#179 - What is Dyslexia and Strategies That Will Make a Difference, with Lori Benson Adams, MEd

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC November 17, 2021

#179 - What is Dyslexia and Strategies That Will Make a Difference, with Lori Benson Adams, MEd

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What is Dyslexia and Strategies That Will Make a Difference, with Lori Benson Adams, MEd 

During today’s episode, Lori Benson Adams answers some of our questions about what dyslexia looks like, how it manifests, and what sets it apart from other reading disorders.

She shares how raising a child with dyslexia and dyspraxia ignited her passion for special needs and unpacks what causes the neurodevelopmental condition and the breakdown in phonemic awareness that results in dyslexia. We talk about the methods that work best for dyslexia support, which draw heavily on the visual, and we unpack the foundation necessary to process information. We touch on how Lori developed a multi-modal program to support her son with dyslexia and what his career looks like today, and learn more about the relationship between auditory processing syndrome and dyslexia.

Understanding that your path doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s is a powerful foundation on which to build the confidence to pursue a different journey to the norm. It’s hard work, but it’s good! Lori elaborates on what this means during today’s conversation and reminds us that individuals with dyslexia often have an intellect that far surpasses their reading ability. We hope you join us to hear all this and more today! 

Key Points From This Episode: 

  • Why Lori would rather give up the internet than the AC, why she always chooses cheesecake, and why she loves Bruce Springsteen.
  • Hear about her sensory quirk: sleeping with a weighted blanket.
  • Lori’s background in special needs education before going into private practice.
  • How raising a child with dyslexia and dyspraxia ignited her passion for special needs.
  • What dyslexia is, what it looks like, and how it manifests.
  • What sets dyslexia apart from other reading disorders: average to above average IQs.
  • How dyslexia is predominantly a neurodevelopmental condition, based in the brain.
  • The breakdown in phonemic awareness that happens in the brain to cause dyslexia. 
  • Who is most susceptible to dyslexia; how an estimated 40 to 60 percent of the risk is genetic.
  • Why it is a fallacy that you cannot diagnose a child with dyslexia prior to third grade.
  • How difficulty rhyming and the inability to remember song lyrics indicates potential dyslexia.
  • The relationship between auditory processing syndrome and dyslexia.
  • Why they are so heavy on the visual in dyslexia support.
  • How your brain has no foundation to process information if it is not ready to learn.
  • Which strategies Lori used with her own son; the multi-modal philosophy she developed.
  • Naming, claiming, and taming in order to deal with difficulties.
  • How you have to understand how you work before you can ask for what you need.
  • Understanding that your path doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s to build confidence.
  • Why it is important to remember that their intellect is likely way ahead of their reading level.
  • How everything needs to be multi-sensory.
  • The story of how her son bombed a biology test, largely due to his spelling ability.


“Dyslexia is a disorder of reading, but not all reading disorders are dyslexia.” —@LoriAdams0929 [0:10:19]

“Kids with dyslexia tend to have average to above average IQs. It is a reading difficulty that exists despite everything else seeming to be moving the way it should move. It doesn’t exist because there’s a cognitive delay.” —@LoriAdams0929 [0:10:37]

“Dyslexia is predominantly a neurodevelopmental condition, which means it is a brain-based condition. It exists outside of development.” —@LoriAdams0929 [0:12:20]

“For individuals with dyslexia, reading never really meets the right hemisphere. It stays predominantly a right-brained task.” —@LoriAdams0929 [0:12:58]

“If you’re looking for mastery of knowledge, there’s a lot of ways to show that without having to pick up a pencil. It doesn’t mean you’re going to avoid learning those skills, but it does mean we’re not going to penalize you for not having them.” —@LoriAdams0929 [0:45:45]

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

Lori Benson Adams

Lori Benson Adams on Twitter

Lori Benson Adams on LinkedIn

Pyramid of Potential

Sensational Brain


Harkla on Instagram

All Things Sensory on Instagram

All Things Sensory on Facebook

The Astronaut Training Program from Vital Links

The Listening Program from Advanced Brain Technologies


Check out our video on our Top 5 Strategies to Improve Handwriting


Full Show Transcript

[00:00:02] RH: Hey, there. I’m Rachel.


[00:00:03] JH: And I’m Jessica and this is All Things Sensory by Harkla. Together, we’re on a mission to help children, families, therapists, and educators live happy, healthy lives.


[00:00:13] RH: We dive into all things sensory, special needs, occupational therapy, parenting, self-care and so much more. In each episode, we share raw, honest, fun ideas and strategies for everyone to implement into daily life.


[00:00:26] JH: Thank you so much for joining us.




[00:00:32] RH:Hello, everyone. Welcome back to another exciting, bubbly, fun episode. This is All Things Sensory by Harkla. I’m Rachel.


[00:00:41] JH:And I’m Jessica. We are going to introduce you to Lori and we are going to talk about dyslexia, but we’re also going to talk about some other things.


[00:00:52] RH:This is one of those episodes that I wish you could see it. I wish that we could share our Zoom recording with you because it was just funny. It was funny, it was entertaining, we had a great time. We hope you’ll enjoy that and you’ll feel that in this episode as well.


[00:01:11] JH:Yep. Make sure after you’re done listening, that you take a screenshot and share it on social media and tag us. Also, make sure that you go soak up all of Lori’s resources when we’re all done.


[00:01:23] RH: Let’s meet Lori. Hello, Lori. How are you today?


[00:01:28] LBA:I am great. Thank you. I’m excited to be here with you guys.


[00:01:31] JH:We’re excited to have you. Every interview, we start with five secret questions. We’re coming in hot at you.


