Updated: Apr 10, 2019
Most people tend to think of dyslexia as something they have probably inherited. A lifelong condition which makes certain things predictably very difficult for them. At school, beneath the endless struggles to achieve as well as their classmates, children with dyslexia are often left feeling ‘stupid’, after all, they have had to work 10 times as hard as their friends and yet their grades do not reflect this. They will simply have to navigate via compensation strategies and choose their career accordingly.
However, it does not have to remain so.
While there may be an underlying genetic tendency to dyslexia, this is not the whole story. Frequently, a child born following a difficult pregnancy, complicated birth or C-section will be more likely to become dyslexic. The same is true is a baby misses certain developmental milestones, such as crawling, or who walks late.
The reason is that all these factors make it more likely that a child’s nervous system will become locked in a state of immaturity, never fully developing as it should. We can see this and measure it by assessing whether the child still has ‘retained primitive reflexes’. These are baby reflexes which are important in the first year of life, to help create the wiring in the brain needed for most of what we do later to happen on ‘autopilot’. These reflexes should have all gone by the time a child reaches their first birthday and yet, frequently they become locked in place. Those with dyslexia are often very far from stupid and have to rely on their higher cognitive skills to endlessly compensate for the fact that their neurological 'autopilot’ skills have not been turned on.
A staggering fact is that 95% of all those diagnosed with dyslexia have one particular ‘stuck’ primitive reflex, called the ATNR. This reflex should have inhibited by the time a baby reaches 8 months or so of age, but for those with dyslexia, it has never gone away. It is this pernicious reflex which messes up the eye’s ability to track smoothly across a line of writing, causing the eyes to jump at the midline, resulting in the words appearing to move and lines and words frequently being skipped over. It is also the reason why writing can prove such a challenge, as it also blocks the hand from being able to comfortably cross the midline. The problem goes further still, since it prevents the two hemispheres of the brain from properly integrating. In other words, those with a retained ATNR reflex also operate, in effect, with 2 separate brains. This is why those with dyslexia often have mixed laterality - kicking a ball with the left foot, throwing a ball with the right hand etc. It is also potentially the reason for the different states of retinal development recently discovered between the eyes of dyslexics.
The good news is that it is possible to treat, by targeting the retained reflexes in order to give the nervous system a second chance to develop. This is done through a series of repeated ‘neurodevelopmental exercises’, slow, baby-like movements done everyday to inhibit the ATNR and any other retained reflexes. Following treatment, the eyes become able to track as they should, making reading and focussing much easier. (ocular-motor exercises alone are often insufficient to improve eye functioning where primitive reflexes are still present). The writing too often improves, as it becomes easier to hold a pen and cross the midline.
For the first time, a child becomes able to access their true level of intelligence, without draining their higher brain’s resources with the need to continually compensate.
Dyslexia really does not have to be a life- sentence.