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Learning Disabilities Breakthrough
A Disorder of Listening
Research has shown that there is a definite connection between many of life’s frustrations and our inability to communicate effectively. One such breakdown in communication is known as Dyslexia, the most common form of learning disabilities. Dyslexia is one of life’s most stressful conditions since it does not only affect verbal or written communication, but also embraces all types of relationships. A person who is affected by Dyslexia “not only may not know how to read or write, but [he/she] cannot comprehend the world [he/she] lives in normally, nor can [he/she] explain it correctly”. (Tomatis, 1969) In other words, rather than the world of one who misunderstands, the world of the dyslexic appears that of one who is misunderstood.
In 1962, Dr. Alfred Tomatis, an authority in auditory neurophysiology, discovered that the ear plays a major role in our overall state of health. In fact, a major part of the sensory energy received by the brain comes through the ears (vestibulococclear nerve). The vestibular system in the ears control balance, bodily movements and coordination; they make us speak without hesitation and sing in tune; they even control our eyes when we read and our arm, hand and finger movements when we write. Interconnected with several different levels of the brain, the ears act as double antenna receiving messages from both the body and the environment. They are a link between the world within and the world outside.
Listening – the ability and the desire to use our ears, brings about the harmony both within us and in our relationship with others. But when listening does not develop well, the harmony is broken, communication is cut off; stressful situations occur. Problems as diverse as speech and language impairments, hyperactivity, depression, feeling overwhelmed or lacking a direction in life may be some of the results. Dyslexia which has often been labeled as a reading problem has seldom been looked at and treated as a listening disorder. Perhaps this is why remedial approaches used in helping children and adolescents with dyslexia are often frustratingly ineffective.
Dyslexia – More Than Just a “Learning Disability”
While there are varied statistics available, it is generally believed that one person in every six has some sort of learning disability. Some professionals even report that over 20% of the North American population have dyslexia. One of the most common definitions of Dyslexia is the inability to process language, be it reading, writing, math or speaking. It has also been defined by some scientists, like Dr. Harold Levinson and Dr. Alfred Tomatis, as a “disorder of listening”. In other words, Dyslexia is none other than a breakdown in communication, which results in the inability to speak, write, read or interact with one’s environment. Dyslexia not only causes problems at school; it also affects other areas of life as well. For example, some people with this condition may confuse right with left, they may have an inability to relate to others, especially in large groups, they may have little or no sense of time, they may experience loss of balance or dramatic mood swings or may get lost easily. Others may experience speech disorders such as stuttering, hesitant speech or poor word recall.
Some may have trouble remembering names, dates or numbers. Others may experience hyperactivity, low attention span, poor self-confidence or even depression. In addition, the Learning Disability Association of Ontario claims that up to three quarters of young offenders have learning disabilities, most commonly dyslexia. Careful studies suggest that their learning disability may be one of the most potent factors behind their rebellion. In addition, although everyone who has dyslexia is affected differently, it appears that most people, on account of their symptoms, have a difficult time continuing with their education and holding on to jobs. Since survival in our culture depends on our ability to communicate verbally, to read and write effectively, and to interact with our environment, it is important that an answer for this disorder is found. In 1984, a remarkable discovery was made by two American doctors, Carl A. Ferreri, D.C. and Richard Wainwright, DC Based on scientific research, Ferreri and Wainwright concluded that when there is a neurological disorganization due to the altered mechanics of the skull, dyslexia can result.
Their treatment is known as “Neural Organizational Technique”. Conditions such as anemia, hearing deficiencies, visual acuity deficiencies and other general health problems could be a contributing cause of learning disabilities. However, the most common area that is often ignored when dealing with this problem is interference with the nervous system. This is surprising because the majority of investigators have determined that this complex disability is a disorganization within the central nervous system. Especially those portions committed to higher functions. Research has shown that a startling number of learning disabled children have had some sort of trauma to the head or a physical or emotional trauma which has manifested itself as a structural problem in the skull. This could be caused by a difficult birth, prematurity, convulsions, shocks, emotional traumas such as unresolved fear, anxiety, anger, initial separation at birth, etc.. or from falls resulting in blows to the head or spine.