[00:01:42] LBA:All right. Let’s do it.


[00:01:45] RH:Okay. The first question, would you rather give up AC and heat in your house for the rest of your life or give up internet for the rest of your life? This is a good one.


[00:01:56] LBA:I would rather give up internet, but that’s like loving on my husband a lot because I’m living online. I’m like trapped into [inaudible 00:02:08], right? Just languishing all these possibilities for any kind of professional life and I’m just going to live in silence.


[00:02:20] RH: Right? Doesn’t sound terrible.


[00:02:23] LBA: No.


[00:02:24] RH:That’s fair.


[00:02:24] LBA: All I could see is a lot of reading in my future. That sounds really exciting. I’ll be bossy when I do it.


[00:02:30] RH:Exactly.


[00:02:31] JH: That’s true.


[00:02:32] RH: You won’t be miserable.


[00:02:33] LBA:Oh! That was a good one.


[00:02:37] RH: Oh, shoot!


[00:02:38] JH: Okay. Next question. What is your favorite type of dessert?


[00:02:42] LBA:Cheesecake.


[00:02:45] JH: Cheesecake. Like just plain cheesecake?


[00:02:48] LBA:Cheesecake with a huge drizzle – not really a drizzle. It would kind of be more of a [inaudible 00:02:55] of caramel.


[00:02:55] JH: Oh!


[00:02:55] RH:Okay. No drizzling here. No drizzling.


[00:03:00] LBA:[inaudible 00:03:00]


[00:03:02] RH: I love it. Okay. What famous person would you like to have dinner with?


[00:03:09] LBA:Oh! That’s a tough one because like, do you go for just the – it would probably be Bruce Springsteen.


[00:03:17] JH: Why?


[00:03:18] LBA: Well, because he’s kind of been the love of my life for about 30 some years, 35 years or so. I am convinced that the reason he still tours is because he’s out there looking for me. I think I would like to – he’s getting older and I would like to make his life a little bit easier. Just let him find me.


[00:03:41] RH: You’re so thoughtful.


[00:03:42] JH:Maybe he’ll find you. Maybe everyone who listens to this can spread the word and so he can find you this way too.


[00:03:50] LBA:I feel like I’m being generous in that one.


[00:03:53] RH: You’re so kind.


[00:03:53] LBA: [Inaudible 00:03:53] I’m trying to take some of the pressure off.


[00:03:57] RH: I like it.


[00:03:57] LBA: I’m putting the pressure on my husband and taking it off Bruce.


[00:04:01] RH:Of course, I’d expect nothing less. Yeah. Oh no!


[00:04:07] JH:I think it’s great.


[00:04:08] LBA: Oh my gosh! 


[00:04:09] RH: Okay. That was awesome.


[00:04:12] JH:Okay. Next question is, would you rather have 14 giraffes or 14 elephants?


[00:04:21] LBA:I see giraffes.


[00:04:23] RH: Yeah. Why?


[00:04:23] LBA: I think the giraffe – well, because we live on a farm. We’re surrounded by trees and mountains. First of all, I think they would have a beautiful view of [inaudible 00:04:34]. I don’t necessarily feel the need to ride either one. I think the giraffe would probably be a little easier. I can just see their long necks like looking over the trees at the mountain from the background.


[00:04:47] RH: Yes. Oh no! 


[00:04:49] JH: I love it. Giraffes are my favorite animals. So that’d be my dream come true.


[00:04:53] LBA:Well, there you go. I love that it’s 14, not 13 or 15. Nothing against elephants, but [inaudible 00:05:02].


[00:05:03] RH: Giraffes would be fun.


[00:05:04] LBA: Join the [inaudible 00:05:04].


[00:05:06] RH: Yes. Okay. Our last question that we ask everyone. What is your sensory quirk?


[00:05:12] LBA:My sensory quirk is that I cannot sleep without a weighted blanket. To the point where when I travel, I can’t take a weighted blanket, but I do take an extra blanket because I feel like there’s never enough, like it’s [inaudible 00:05:29]. I have to have a really heavy pillow and really heavy blankets on top of me.


[00:05:38] JH: Why can’t you take your weighted blanket with you?


[00:05:40] LBA: Because it would really, it would be most of my baggage.


[00:05:44] JH: Well, you just carry it like just by itself, right?


[00:05:47] RH:Put it on your carry on. Yeah, you get on the plane.


[00:05:50] LBA:I’m supposed to just flip it over my shoulders and go.


[00:05:53] RH: Yeah.


[00:05:54] LBA: I know. Do you think it would go off through the –?


[00:05:57] RH:Yeah. I’ve taken weighted stuff through there and they’re like, what the heck is this? But a weighted blanket would probably work. How heavy is it?


[00:06:06] LBA:It’s 20 pounds.


[00:06:06] RH: Oh, yeah. 


[00:06:08] LBA: I mean, it’s –


[00:06:08] RH: That’s a commitment.


[00:06:09] LBA: I want to be covered in it at night and that [inaudible 00:06:11]. Right? I just want to lay there [inaudible 00:06:17].


[00:06:17] RH: I love it.


[00:06:18] JH: Love it.


[00:06:18] RH: Oh my gosh! That is so good. So good.


[00:06:23] LBA: [Inaudible 00:06:23] I have to have a really heavy pillow and really, really heavy –


[00:06:27] RH:Were you a poor sleeper when you’re a kid because you didn’t have enough weight?


