other words, depression may not have to be a lifetime sentence, and drugs may not be the only answer.

Not surprisingly, sometimes just knowing that there is a plausible explanation for why everything seems so difficult—along with knowing it’s possible to go back and finish that early development—is enough for some people to start to feel encouraged.

That’s why if we do feel depressed, we owe it to ourselves to, at least, take a lower brain assessment to explore whether this connection may be applicable to us. That’s why if we know someone who is depressed, we owe it to them to share this same lower brain assessment.

After all, we never know. A little knowledge may end up completely changing our own life  . . .  or changing the life of someone else.

No Shame with the Lower Brain

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Most of us didn’t know that the “ground floor of brain organization” was supposed to happen during the first year of life.

A while back, a mother posted on our Brain Highways Facebook page how her son had gone from being the kid placed on a behavior contract with a stack of “character referrals” to one the teacher was now exclaiming and praising—but how that had only happened after he started organizing his brain.

After seeing so many positive responses to her post, the mother then wrote me what she had not previously shared.  Prior to starting Brain Highways, her son had been scheduled for a behavior assessment at Rady’s Children Hospital to see whether he qualified for a formal diagnosis.  Such appointments are hard to come by, so (while waiting), her family began Brain Highways.

However, when that appointment time finally came around, this mom decided to postpone it since she was already seeing changes in her son, even though he had only been participating at Brain Highways for about a month.

As the re-scheduled appointment neared once again, she now decided to cancel it altogether. There truly was no longer any need for the assessment.

Since I know that people who are unfamiliar with brain organization, as well as those who want it to happen overnight (they forget it’s a process), benefit from reading such stories, I asked if she would now also share that part.

Yet, she was reluctant.  She wanted to check with her son to make sure he was comfortable telling others that he had been scheduled for a formal behavior assessment. She was concerned that friends at his school (who also visit the Brain Highways Facebook page) might see the post, and she wanted to make sure he was comfortable with that.

Not surprisingly, her son shrugged his shoulders and asked why would he care what other kids thought?

However, here’s what most likely happened.  Don’t think a 6-year-old actually has first-grade friends who visit our Facebook page. So, I’m thinking his mom’s concern was about the reaction of his friends’ parents.  Without realizing it, she may have felt some kind of shame that her son had needed to be scheduled for a behavioral assessment or that he may have even been close to getting diagnosed with some condition that again . . . often comes with even more guilt and shame.

Now, if such emotions were triggered in the mom, there is absolutely no judgment there.  But there is reflection.

How did we (as a society) get so far off the beaten path that there is stigma or embarrassment—or even actual shame—associated with those who have just not finished their lower brain development?  After all, it’s not as though any of us had a say in whether this work was completed during our first year of life (if we’re the one who did not finish the development), or it’s very unlikely that we (as parents) consciously decided to forbid our kids to complete this important brain work.   In fact, we most likely did everything we thought we were supposed to during our child’s first year of life.

Yet, I’ve lost count of how many Brain Highways parents ultimately shared they experienced much shame and guilt associated with what turned out to be . . . underdeveloped lower centers of the brain.  I say ultimately because such sharing usually only happened after they were confident everything was moving forward in the most positive way.

You see, shame hecklers in the brain count on people keeping quiet about whatever they think others will judge harshly. The more secretive, the more the shame escalates.

But no more. That’s why I’ve decided to dub 2014: No Shame with the Lower Brain.  If any of us—adult or child—has been trying to function without the ground floor of brain organization in place, there should not only be no shame, but such people deserve accolades for whatever they accomplished with a brain that is not functioning as intended.

So, what’s the best way to silence those shame hecklers?

Well, we’re no longer going to be secretive about how our brain is organized. If our lower brain development is incomplete, we now blab that information to everyone, noting how we must be pretty darn amazing, considering all that we’ve already accomplished without these highways in place.  We share how we’ve been struggling unnecessarily since it’s possible to go back and finish that development at any time in our life—and how we’re grateful for that opportunity.  We’re optimistic and curious about how life will be once the highways are in place.

And guess what? The more people who shift their consciousness to think this way, the more people will silence lurking shame hecklers in their own brain.  But such sharing may also motivate others to be more open about what they’re also experiencing, which may lead them to decide to complete their brain development if they discover that their own “ground floor of brain organization” is not yet in place.

At the Brain Highways Centers, that’s already the mindset.  All (not just a few) of the parents now organize their own brain alongside their child.

Not only that, but the parents’ lower brain is assessed in front of everyone (we’re talking a large crowd) at a pre-session parent meeting because . . .  why not?  We’d only do assessments behind a guarded curtain if there was something to hide, right?

And then, after we’re done assessing all the parents, no one is strutting because they may have a more developed pons than someone else.  Actually, if anyone is strutting, it’s the parent who discovers that he or she only has 5% of their pons developed.  In such cases, the reaction to such information is often, “Wow! I must be brilliant!”

So, let’s challenge the idea that we have to keep secret how our brain is presently functioning.  Let’s truly make 2014 the year where there’s no longer any shame with anything associated with the brain.

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