It has been shown that a structural imbalance, located particularly in the temporal and sphenoidal region of the skull, will interfere with the proper functioning of the central nervous system, leading to this disorder. As with any new technique that is different from the established norm, there is going to be a lot of skepticism. In regards to the Neural Organizational Technique, the lack of understanding has brought critics like Dr. Larry Silver, at the forefront. In his article, “The magic cure” (1987), Silver warns parents not to fall ‘victim’ over this controversial approach for treating dyslexia. His first criticism is that this treatment is based on anatomical concepts that are counter to established knowledge. Secondly, he argues that there is no research done by others that replicates the proposed cures. Lastly, he emphasizes that the authors cannot be blamed if the treatment does not work. Although these criticisms are common among some mainstream physicians, they are indeed invalid.
Contrary to the beliefs of many skeptics like Dr Silver, it has been a known fact for over fifty years that the bones in the skull move rhythmically during respiration. In fact, Italian anatomists in the early 1900s taught that cranial suture ossification was pathological in the mature human adult. These teachings contradicted the British anatomists who taught the doctrine of sutural ossification and cranial immobility as a normal condition. While a student at the American School of Osteopathy in Missouri in the early 1900s, William G. Sutherland became fascinated by the anatomical design of the bones of the human skull. It seemed to him that they were designed to move, even though he had been taught that the skull served protective and hematopic functions only. Once Sutherland became familiar with cranial motion by self experimentation, he began experimenting on others by gently palpating their heads.
Soon he was able to sense minute rhythmic motions of the crania of humans of all ages. He had shown that indeed the cranial bones did move. Fascinated by this discovery, Dr. John Upledger, D.O. F.A.A.O., since 1971, has been researching the biomechanics of the skull. Dr. Upledger was a professor of biomechanics at the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Michigan State University and there he was part of a multidisciplinary team that did extensive research in this field. He published many articles in many medical journals such as ‘Post Graduate Medicine’ and is recognized as the world’s leading authority on the bio-mechanics of the skull and its relationship to the nervous system. After examining and treating thousands of people of all ages with learning disabilities, Dr. Upledger concluded in his renounced book Craniosacral Therapy (1983) that “when brain dysfunction problems are due to a disturbance in the biomechanics of the skull, correction of this disturbance results in prompt and dramatic improvements in learning disabilities”.
Neural Organizational Technique
For the past decade, several health practitioners throughout the United States have applied the technique, known as “Neural Organizational Technique”, on thousands of people, in particular children. Neural Organizational Technique, commonly referred to as N.O.T, is a combination of three therapies in one. The first is the application of Acupressure. The second involves Applied Kinesiology (specialized muscle testing and therapy) and the third and most important technique involves a process of cranial molding, known as Craniosacral Therapy. Craniosacral therapy, developed by Dr. Upledeger, is a light hands on, non invasive method of enhancing the development and function of the brain and spinal cord by releasing restrictions in the body, particularly in the cranium and spinal cord.
A restriction is an impairment to normal physiological motion. Usually restrictions occur in connective tissue and fascia and can result from inflammation, scar tissue, adhesion, somatic dysfunction and neuro reflexes. Under normal circumstances, the Craniosacral system proceeds through cyclical flexion and extension at a rate of approximately 6 to 12 cycles per minute. During flexion, the cranium becomes wider transversely and shorter in its posterior/anterior dimensions and the whole body externally rotates and widens. During the extension phase, the cranium narrows and elongates while the whole body internally rotates. During a cranial therapy session, each bone in the cranium is palpated individually in the flexion and extension phases. If a restriction is noted, several different techniques (both direct and indirect) are applied to restore the movement.
Ferreri and Wainwright, discoverers of the N.O.T. technique, claim that this treatment can result in a reversal of all symptoms in relation to the disability. They argue that learning disabilities are caused by damage to two specific cranial bones, the sphenoid and the temporal, by what they call “cloacal reflexes” and by an ocular muscle imbalance they term “ocular lock”. Reflexes are the turn off/turn on points on the skull. They are located on the head and act as circuit breakers. As a result of direct or indirect injury or trauma to certain areas of the skull, these reflex points will turn off the activity of certain muscles in the body . This will in turn inhibit proper procrioception and impair brain functioning. Ocular lock is the term the doctors use to describe a dysfunction of the extra occular muscles. When an occular lock occurs, the muscles that allow our eyes to move in all directions are contracted (shortened and tight) which will greatly reduce its function.