[00:06:31] LBA:I don’t remember. I mean, I don’t remember it ever be a problem. I just remember one year, a couple Christmases ago, I got weighted blankets for all my kids for Christmas, and got myself one. And it was like things just like [inaudible 00:06:44] back. We have two dogs and one of the dogs obviously has the same sensory quirk. Because she will literally take a running start from the other side of the room, she will jump on the bed, she slams herself into me and then she doesn’t move with them [inaudible 00:07:02]. She waits until I’m just off, and the weighted blanket and then she does this like hard, forceful slam up against like, – she doesn’t leave. So then [inaudible 00:07:16].


[00:07:18] JH:You’re stuck.


[00:07:18] RH: Because you’re lying there in your straight jacket.


[00:07:20] LBA:Yeah, yep. That’s why I know she’s my girl.


[00:07:24] RH: Oh god! It’s so good. Okay. Well, now that everyone knows your deepest, darkest secrets. We’re talking about dyslexia today. That’s what we’re focusing on. But we want our audience to know about you, who you are, what you do, why you do it, all those things.


[00:07:43] LBA:I’m a very, very happy wife. I’m an incredibly proud mom of three adult sons. My oldest too is getting married in two weeks to like the most amazing girl. I just have to say, if you are [inaudible 00:07:59] mom, and your kid is smart enough to pick like the girl of your dreams, like [inaudible 00:08:05]. My professional background in special education. I taught in the public schools for a few years, which I love to do the mom thing. I worked in early intervention and special needs preschool for a lot of years. I went into private practice. At that point, I was working with kids pretty intensively one on one, doing a lot of like the intensive reading remediation, kind of like we’re going to be talking about today.


Then, was fortunate enough to kind of get into the world of doing professional developments and staff development and those kinds of things. I also am the mom of a child with dyslexia and dysgraphia. We actually – a lot of my real passion for dyslexia, dysgraphia, those types of challenges for kids is just coming from up close and personal. Seeing it from both sides of [inaudible 00:09:01]. I’ve sat on both sides of the assessment process. I’ve sat on both sides of an IEP table. I’ve sat on both sides of the homework battles, so I kind of get it first. Both a frustration, but also just the tremendous opportunities that are out there for our kids to make it easier for them.


[00:09:18] RH:I think it makes you better at what you do having that experience in your back pocket as well. Having both sides in your back pocket.


[00:09:27] LBA:I definitely think so. I definitely think so. Yeah, I think there’s a certain understanding. I think there’s a certain compassion. Then I also think because my son’s older, right? He’s an adult now, and living a happy, fulfilling life that I think it’s nice to be able to hold that end goal in very concrete way [inaudible 00:09:46]. You know what I mean? Like, we’re going to get you where you want to go. We’re just going to get there a different way.


[00:09:53] JH:I like that idea of we’re going to get there. We’re just going to go a different route.


[00:09:57] LBA:Yeah. I mean, that’s quite as easy as everybody else is. It’s going to be a good one. It’s going to be a good one. [Inaudible 00:10:04]. Yeah.


[00:10:05] JH: Exactly. Talking about dyslexia, can you explain what dyslexia is and what it looks like, how it manifests?


[00:10:16] LBA:Yes. I will say that dyslexia is a disorder of reading, but not all reading disorders are dyslexia. What makes dyslexia kind of its own unique category or subcategory of reading disorders, is that, our kids with dyslexia tend to have average to above average IQs. It is a reading difficulty that exists in spite of everything else seeming to be moving the way it should move. It doesn’t exist because there’s a cognitive delay. It doesn’t exist because there’s another condition such as autism. It doesn’t exist because the child didn’t have enough reading at home. These are the kids where we feel like everything really should be lining up and [inaudible 00:11:13] adjust. They’ve had consistent instruction, consistent exposure, they have that pre-academic skills, they’re ready to go and yet it still doesn’t stick. The phonemic awareness, the decoding, the encoding and then the fluency, which is once we can [inaudible 00:11:31]. It’s much more difficult than you would expect.


[00:11:36] RH:Yeah. Case in point here, you specialize in this and your son still has these challenges. Clearly, it’s not a parenting issue or an environmental issue. 


[00:11:48] LBA:Yes. I mean, there is no shortage of books at our home. Let me assure you.


[00:11:53] RH: Absolutely.


[00:11:54] LBA: And the teacher gap [inaudible 00:11:56]. You know.


[00:12:00] RH: Oh yeah.


[00:12:02] LBA: [Inaudible 00:12:02]


[00:12:05] RH:Yeah, for sure.


[00:12:07] JH:Then, is it related to the visual system? Is it how the visual system connects to the brain and sees those letters? Like how does that work?


[00:12:17] LBA:Well, it is predominantly considered what we call a neurodevelopmental condition, which means it is a brain-based condition. It exists outside to full development, so that’s basically what all that means. It is predominantly a breakdown in the auditory processing center, in what we call phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness are the skills that we have, even before we begin to read. They’re all of those kind of language organizations. It’s like, can you hear that two words wrong? Can you hear the two words are different? Can you hear how many syllables or how many pheno parts are in a word? Those types of things, things before kids even begin learning [inaudible 00:13:10]. That’s where the foundation is right now.


[00:13:16] JH: Got you.


[00:13:17] RH:My question, who is at risk? Is it genetic? If I have it, is my kiddo going to have it? Is there any way of preventing it if it is genetic?


[00:13:31] LBA:Let me kind of try to get those in order.


[00:13:33] RH: Thank you.


