Dyslexia – ‘The Hundred Year Old Hidden Handicap’

By John B. Dunphy, published in Healing Power, Official Journal of the Irish College for the Advancement of Medicine, Issue 1, Vol. 1
ONE of the most frustrating and, in many cases, debilitating
conditions (academically, emotionally and socially) which presents
in clinical practice is a condition known as dyslexia. Dyslexia is
the best known terminology for a group of conditions whose core
problem is an inability to properly process language, be it written,
spoken or symbolic (e.g. numbers). lt is not a problem exclusive
to school children, but affects many aspects of life both in childhood
and adulthood.
The word’dyslexia’ comes from the Greek, meaning’difficulty
with words or language’. On one website, dyslexia was described
as a kind of mind often gifted, but physiologically different’ This
brain difference is not a defect, but it makes learning language
excessively hard.
The child with a dyslexic mind will have trouble from the very
beginning learning to understand speech and making themselves
understood; they may have difficulty with word recall; with sequencing,
so that words will get twisted – e.g. ‘baggetti, mellow, aminals’.
They may have difficulty distinguishing a’p’, ‘d’ and ‘b’; ‘was’ becomes
‘saw’, ‘Pat’ becomes ‘bet’; ‘nuclear’ becomes’unclear’, etc
What makes dyslexia difficult to recognise in the surgery setting
is that many of its characteristics can be a normal part of the maturing
process of young children. But in a child with dyslexia, these persist
longer than expected so that the child will appear slow in these
specific areas and normal in others.
This can easily be mislabelled by teachers and parents aslazy,
or they may take the view that the child will grow out of it in time’
These children are usually not lazy. ln reality, they are working
harder to fill in the gaps between what they actually see, hear
and feel and how they think about these things in their head and
try to put them into words.
The first recorded description of dyslexia was by a General
Practitioner in the BMJ of November, 1896 – over a hundred years
ago. lt was an event marked by an excellent Ieading article by
Professor Margaret J Snowling in the Journal of November 2nd,
1996 (Vol. 313), entitled: ‘Dyslexia: A Hundred Years on – a Verbal
Not a Visual Disorder which responds to Early lntervention’. lt is
a piece from which I will quote liberally throughout this afticle.
ln 1917, Opthalmologist J. Hinshellwood speculated that
these difficulties with reading and writing were due to a’congenital
word blindness’. Ever since then, the popular view was that dyslexia
was caused exclusively by a visual processing problem.
My involvement in the treatment of dyslexia was by chance’
While attending a workshop in the US on head injury and back
problems 12 years ago, I came across an unusual physical therapy
that had evolved into a treatment for dyslexia.
It can be very frusirating to research this subject, as definitions
differ in the US and Europe. However, most now agree that dyslexia
is a language processing problem, be it written, spoken or symbolic,
resultant from a difficulty in ‘phonological (speech) processing’
which makes it difficult to learn how to match printed letters with
the correct sounds.
The child with dyslexia may have normal, or very high lQ (e.g.
Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, etc.), be very gifted, be an Olympic
athlete, or Formula One racing driver, be a film star, or artist with
great imagination. Many are very musical, with ability to sing and
play instruments at an early age. However, school can be a
frustrating nightmare for them, as it relies mostly on language skills,
ignoring all the other skills these children have in abundance.
Dyslexic children have difficulty learning to read by traditional
methods; have difficulty organising their desks, homework or holding
pencils correctly. They see their less bright classmates succeeding,
while they are failing. They may realise something is wrong, but
may cover it up both from parents and teachers. Their school days
are spent as if swimming against a strong current. Hard working,
they can appear lazy.

What To Watch Out For
1. Avoiding difficult tasks, especially involving reading, writing,
spelling or maths;
2. Spending too much time at, or not finishing homework;
3. Propping head up when writing;
4. Vocabulary exceeding reading ability;
5. lnappropriate or attention-seeking behaviour;
6. Difficulty understanding words in normal conversation;
7. Poor sense of direction;
B. Poor idea of time;
9. Poor motor co-ordination;
10. Stuttering, hesitant speech; poor word recall;
11. Difficulty remembering names;
12. Difficulty following sequential instructions or events;
13. Difficulty following motion or moving things (e.g. balls, people,
14. Difficulty making decisions:
15. Feeling of inferiority, stupidity or clumsiness;
16. Difficulty organising daily activities and allotting time;
17. Doing the opposite of what is said;
18. Difficulty differentiating ‘left’ and ‘right’;
19. Difficulty tying shoelaces or buttoning jackets’