One aim of this therapy is to restore length and function of the muscles and thereby increase proprioceptive imput to the brain. In addition, the displacement of the sphenoid and temporal bones cause neurological problems by creating an interference within the nervous system itself. Both the sphenoid bone and temporal bone have an intimate connection with every cranial nerve in the body (both bones have foramen through which cranial nerves exit from the brain stem). This means that slight impingments or entrapment of the actual cranial nerve may occur at the site of the foramen (hole) of the bone in question. In addition any impairment in the mobility of these bones will effect the flow of cerebrospinal fluid through the cranial sinuses and meninges. This will cause an increase in cranial pressure and in turn impair higher brain functioning.
Both doctors have shown that their gentle technique for restoring the balance and mobilization of the cranial bones, will correct any brain malfunctions related to these dysfunctions. Research has shown that hearing occurs primarily as a result of sound conduction through the bones of the head, and is not due to sound conduction through the ossicles of the ear. Many experts feel that the primary site for sound transmission and hearing is in the temporal bone of the skull. Since it has also been suggested that dyslexia may result from a rhythmic disturbance in the inner ear as a consequence of insufficient sound conduction, the ‘Neural Organizational Technique’, would be effective in restoring verticality in the vestibular system of the ear, by simply balancing the bones of the skull in particular the temporal bone. Once this bone is moving rhythmically, without restrictions, proper sound conduction will be restored and the ear properly balanced.
In addition, since the ear is said to be the ‘Rome’ of the body (almost all cranial nerves pass near the ear), a balanced temporal bone, permitting proper sound conduction will allow the sensory cells of the corti to transmit its energy to the entire body, via the vagus nerve. An imbalance or immobility in the temporal bones may inhibit the energy output of the vestibular/cortical system robbing the body of over 90% of its energy. (Tomatis, 1969). Along with the N.O.T. treatment, we have developed a unique method which further encourages the natural healing mechanisms of the body through the use of Homeopathy , Herbal medicine, Nutritional counseling, Educational Kinesiology and Listening Exercises. We have found that the addition of these other methods simply reduces the time involved in removing the restriction and in balancing the system.
For example, when prescribing homeopathic remedies, we take into account the person’s physical, emotional and mind symptoms including his/her character. A person needing “Lycopodium” for instance is a medium to tall height and is whimpish in appearance. Lycopodiums often have problems with coordination. In addition, they have a small frame. As he/she grows older they still have a boyish or girlish appearance. Most Lycopodium children have bladder problems and they all have low self-esteem and poor memory. One of their major complaint is difficulty with math and or mistakes in spelling and writing wrong words or syllables. The strength of the Homeopathic remedy is individualized and it depends on the severity of the mind symptoms. Usually the strength can begin from very low dosage 10 to 30 C to 200 C up to 10M. Herbal and Nutritional counseling is also individualized, depending on their symptoms. Some botanicals that we recommend for removing toxins and strengthening the brain include rosemary, anise, ginseng and ginkgo biloba.
We recommend a few drops under the tongue if its liquid or capsules as directed through muscle testing. We often also recommend, opti zinc because this supplement helps to bind toxic substances, chelating them from the brain. We recommend between 25 to 80 mg. daily depending on the age of the patient. We strongly recommend essential fatty acids, i.e. primrose oil and/or flax seed 2,000 to 3,000 mg. daily for children 6 years and up. Essential fatty acids help to strengthen myelin sheaths thereby promoting proper nerve conduction and creating more neuro pathways. Vitamin E is also important. As an antioxidant, it helps the primrose or flaxseed oil to assimilate in the brain. Vitamin E also causes dilation of the blood vessels improving the blood flow to the brain. We recommend 400 to 800 I.U. daily, depending on the age of the patient, it its a child or adult. We also recommend a diet that is free of the five white poisons: white flour, white/brown sugar, milk, white refined sugar and salt. In addition, we recommend a diet that excludes meat consumption while encouraging plant protein sources and fish like salmon, cod and mackerel.