[00:13:34] LBA: There is a very strong genetic link to dyslexia. You certainly can have it if a parent does not, but there is a genetic link. Neither of my son’s parents have dyslexia. However, he has some cousins who do. There’s something in that side of the family where it exists. You know, it’s estimated that anywhere from 40 percent to 60 percent of it is genetic, which is quite a bit, quite a bit. If there is a family history, the likelihood is much greater. If there was a sibling, there’s an older sibling. So let’s say maybe you have a child in kindergarten, and you’re wondering about it, if they already have a third grader who’s been diagnosed. The likelihood is, we’re going to act [inaudible 00:14:20].


Can we prevent it? No, not really. But we can certainly mitigate it with everything. The earlier we identify it, the more we address it, the more specifically we address it and the better opportunities are. What we want to do is we want to close the gap. We want to give kids as much support as early as we can to kind of go from there.


[00:14:48] RH: So then, how early can a child be diagnosed with dyslexia?


[00:14:51] LBA: That’s going to vary. I would say there’s two different parts to that question. How early can they be and how early will they read? Okay? A lot of times, people evaluating will not want to diagnose a child with dyslexia until third grade or older. That’s kind of an old school way of thinking. The old school way of thinking about reading is that we’re going to give kids through second grade. Because through second grade, we’re really teaching kids to read. Then from third grade on, we’re really expecting kids to read for the purpose of learning anything. There’s a switch that happens there.


There’s very much this old school mentality that not until third grade do we test. That is a huge fallacy. That is a huge fallacy. If anybody tells you that your child cannot be evaluated prior to third grade, and you’re a parent, basically, all you have to do is write a letter and you say the request of evaluation. How early can you be diagnosed? I think you can vary it a lot of kids, you can very clearly see signs and symptoms in preschool. I’ve always said, I could walk into a preschool classroom and I would be able within 30 minutes to be able to identify who [inaudible 00:16:15]. It doesn’t mean it was going to come into that, but –


[00:16:19] JH:Okay. So we’re talking like ages as young as like four, three or four?


[00:16:24] LBA:Three or four, yeah. Some of those really early things to look for –


[00:16:28] RH: That was my question. Like tell me what to look for, yes. How do we know?


[00:16:34] LBA: [Inaudible 00:16:34]. One of the biggest ones is rhyming. Really, that’s one of the biggest indicators is when children have difficulty rhyming past the age when – kids have to catch on what rhyming is, but still not being able to catch on to that, not being able to remember the words to songs that they’re very familiar with. Let’s say you have a child in preschool and three, four or five times a day, they sing a cleanup song. At Christmas time, and that child still doesn’t know the words to cleanup song. That’s because that’s auditory sequencing, right? The ability to learn words to a song has to do with language being in a sequence, in a predictable order. That’s what reading is. That’s a big one.


If you have kids who have speech and language delays, increased risk. If you have kids with chronic ear infections, increased risk, not because dyslexia is a curing disorder in any way. But if a child’s hearing is so muffled, that they’re not being able to process them accurately, it impacts their ability to – just kind of as side note. My son who has dyslexia had his first ear infection at 10 years old.


[00:17:57] JH: Wow!


[00:18:00] LBA: The pediatrician hadn’t even seen anything. By time he was in preschool, he’d already got three sets to [inaudible 00:18:05]. But by the time he was in preschool, he could tell me whether he was having a good ear day or a bad ear. And that meant whether he could hear me clearly or not. That’s just from the flu. That is not a permanent hearing loss at all. That is just because for some kids, it’s that muscle. That’s a huge watch, right? That’s one that you really want to watch, and see and make sure that the language from ear infection, sinus infections, those types of things. Then rhyming and learning words to songs, to familiar songs. Those are some few things.


[00:18:44] JH:I have two questions. My first question is, a lot of these like signs or symptoms that you’re talking about are very similar to auditory processing disorder. Is there a connection or does that often get misdiagnosed?


[00:19:04] LBA:I would say, probably the one that gets overlooked is the auditory processing part. I think because we are so academic progress oriented in our school systems, and there’s now so many benchmarks for reading. I think reading would probably get caught before that. There’s a very fine line between the auditory processing part and the phonemic awareness part. Is it a delay? Is it a disorder processing? That’s really where your audiologist comes in and kind of unwinds that.


[00:19:45] JH:Okay. So then, is there a connection like if a child has auditory processing disorder, are they going to be more likely to also have dyslexia and vice versa?


[00:19:52] LBA:Yes. Anytime I have language disorder – I consider that a language processing condition, you should be on the watch.


[00:20:02] JH: Yeah, for sure.


[00:20:04] LBA: I will say, I mentioned earlier kind of that old school mentality of not until third grade. We’re making a lot of progress. We’re making a lot of progress in that area. Almost every state now has a mandatory screening for dyslexia in second grade, and about half of them have a mandatory screening in kindergarten. We are finally as a nation realizing how much – it’s not about whether or not you can read. It’s, do you have the skills foundational to learn to read? That’s what it comes down to?


[00:20:39] JH: Perfect, that’s great to hear. 


[00:20:41] RH: Interesting. Yeah. Woohoo! Doing something, right? 


[00:20:44] JH:We’re getting there. Now we just need sensory –


[00:20:47] RH: I know.


[00:20:48] JH: We’re working on that, don’t we?




[00:20:52] RH: We just want to take a minute and talk to you about our company, Harkla. Our mission at Harkla is to help those with special needs special needs live happy healthy lives. Not only do we accomplish this through the podcast, but we also have therapy products, easy to follow digital courses and the Harkla Sensory Club to try to bring holistic care to you and your family.


[00:21:12] JH:Listeners of the All Things Sensory podcast get 10 percent off their first purchase at Harkla with a discount code, “SENSORY.” 


[00:21:19] RH: We would highly recommend checking out some of our best-sellers, like the compression sensory swing, weighted blankets or our course on sensory diets and primitive reflexes.


