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 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.
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.
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.
The facts about depression . . . are depressing in themselves:
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.
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.
Marisa Boelk is our guest blogger. She writes how developing her own lower centers of the brain and reframing unproductive thoughts have resulted in a very different outlook on life for her and her family.
Our child is now 6 years old, and the first 5 years of her life were a true emotional, mental, and physical roller coaster. As her parent, I had a challenging time finding my place, along with hers, in this world of what seemed like perfect families. All this really shifted for me last year, during the Brain Highways program.
Our family believed so strongly in the Brain Highways program that the whole family enrolled. Mom and dad and little brother went through both the pons and midbrain courses with our daughter. (This was before the program made it possible for parents to organize their brain alongside their kids.) Even grandma enrolled!
And this is the difference it has made: I no longer see our family as imperfect, and everyone else’s as perfect. My emotions are no longer an extension of my child’s.
I recently read an article by a parent explaining what it is like to grieve and hurt from having a child with special needs. This parent explained the pain and grieving of looking at her child’s disability (in this case Asperger’s) and seeing it be more marked and separating the child more from peers as the years go by, instead of getting easier or better or less noticeable.
And this parent also explained how her emotions are attached to her child’s. In other words, if her child is doing well, so is the parent and vice-versa. Though I identified with everything she said (to the tee), I realized that I now identified with this parent only in my memory of what it used to feel like before Brain Highways.
Today, I no longer feel hopeless and sad. I am no longer grieving. I now know that my brain will believe what I tell it.
Prior to a year ago, I would sit on my therapist’s couch and tell her how hard it was to have a child with special needs. She would agree, and I would cry. By the end of my regular visits, I would cry more, then get home and cry some more, then hug my child, and then cry again.
Those visits were so helpful in giving me words to the feelings inside, but they never helped me feel any better about myself or my child. It was my own brain organization work, the Brain Highways reframing exercises (that dealt with unproductive subconscious tapes and messages) and their numerous other techniques that made a difference.
You see, my child’s brain development has shifted, for sure, since we started the pons and midbrain work last year. But I also knew that I had to change.
For many years, I had trained my own brain to be unhappy, disappointed, always wanting more signs that my child would be okay. But I have now learned that if I am not content with where my child is right now, I will never be content.
I have often heard at the Brain Highways Center (from Nancy) whenever I’d point out something that still had not changed for my daughter (while glossing over all that had improved): “At what point, will you ever think your child’s brain highways are good enough?”
Well, today they are enough. Daily, they are enough. Even if my child does not build one more highway, my child is enough. That is probably the most valuable thing I have told my brain to believe since starting the Brain Highways program.
However, since I had allowed my brain to go to unproductive thoughts for so long, I still catch myself going there at times. The difference today is: I no longer stay there or believe those thoughts as facts.
Like the parent of the blog I noted earlier, I, too, felt sad, afraid of the future, pretty much hopeless. Some of my thoughts were so unproductive and hopeless when I first came to Brain Highways that it was nearly impossible to get through a class without breaking into tears.
Slowly, I learned that I have no crystal ball to know what the future holds for my child or our family, but I do know this: I can live in gratefulness, and I choose how I act and feel.
I have a very close family member who continues to speak of my child as “autistic” even though our family does not adhere or embrace such labels. (Heck, some days I still think I can diagnose other children based on my extensive years of zero professional training to do so.) Over the holidays, this family member was being very assertive in expressing the kind of environment and help she thought my child should be receiving, to which after a couple of attempts at changing the subject, my pons responded in full-blown mode.
This is where the Brain Highways work came in play. After admittedly yelling at my family member, I excused my self from the situation by saying, “I need to leave now.”
As soon as I walked outside, I started reciting all the things I was grateful for. Shortly thereafter, I walked back inside . . . and hugged and talked to that family member.
I have also made it a point not to retell this story in a negative way. Instead, I have said how much this family member loves my child and our family, and how much this family member cares that my child is well taken care of—and that’s the end of it.
This was nearly impossible to do prior to Brain Highways. I would have played and re-played in my brain all the horrible things that were said, and how horrible of a person she was, and poor me. But Brain Highways has also taught me how to ensure that we record events in our memory in a way that includes more than just our own perception and our first negative, emotional response to whatever happened.
Our family has recently made a decision to do the Brain Highways program for the second time, almost exactly a year after the first time. So you might ask: “If you are doing so fabulously, why are you re-enrolling with your child?”
Great question, one I have asked myself. Here is what I have so far.