Dyslexia tends to run in families and cousins often exhibit other
language problems. lt is more common in boys than girls and may
affect 15% or more of the population. There is strong evidence
that it is heritable – the probability of a boy developing dyslexia if
his father is dyslexic can be as high as 50%.
Gene markers on chromosomes 1 and 15 have been identified
in families with dyslexia. Linkage on chromosome 6, in the region
of the human leucocyte complex, may explain the association with
auto-immune disease.
Dyslexia is a developmental disorder that affects people of all
ages, but its symptom profile changes with age. Studies of children
at genetic risk of dyslexia have reported difficulties in speech
production and gramatical expression at 30 months, followed by
slower vocabulary acquisition during the pre-school years,
culminating in deficits in phonological awareness and alphabet
knowledge in young schoolchildren. Parental reports of delayed
speech and language among children with reading difficulties have
been common in epidemiological studies.
The most comprehensive picture of dyslexia available is in
children of school age. Although, in most cases speech perceptual
abilities are intact, dyslexic children have difficutiy in reflecting on
the sound siructure of spoken words. Such phonological problems
make it difficult to learn how the letters and sounds of printed words
are related.
Most dyslexic children have difficulty using a phonic approach
to reading and their spelling often fails to represent the sound
structure of target words. Although dyslexic children overcome
many of their difficulties, in adulthood they experience subtle
problems with phonological awareness and reading and writing
skills. Functional brain imaging is beginning to elucidate why this
is so; it has been shown that, when dyslexic adults perform rhyme
judgement and verbal short-term memory tasks, they activate only
a subset of the brain regions usually involved. Plausibly, their
phonological difficulties may be due to weak connectivity between
anterior and posterior language areas of the left hemisphere.
Knowledge of the predictors of reading achievement and of
dyslexia has led to innovations in methods of intervention. A
pioneering study in Oxford showed that children who performed
poorly on a phonological processing task before they went to school,
benefited significantly from a training programme in sound
categorisation using rhyme and alliteration activities, particularly
when it was combined with teaching of letter sounds.
Subsequently, it has been shown that training in phonological
awareness, combined with a structured reading intervention, is
an effective form of treatment for poor readers and produces greater
gains than training in either reading or phonological awareness
A detailed case and family history may uncover dyslexic
difficulties and the routine assessment of pre-school children can
usefully incorporate a test of knowledge of nursery rhymes and
letters. Clinical experience shows that, with regard to dyslexia, it
is a fallacy to ‘wait and see how the child develops’. A delay at
the start of learning to read can quickly develop into a considerable
reading disorder if unattended.
Treating Children With Dyslexia

THESE children are basically frustrated by the world around them.
They have difficulty with right and left. They have little or no sense
of time. They have problems with basic co-ordination.

It is perplexing for the dyslexic child of normal lQ to see less
bright classmates acquire, with relative ease, skills in reading, writing,
spelling and arithmetic, which they themselves may find very difficult,
or impossible. Such children may react with temper tantrums,
psychosomatic symptoms, e.g. headaches, abdominal pains, wetting
or soiling, much to the alarm of parents, teachers and family doctors.
Parents are puzzled that a child that appears bright at home
can do so badly in school. Teachers generally find these children
baffling, as again they appear verbally bright and yet do not respond
to traditional teaching methods that work well for the rest of the
class. They may end up blaming the child or the parents, which
causes great disharmony both at home and at school.

By the time children present to me at our Carrigaline clinic,
they have usually been to a number of psychologists, councillors,
etc. The majority will be boys and often left-handed (not
necessarily). They will have co-ordination problems; will have a
history of early walking rather than crawling; will often have been
frustrated by team sports and are thrilled when the first test I do
is of their muscle strength and can guarantee them improved
sporting performance within a few weeks of their visit to me (i.e.
by correcting their inco-ordination). Once they see this improvement,
they pester their parents to bring them back for the full course of
treatment, not for the academic improvement, but for further
improvement of their sporting prowess.

Left-handedness can be familial. The family name of ‘Kerr’
apparently has a high percentage of left-handed members; so
much so, that their castle stronghold in Scotland was built
entirely for left-handed people, e.g. the railings, stairs, armour,

“ln our modern world, literacy is a minimum requirement
 in a society run largely via the written word.
Parents worry greatly about the future careers of
their dyslexic children. All careers are possible,
However, jobs requiring good special ability, such as
computer programming are particularly suitable.”