[00:21:30] JH: The cool thing is, that one percent of each sale gets donated to the University of Washington Autism Center to support autism research and fund scholarships to families in need to receive in-clinic therapy for their child.


[00:21:44] RH: Learn more about Harkla and all we have to offer at harkla.co. That’s H-A-R-K-L-A.C-O and use the code “SENSORY” to get 10 percent off your first purchase. That’s S-E-N-S-O-R-Y for 10 percent off.


[00:22:02] JH: Don’t forget that all Harkla orders come with a lifetime guarantee and free shipping.


[00:22:07] RH: All right. Let’s get back to the show.




[00:22:11] JH:My other question was, before I really learned about dyslexia and understanding what it was, I was under the impression, I wonder if other people are under this impression as well. Like dyslexia is like kids who can’t read and their letters are backwards, right? They get their Bs and Ds mixed up all the time, and that means they have dyslexia. Can you talk about that a little bit?


[00:22:31] LBA:There are a lot of reasons why some of the things that happen in the dyslexic brain happens. Just to kind of give you a little mini brain lesson, and I think this helps a lot of things make a lot of sense. That you could look at your brain and you could divide it right in half, you have two halves or hemispheres. If we were going to just be really oversimplifying it, we tend to think about the left half of our brain as primarily handling language, and the right half of our brain primarily in the handling visual, spatial, those kinds of things. Now, for all of us, for everybody. When we begin to learn to read, reading begins as a right hemisphere activity. Think about a baby who has no language, but you’re looking at a board book, and you’re pointing and you’re saying ball, ball, ball, right? It begins with pictures. It begins by looking and matching sounds with looking.


Once we begin teaching kids phonics, basically, this is a ball, it’s a ba ba ba ball. Once we start really working on those sound associations, reading shifts to the left hand. That’s where it hangs out because it’s primarily a language task. There is tremendous body of research, and really some phenomenal brain scans that can show us exactly what happens. But for individuals with dyslexia, reading never really leaves the right hemisphere. It stays predominantly a right brain task. Where a typical fourth grade reader is reading based on sounding out words and making an extent, the dyslexic reader is reading based on what it looks like, and what fits the general content. That’s why our kids with dyslexia do a lot of guessing. That’s why our kids with dyslexia skip over a lot of words like and, of, the, because those aren’t words that have any energy attached to them, right? They’re going to skip the and they’re going to go to barn because they can see what a barn is. We’re very heavy on the visual.


Another thing that the right hemisphere, the visual hemisphere is really good at is, most of us are very good at spotting differences. Most of our brains are – we identify spotting differences. That goes back to the caveman days where a rustle is of a bushmen, a Jaguar, or a bear or whatever. The dyslexic brain, because the boards is primarily from the opposite hemisphere, is very good at spotting similarities. It really focuses on what’s the same. If you think about that, that describes a lot of reverses, because a typical brain can see that like a B, a D, and a P and a Q are all faced in different directions. A dyslexic brain, which is wired to thought similarity, sees that they’re all stick and bald letters. An orientation is basically optional. It can see W, A, S and S, A, W and what their brain sees is that they’re same. What a typical brain sees is that they’re different. They’re in opposite orders.


That’s the underpinning of where a lot of those reversals, the flipping comes from, sometimes that mirror writing, sometimes the replacing words for another word that kind of looked like it that makes no sense to a story because it kind of looked like it, right? It looked like it because of the similarity.


[00:26:21] JH: That makes sense. I’m just thinking of so many, so many examples of all of those. And I’m like, “Oh, yeah. That makes sense. 


[00:26:28] RH:But also, just because a kiddo reverses their letters or says them backwards, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have dyslexia.


[00:26:38] LBA:Absolutely. The whole letter reversal thing is considered typical through the end of second grade. Right? That’s a long time to get kids practice to get things right [inaudible 00:26:53]. It is absolutely – I hate the word normal, but it’s absolutely within normal childhood development to see some letter reversals and occasional number reversal. At Christmas of the second grade. What is not as typical is to see them happening regularly, pretty constantly. You’re not ever really seeing them done the correct way, those types of things. While that reversal is believed to be so much of like a vision issue in terms of acuity. Visual acuity is whether or not you need glasses, right? It’s whether or not you have clear vision. There can definitely be visual processing to that, with form constancy, and with orientation and with figure ground that a lot of those extra areas. When we’re also working on building up those early phonics skills for kids, we should definitely be looking at how are they processing things visually, as well.


[00:28:00] JH:I was just thinking when you’re talking about second grade. My son is in second grade right now. He still reverses a couple of numbers every once in a while. I think he’s got his letters mostly down, but he’s like, he’s – I’m bragging on him a little bit. He’s a really great reader. I was always like, “You know what, he reads really, really well. Every once in a while, he reverses something. I think he’s okay.”


[00:28:26] LBA: Yeah, yes. Right. Is everything else on track? Does this happen every now and then?


[00:28:32] JH:Yeah. 


[00:28:33] LBA: Yeah. He’s just a [inaudible 00:28:34].


[00:28:35] RH: Yeah. Probably was in a rush or something.


[00:28:37] JH: He’s a little bit of a seeker, so he goes kind of fast, you know. Those are great examples, I like it.


[00:28:46] RH:Yeah. That’s helpful.


[00:28:47] JH: Yes. Okay. So I put this question in here, I just added it so it’s not an outline.


[00:28:53] RH: It’s a secret question.


[00:28:55] JH: It’s a secret question just because 


[00:28:56] LBA: [Inaudible 00:28:56]


[00:28:57] JH: I know. I’m just coming at you.