Outlook – What to expect
All learning disabilities, including dyslexia, ADD, ADHD and PDD are treatable. The objective of this therapy is to treat the illness naturally by correcting the cause and unlike many other methods of treatment, ie. drug therapy (Ritalin) and behavior modification, it is not content in simply compensating for the disease. Ritalin, the popular trade name for methylphenidate, provokes the brain’s neurotransmitters and was used by the Nazis and Allied forces to keep soldiers alert during World War II. According to Health Canada, Ritalin consumption in this country has grown 637 percent in the past 10 years. Much of this growth, however, reflects youngsters who are being diagnosed early and stay on the drug longer, well through their teenage years. New estimates suggest that as many as two million North American children use daily doses of Ritalin to improve their concentration. Side effects include sleep problems, loss of appetite and facial tics. Long term use of the drug will damage both the kidneys and liver.
The good news today is that individuals are finally able to overcome instead of just learning how to cope with their disability and without the risk of side effects. We have experienced some remarkable improvements with our therapy, including but not limited to a dramatic increase in concentration. For example, four and a half year old “Shaunak”, diagnosed with P.D.D. (a severe form of ADHD) went through our program for approximately four months for his speech and behavior problems. Within the first two months of treatment, his mother testified that ” His speech has improved and is speaking more clearly and in longer sentences. He is much more calmer since he is now able to express himself. His attention span has increased and he is much more happier.” In the progress of our therapy the most remarkable signs will be reflected in the modification of the voice. It becomes more sonorous and a better intelligibility in speech.
Laterality will occur towards the right side, pointing to the right dominant ear. Reading becomes easier, more fluent due to a better understanding of the text. Spelling mistakes gradually disappear and the right sided laterality explains the gains in the field of mathematics and science. There will also be a restoration of balance, an improvement in motor coordination, a reduction in hyperactivity and an increase in memory. Lastly, the most striking improvement is the rise in self confidence. These factors reestablish a normal relationship between the individual and his/her environment. As a student the individual now has the opportunity to relearn or ‘catch up’ in their previous areas of difficulty. It is important to remember that any stress that the body is unable to adapt to can cause the structural problem to reoccur and create a return of some of the symptoms. These stresses could include high fever, emotional or physical trauma, particularly head injuries. Also foods that contain white refined sugar, brown sugar or artificial sweeteners seem to cause immediate problems and should be avoided.
It is a natural fact that what created the cranial imbalance in the first place may very well cause it to reoccur In order to buffer some of the effects of stress, therefore, in addition to eating as naturally as possible, it is advised that listening be a part of one’s daily routine. For example, reading out loud is recommended and in the case of writing, it is a good idea to proof read out loud. I also recommend humming, listening to high frequency sounds and developing a proper listening posture. This means the spine should be perfectly straight (no slouching) so that proper bone conduction can always occur. When listening, it is also a good idea to focus with the right ear, that is, the right ear should be the dominant ear, since it provides the quickest pathway to the left hemisphere of the brain. These recommendations will keep the ear fine tuned and prevent future relapses of the disorder.
- Levinson, Harold (1988) The cerebellar vestibular basis of learning disabilities in children, adolescents and adults. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 67, 983-1006
- Madaule, Paul. (1984). When listening comes alive: A guide to effective learning and communication (2nd ed.). Norval, Ont: Moulin Publishing.
- Tarnapol, E., & Tarnapol, M. (1977) Brain dysfunction and reading disabilities. New York, NY: University Park Press.
- Tomatis, Alfred. trans. by A Sidlouskas (1969) Dyslexia Ottawa, Ont: University of Ottawa Press.
- Upledger, J.E., & Uredevoogd, J. D. (1983) Craniosacral therapy Seattle, WA: Eastland Press.
Dr.Lydia D’Astolfo , B.A., DI Hom. has a degree from York University and is a Homeopathic Doctor, CranioSacral Therapist, Applied & Educational Kinesiologist.
Dr. Connie J. D’Astolfo, Hons. B.A., DI Hom, has a degree from The University of Toronto and is a Homeopathic Doctor and CranioSacral Therapist. Dr. C. D’Astolfo is presently completing her doctorate in chiropractic medicine in the United States. Both Dr.’s Lydia & Connie D’Astolfo have been featured on T.V. stations throughout Canada and the United States. They have also published many articles on natural health care in various popular magazines.