My own brain development is still not complete. I have a child whose brain development is still not complete, and I know there were concepts I missed the first time around because I was so wound-up, so fricken’ tight. I know my child will find it refreshing to come back to the Brain Highways Center and have other adults help facilitate her brain organization, and my husband and I will also find it re-energizing to have others help us facilitate this work.
But most of all, while we may now “get” what kind of thinking moves us forward, it’s much harder to do when so many around us think differently (and even try to get us to change how we’re thinking).
Enter Brain Highways. You walk in the door, and you’re instantly surrounded by people who truly accept parents and kids just as they are—where no one makes anyone try to fit in (which only brings on misery) or then judges people if they don’t meet someone else’s expectations. At Brain Highways—right from the beginning—you feel connected, that you belong (which is a very different feeling that trying to fit in) . . . just by “showing up.” That’s good enough.
Of course, that’s not how much of the rest of the world thinks. So, it’s always uplifting to be around others who think the same way. And then, there are mirror neurons, meaning it’s additionally great to hang out with people who reflect positive thoughts since those also affect our own brain.
So, I am grateful for the opportunity to come back to the Brain Highways Center. And at this point, who knows? Until we’ve all finished our lower brain development, maybe refresher courses will just become a family tradition.
Kathy is our guest blogger. Both Kathy and her son, Josh, recently completed the Brain Highways pons class. Here, Kathy writes about both of their lives before they started to organize their brains, and then what specific changes happened to each of them over the past eight weeks.
Before starting the Brain Highways pons class:
After the first pons class
Josh articulates his thoughts on the 40-minute drive home. He notices lights blinking off and on in a pattern on a store front and describes it in detail. He uses the word spat correctly in a sentence, which he has never done before.
After Week 2
Josh volunteers at dinner to try salad with ranch dressing. Before this, it was a fight for him to eat or try vegetables due to their taste and texture.
After Week 4
Josh is able to focus and sit still for a longer period of time. He is not restless like before.
After Week 5
Josh notices the freedom that new highways have given him. He feels calmer inside and has a better sense of where he is on the field when playing soccer. He is very motivated to continue creeping since he sees the personal gain for himself.
After Week 6
Josh articulates his needs and feelings. He never before would start a sentence with “I feel . . . ” since he could not articulate what it was he felt.
After Week 7
Josh is taking care of business (a way of communicating his needs and acknowledging others’ needs) all the time and gaining confidence.
After Week 8
Josh conquers his fear of elevators, glass elevators and heights all in the same day! What a champion!
Before starting the Brain Highways pons class:
After Week 1
I begin to feel and notice changes immediately. I notice my glasses are actually bothering me, and I can see better without them. I feel calmer inside. I find my ADD medications are working against me, so I begin a process to eliminate them.
After Week 2
I start to notice I don’t want the radio on if I am riding alone in the car and actually enjoy the quiet. I no longer have a need for background noise.
After Week 3
I notice I am no longer picking or biting my nails. The strange part is that I don’t feel driven to pick at them. In fact my nails begin to grow very long, and I don’t even notice. The turning wheel inside me disappeared after the first week but I only notice it at the third week when my nails are getting LONG!
After Week 4
I have been able to concentrate more, think more clearly and focus for longer periods of time. The inner peace has allowed me to be more creative and to solve problems quicker and more efficiently. I feel more articulate when writing. My thoughts are more organized.
After Week 5
I have noticed physical changes in my body and continue on a path to eliminate medications with medical help. I have an appointment with the eye doctor, as well, since I feel like my eyesight has changed for the better. I am able to memorize facts faster and with less effort.
After Week 6
I find myself taking on tasks that I had avoided for years, such as cleaning out old boxes in the garage. I am able to access situations and make a decision quickly without self-doubt. I have more confidence. My thoughts are no longer fuzzy, but clear. I notice it has been weeks since I have asked someone to repeat what they said since I didn’t hear them. I do find myself asking my son to wait to interrupt me so I can complete a task.
After Week 7
I am feeling more confident in parenting. I have had no episodes of claustrophobia in weeks. I have long nails and don’t find my thoughts wandering at seminars.
After Week 8
I notice I feel at peace in my own skin. I truly feel like a champion.
I never would have believed it, but Brain Highways has given me my life back! And my pons is not even 100% developed yet (let alone my midbrain).
I recently had some health setbacks that delayed progress with my brain organization, but I continue with each new day knowing once I have completed the work, I will be that much better off.
I am sincerely grateful that I’ve had an opportunity to organize my brain and to facilitate my son’s brain organization. I truly believe everyone can benefit from this class.