[00:28:59] LBA: Go on.


[00:29:01] JH: Coming at you. I took a continuing ed course that was about dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia and their relationship to primitive reflexes. I was just wondering if you had any background with primitive reflexes and dyslexia and the connection there?


[00:29:19] LBA:I do not. I would love to hear what your takeaway from that is. Like I would love to learn. I would like to learn more about that.


[00:29:25] JH: I know. It was so interesting.


[00:29:27] LBA: What was that kind of connection? I do know – okay. I’m way, way, way older than you guys. I love how science eventually catches up with intuition because I can remember in the ’70s, the whole patterning thing was a big deal.


[00:29:47] RH: Right. I know.


[00:29:49] JH: We’re all like, “What?”


[00:29:52] RH: Like dogs.


[00:29:54] JH: We did. They were just excited too. I wish we got that on video.


[00:29:57] RH: I know. We can go back and look at it.


[00:30:01] LBA: Like I remember that we have a next-door neighbor who has learning difficulties, right? No language for that back then. His intervention was to do these floor exercises. Right?


[00:30:15] RH: Really?


[00:30:14] LBA: Right? It would be the cross crawling, it would be like all the things that we now call primitive reflexes back then was called patterning. Well, everybody thought it was free back then. I’ll give you resources like this.


[00:30:30] JH: Yes.


[00:30:32] LBA: But now, if I could have all that research to go back and say, “Gosh! It’s brain based. If your brains is not ready to learn, it absorbed the materials, right? It’s all – I don’t know. What was your biggest takeaway?


[00:30:47] JH:My big takeaway was that, yeah, that there are specific primitive reflexes that if they’re not integrated, then it can be a factor for dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia.


[00:30:57] RH: It makes sense.


[00:30:58] JH: It does. It makes total sense, because just like what you just said, if your brains not ready to learn, it doesn’t have that foundation, then it’s not going to be able to process information. The course was fromPyramid of Potential. Kathy Johnson, she’s amazing. And probably should just link that in the show notes for everyone and then send it your way. But it was really good. It went through the different diagnoses, and then talked about how to work on primitive reflexes for those as well and then gave other like, just strategies for dyslexia, some like strategies for the classroom, and at home and stuff too. 


[00:31:31] LBA:I think when you take kind of a blind look back on the field of education, because of course, that’s my background. We’ve always danced around that, right? Like the things like [inaudible 00:31:45] and pull moves. I mean, like, there’s always been this, like we know there’s this huge link between movement and learning. And then I think, with the OT community bringing in, it’s not just movement, it’s these reflexes. I think we finally kind of pinned down like, “All right. There we go.” We’ve always kind of danced around it. Now, we’re getting –


[00:32:06] RH: Getting there. I think if every single preschool, kindergarten, first-grade class, just did these exercises every day, what would happen? Would we be out of a job? I mean, I’m fine with that if we are.


[00:32:26] LBA:There are lot of things in the world to do, like it would be cool. Then what we have to do is we have to find all these ways for these creative capable kids to figure out what they want to do in life.


[00:32:36] RH:Yes.


[00:32:35] LBA: [Inaudible 00:32:35]


[00:32:37] JH: Oh my gosh! It would incredible.


[00:32:39] LBA: Right?


[00:32:39] JH: [Inaudible 00:32:40] worst.


[00:32:42] RH: I know.


[00:32:42] LBA: I know.


[00:32:44] RH: That’d be a fun like research project to do, see what would happen. I like to do that.


[00:32:48] LBA: It’s just – I shouldn’t say just, because it’s not that easy, but it’s just – it’s education, right? It’s helping parents now. You got to be on your tummy. You got to make them commander pro. You want to be pushing up. You want him to be singing nursery rhymes, like  hear are all the things.


[00:33:09] RH: There’s a reason.


[00:33:11] LBA: There’s a reason why we need those things, and there’s a reason why there are certain things that we’ve done with kids for centuries. Right? Because that leads to good stuff. Yeah.


[00:33:26] JH:Can I ask a very personal question?


[00:33:28] LBA: Certainly.


[00:33:29] JH: What tools and strategies did you use with your son?


[00:33:33] RH:That wasn’t as personal as I thought it was going to be.


[00:33:35] JH: Oh! What did you think it was going?


[00:33:37] RH:I don’t know. I was like, “Oh my gosh. Jessica is getting personal over here.”


[00:33:40] JH:It feels like it’s a personal question.


[00:33:41] LBA:[Inaudible 00:33:41] When we ended up, my son started in public school, and then there was a point in time where we decided to go out and homeschool. It makes sense, right? I mean, mom sitting here with this background. With all of these years of special ed, [inaudible 00:34:08] sitting across the table with [inaudible 00:34:11] instead of me. I realized that I had never really been taught how to make significant changes in the [inaudible 00:34:18]. I have been taught a lot [inaudible 00:34:20].


I spent about a year training myself in anything and everything that I can possibly get turned in, from reading remediation programs, to brain training programs, integrated listening system. I mean, you name it. I mean, I went through all of them, and then really kind of combined and put together this very multimodal program for him that benefited him. But I have to learn a lot about how to sequence intervention, and kind of like a bottom up rather than a top-down philosophy. That’s kind of when talk about about the sensory system and reflexes, and then auditory processing, visual processing. All that stuff has to be looked at before, then you start throwing academics.


Then just going back to the really – what we know are the research-based programs for dyslexia. Those are the programs that are based on the Orton Gillingham methodology, which is very, very specific, very incremental, based on intensity, frequency and duration, three, four, five hours a week. Then we just put them through [inaudible 00:35:33].


