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Curing Dyslexia

By Sam Blumenfeld
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #98, 2011.

Can dyslexia be cured? Sam Blumenfeld says it can!
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Sam Blumenfeld

The recent publication of two outstanding books by neuroscientists have brought new hope to dyslexics that their condition can be cured. The books, The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doige, M.D., and Reading in the Brain by Stanislas Dehaene, director of the Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit in Saclay, France, are available in your library system. Both scientists believe that the brains of dyslexics are plastic enough so that they can be retrained to become normal readers. They have used brain imaging to make their case.

So neuroscience has finally caught up with this writer, whose book The New Illiterates, published way back in the Stone Age of 1973, concluded that any child taught to read exclusively by the sight method would exhibit the symptoms of dyslexia.

I had done a line-by-line analysis of the Dick and Jane reading program and became convinced that a child taught to read by that method could become reading disabled, or dyslexic. I identified the sight vocabulary as “the Thalidomide of primary education,” and advocated a return to intensive phonics as the needed reform in reading pedagogy. At the end of the book I provided the reader with a phonics program, which eventually grew into my Alpha-Phonics reading instruction workbook, which has been used by thousands of homeschoolers to teach their children to read phonetically.

But it is taking the recent work of neuroscientists to finally provide a scientific battering ram to break through the rigid barriers to common sense erected by the professors of education in the hundreds of colleges of education in American as well as in Canadian universities.

Doige writes that scientists have finally demonstrated the neuroplasticity of the brain by showing that activity could produce change in the structure of the brain. Indeed, it is now believed that the brain may be exercised as though it were a muscle, so that reading disabilities are now quite treatable. These new concepts are being applied at the Arrowsmith School in Toronto. He writes:

Accepted students, many of whom were distracted in regular schools, sit quietly working at their computers. Some, diagnosed with attention-deficit as well as learning disabilities, were on Ritalin when they entered the school. As their exercises progress, some can come off medication, because their attention problems were secondary to their underlying reading disorders.

We’ve known that for quite a while that reading failure can cause ADD or ADHD. The frustration of being unable to read often leads to disruptive behavior in the classroom, which is why Ritalin and other such medications are prescribed for the student. Doige writes further:

Competitive plasticity also explains why our bad habits are so difficult to break or “unlearn.” . . . That is why unlearning is often a lot harder than learning, and why early childhood education is so important—it is better to get it right early, before the “bad habit” gets a competitive advantage.

Unfortunately, today’s public schools want to get it wrong as early as possible, which is why they now advocate preschool programs that can begin deforming children’s brains as early as possible. Having tutored many reading disabled children, I can attest to the difficulty many children have of unlearning bad habits. If you want to replace sight reading with phonetic reading, you just have to face this.

Dr. Dehaene writes significantly, “When children learn to read . . . their brains will never be the same again.” He has performed many brain scans and can actually see the difference between a literate brain and a dyslexic one. Phonetic reading is a function of the left hemisphere of the brain where the language faculty is located. But when you force a child to use his right brain via the sight method to exercise the phonetic functions of the left brain, you get brain deformity. Dehaene writes:

The comparison of the dyslexics with their respective control groups reveal a clear anomaly. A whole chunk of the left temporal lobe was insufficiently active . . . the left temporal lobe seems to be systematically disorganized. . . . This decrease in temporal lobe activity was found in adults who had suffered from lifelong reading deficits. But reduced activity can also be seen in young dyslexic children aged from eight to 12 years old.

Dehaene is quite aware of the reading wars that have taken place among educators. He makes it quite clear where he stands in that war. On page 326 he writes:

We now know that the whole-language approach is inefficient: all children regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds benefit from explicit and early teaching of the correspondence between letters and speech sounds. This is a well-established fact, corroborated by a great many classroom experiments. Furthermore, it is coherent with our present understanding of how the reader’s brain works.

I say “Amen” to that!

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