‘BlC’ have developed a rapid drying ink delivery pen, which is
ideal for left-handers as it solves the problem of smudging as the
child’s arm crosses the page.
Some children with dyslexia may have additional problems such
as allergies, ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or ADHD (Attention
Deficit Hyperactive Disorder).
As I mentioned already, the treatment protocol that I have used
over the past 1 2 years evolved f rom an osteopathic/kinesiological
background and began as a treatment for head injury and back
pain. Dr Carl Ferreri, a Kinesiologist/Chiropractor in New York had
observed that, follwing head injuries, he could demonstrate a
disturbance of the normal ocular-labyrinthine reflexes which are
necessary for efficient control of the skull in static and in motion.
He had developed a method of normalising this situation by digital
stimulation of these reflex zones, thus restoring normal function.
Some time later, he came across a research paper describing
similar problems in the skulls of dyslexic children. However, in
these cases, the problem was confined to the right side of the
skull (presumably affecting left brain activity). So he decided to
try this technique and, to his delight, it worked very well. He then
proceeded to expand his protocol to include an interesting eye
tracking technique together with some simple exercises (cross
pattern or cross crawl type). The protocol is completed in
approximately six visits, followed by a further three over 12 months.
As soon as the protocol is completed, the child begins to have
more self-confidence, becomes more competent at sports and
in social circumstances, and can then benefit in an observable
fashion from remedial teaching which, prior to treatment, had made
very little impact.
Exercise regimes have been popular in the US for some years,
e.g. marching-type exercises which apparently gave good initial
results, but sadly disimprove once the marching stopped. lnterest
in exercise programmes has been rekindled by the recent ITV
programme on dyslexia.
Another pleasant exercise programme is called ‘Brain Gym’
and can be done to music. lt improves co-ordination and is fun
for all the family.
ACLD Nationwide offers special reading classes and other
support programmes (see phone directories). Many websites are
worth exploring for information on tinted colour lenses, osteopathic
protocols, diet and food allergies and a host of practical tips on
parenting children with dyslexia, ADD and ADHD.
Therapies using light and colour have existed for many years.
Recently a new therapeutic device has been developed in
Belgium, a Photon Wave Light Stimulator. This allows the patient
exposure to a large number of colours individually and in
combination, at a range of frequencies and wave formations.
The chosen colour and frequency is transmitted via light
stimulation of the eyes and optic nerve, which transmits
‘photocurrent’not only to the visual cortex, but also to other areas
of the brain, including the hypothalamus, influencing sensory
integration and behaviour. This results in improved right brain/left
brain communication, concentration, memory, attention span, Iiteracy,
memory, etc. We have acquired one of these units for our practice in Carrigaline.

Dyslexia is an underestimated problem in the adult population,
as the main focus is on the school-going children. ln my practice,
I see primary, secondary and third-level students. Adults often ask
for treatment after they see their children diagnosed and treated.
Others present indirectly with back pain or past head injury and
the diagnosis presents itself in the course of testing. They are
invariably relieved to discover an explanation for aspects of their
lives which were previously inexplicable.
ln the UK, over 6% of the population have reading ages of
less than nine years. Over a million are known to be totally illiterate.
ln the US, over 23 million are known to be illiterate (e.g. a quarter
of men entering the US Navy are unable to read simple safety
ln the US prisons, most behavioural problems occur when the
TV is turned off, as the vast majority of inmates are unable to
read or write and get bored and irritable. How many of our prison
population are dyslexic is not known. I personally have a high
degree of suspicion that dyslexia ls a major player in this
population group.
Dyslexia in adults can be difficult to spot as it can range from
very vague features in a high lQ, highly successful professional
with lots of drive, to the illiterate, unemployed inmate. The
embarrassment and frustration of an inability to read and write
can lead to persistent anxiety and depression. I have seen peoples
lives turned around by gaining this basic facility.
ln our modern world, literacy is a minimum requirement in a
society run largely via the written word. Parents worry greatly about
the future careers of their dyslexic children. All careers are possible.
However, jobs requiring good special ability, such as computer
programming, or those requiring good verbal ability, are particularly
A US study by Prof Margaret Rawson (Sociologist) some 25
years ago into the career outcomes of dyslexic boys showed that
l4% became Research Scientists, 13% Business Executives. .11%
College Professors, 7% School Teachers, 7% Lawyers and 7%
owned or managed a business.
Even though this was a study of middle class students of
professional parents, it demonstrates that investment in the
treatment of dyslexia pays off spectacularly.
References on request.


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