[00:35:34] RH:Does he appreciate all of that now? I’m sure it was hard, like going through it. Did he know that he struggled? I mean, was he aware of the struggles that he had?


[00:35:45] LBA: Yes.


[00:35:46] RH: Yeah. So you were like, “We’re working on this, dude. We’re going hard. It’s going to be worth it.” Then now as an adult, he’s like, “Okay. Thanks. Appreciate it.”


[00:35:56] LBA:Yeah. I was at the school of thought, and every parent feels very differently. But I’m at the school of thought of, we name it, we claim it, we tame it, right? We talked about, you have this thing called dyslexia and we talked about how his brain works differently than other people’s brains, and that makes reading a little bit harder, but it makes it easier to do these other things. As he got older, we show those crazy little brain scans and he could eventually get to the point where he would say, “Oh!” Like he would reverse the [inaudible 00:36:34]. He’s like, “Oh! That’s the right brain.” To me, when we kind of demystify it, right? You’re like, this is just what it is. But it’s just like, that’s the color green. This is the way your brain reads and this is what your brain needs to learn memory. Not to say, it doesn’t still have implications, right? There are still some difficulties that he encounters, and that’s also to me the beginning of self-advocacy. Self-advocacy, you have to understand how you work before you can ask for what you need. Right? We were always about calling it what it is. It’s not an excuse. It’s an explanation.


[00:37:20] RH: I have a personal question now. Secret question eight. I just feel like it will be helpful for our listeners who are maybe, do have a child with dyslexia or they’re going through that now. What does he do for a living?


[00:37:34] LBA:He works in the food service industry. He’s a manager of a restaurant. He did Community College, had to take some time. I will be very honest and I will probably tear up a little bit. He struggles with that far more than we do. We are a family, where brothers went to college, brothers went to grad school, we have always said, “I don’t really care how you end up where you end up, just do what you do well.” He struggles with the fact that he didn’t do traditional college, but he was not a traditional college person. He still has to have some workarounds for things like inventory, for some of the number of things. We still are at a point where I’m encouraging him to ask for some accommodations, like they have to take some pretty lengthy tests, and he still struggles to take them, food, safety, all that kind of stuff to be the manager. He would not even have to blink an eye if you took it morally, but he doesn’t want to do that. 


I mean, it’s still a part of his life. I don’t want to make it sound like it goes away, but he’s developed the workarounds and he loves what he does. He is an incredible people person, and he’s in a great deal. He’s in the hospitality field, and he can get his team on track and he can get people encouraged to get numbers up. I mean –


[00:39:05] RH: That’s awesome.


[00:39:06] LBA: He’s dealing with things.


[00:39:08] RH:It’s like what you said, this is the road we’re going or this is how your brain works. This is how we go. It’s just, it’s a different path. He’s just on a different path, and that’s okay to be on a different path.


[00:39:21] LBA:Yeah. I think it’s harder sometimes for the kids and even with parents, like my path for him was – like I was just singing and dancing when her graduate high school. [Inaudible 00:39:35] But you know, because there’s a fear that we feel like we’re pulling him up the mountain. But, you know, it’s working with them, try to get them to have that – that their path does not need to look like any others. Don’t put that on yourself. Who wants the same path?


[00:39:55] JH:Yeah, it’s like building that confidence.


[00:39:57] LBA:Right? There’s some really interesting statistics on individuals with dyslexia. There’s several out there about entrepreneurs with a very high, high percentage. Like anywhere from 40 percent to 70 percent of entrepreneurs identify as having some kind of degree in dyslexia. I just think that’s fascinating. It’s because you’ve had to create your own road, right? You’ve had to create your own workaround. You were are an out of the box thinker, by the sheer way that your brain processes information, you’re unlike others, right? You’re unlike the norms. I think that’s really an area where we can tap into and get those really good social skills, leadership skills, and those good creativity skills. That, you know, I used to tell them years ago, I’m like, “You pick such a great time in history to be dyslexic.” Right? 


[00:40:51] RH: Yeah. That’s so true.


[00:40:53] LBA: Right. There are so many workarounds. You can push a button on your phone, it can read the directions to you. I mean, like, it’s so easy to work with it rather than fight against it. I think that’s just kind of the message is, it’s hard work, but it’s good.


[00:41:13] RH:I like that kind of compensating with social skills, and teamwork, and leadership and all of those – 


[00:41:18] JH:Just building on your – yeah, building on your strengths. Instead of focusing on your weaknesses. Yeah, absolutely. That’s what we want for everyone.


[00:41:27] RH:Seriously. I just like, when we have these aha moments, I think about me and like, how I got to where I am, like I had a super weird backwards path of getting here. I was one of the kids who – school didn’t come easy for me, but I worked really hard and I was kind of the type A and I wanted to get good grades. But sure, it didn’t come easy for me. And here I am, I’m freaking entrepreneur.


[00:41:51] JH:I’m the opposite. I like slept through school, still graduated with honors, but then I dropped out of college.


[00:41:58] LBA:It’s probably why you guys are such a good team, though, right? 


[00:42:01] JH: So true.


[00:42:01] LBA: Because you probably have one person who’s the [inaudible 00:42:04] lady girl and one person who’s the idea girl.


[00:42:07] JH: That’s so true.


[00:42:08] LBA: Right. One person who’s the, “Oh! We could do this and this and this.” Then the other one is like, “Yeah. Maybe in two months.” Right?


[00:42:15] JH: Oh my God!


[00:42:15] RH: That’s literally –


[00:42:16] JH: You just described us to the tee.


[00:42:20] LBA: [Inaudible 00:42:21] It’s like finding the perfect person to marry, right? Because you find somebody who accentuate, brings to, needs what you have to offer, and you can use what they have to offer.


[00:42:34] RH: Exactly. That’s so fun.


[00:42:37] LBA: I think it was really – I think education as a whole. If we would spend more time building up what kids do well and more time allowing kids to follow individual interests within the curriculum. You have to have a curriculum. But there are lots of ways to loosen up with them and let people do their own ways.


[00:42:57] JH: Oh my gosh! We could talk about that all day.


[00:43:02] LBA: Yeah. That is [inaudible 00:43:04].


[00:43:05] JH: I love it.


[00:43:07] LBA: But we can’t see who they are.


[00:43:08] JH: Okay. Let’s circle back just a little bit. What are some of the best tools for helping a child with dyslexia?


[00:43:18] RH:If you could just like rapid fire a couple.


[00:43:20] LBA:I think the best tool for helping kids with dyslexia is to remember that their intellect is typically lightyears ahead of their reading abilities. You never want to, for lack of a better word, dumb down what they’re able to learn to match their reading level. If you’ve got a third-grade child, who reads on a first-grade level, but can understand science on the sixth-grade level, teach the sixth-grade science. Teach him every way that doesn’t bother you. I think that’s one, especially for parents to advocate that you keep moving ahead intellectually and academically over here while you’re working on reading over here to separate that, just because your child is behind in reading, it doesn’t mean there’s slow. 


Very, very high percentage of kids with dyslexia have above average IQ. And then there’s the decimated as many as 30 percent, 40 percent that also meet the criteria for giftedness. You have to be that hungry brain. That’s how you get kids with dyslexia to go to college, right? Is you don’t [inaudible 00:44:30]. That’s the big one is the mindset of those working kit. Then I would say, multisensory, everything needs to be multisensory. They need to see it, hear it, say it, do it, touch it, move it, whatever. I always say, rather than asking these kids to read a map, give them a globe, right? Let them spin it, let everything be three dimensional. Let everything be real. We do know the research is very heavy on what we call a multi-sensory reading program. Again, like Wilson, Barton, Orton Gillingham. Those are very synthetically oriented, but they are very much – they have a lot to do with tapping, and tracing and really involving the body in learning that.


Then giving kids options of how to show what they know. If you have a child who can – ask teachers, what is it that they really want from [inaudible 00:45:29] of the child? Do you really want the child to write the answers or do you really want to know if they know the answers? If what you want is, you’re looking for mastery of knowledge, there’s a lot of ways to show that without having to pick up a pencil, or to read [inaudible 00:45:47] whatever. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to avoid building those skills, but it means we’re not going to penalize you for not having.


[00:45:55] RH: Got you.


[00:45:56] JH: Those are fantastic. That just actually reminded me. I’m squirrel brained right now. I just watched the movie, The Day After Tomorrow. In the beginning of that movie, the son had just got flunked out from like his math class or something, because he did a quiz or a test and he answered all the questions, but he didn’t write out the like the solutions or the problems. He knew the answer, but he got thumped because he didn’t write it all out. It’s that same idea, like we can’t flunk these kids just because they can’t physically show us the work if they know it in their brain. Give it to them.


[00:46:32] LBA:Well, I’ll share a tough story about my son just real quickly. He was I think a junior, it was a sophomore, junior in high school. Have pretty tough science teacher. It was biology and he had a biology test coming up. We studied so hard. When I say we, I mean, we. Like we worked so hard, and he knew that information inside and out. This is a good time to insert that if you have kids with dyslexia, the vast majority of the time, it’s also going to impact their writing. He took this test, pick him up in the car, run and pick him up after school, and he’s just crestfallen. He had just absolutely bombed the test, primarily because of his spelling of all of these terms, right? The photosynthesis and all of these things. I pulled the car over, and I’m very – [inaudible 00:47:31] and I’m very politely told the teacher. I said, “I am not asking you to change his grade, but I’m asking you to give him the test orally so he can show you he knows.” He would have gotten like a 92 if we had done it orally. That’s that discrepancy between what we know and what we can get out. Right? Where the kiddo is dyslexia, dysgraphia, what they know and what they can get on paper in a traditional way.


[00:48:04] JH:Wow! Dang!


[00:48:04] RH: Did he change his grade?


[00:48:07] LBA:Well, she gave him half credit. I know. I know. Yeah. I still know where she lives.


[00:48:16] RH:Let’s go A her house. 


[00:48:18] JH: Maybe you should listen to this episode.


[00:48:21] LBA:Honestly, when [inaudible 00:48:22] if you’re all in with me, we can do it on Halloween, and blame to the kids of the neighborhood. I’m all for it.


[00:48:29] RH:I love it.


[00:48:30] JH: You’re spicy. I like it.


[00:48:32] LBA: [Inaudible 00:48:32]


[00:48:33] RH: Yeah.


[00:48:36] JH: I love it. So good. Oh my goodness.


[00:48:39] LBA:But you know, that’s the kind – it really was more important. Yes. I wanted him to get the 92. Yes, I did. What I really wanted was for him to know she knew he knew it.


[00:48:51] RH: Yes.


[00:48:52] LBA: Because she was not a nurturing person. She was not somebody that would go work with him and it was kind of this moment where I wanted –


[00:48:59] RH:It’s a principle.


[00:48:59] LBA: [Inaudible 00:48:59] adapt with. Adapt.


[00:49:02] JH: Build that confidence.


[00:49:03] RH: Good for you. You’re like mama bear claws came out.


[00:49:08] LBA:It’s a kid, like I wanted a good grade two. I worked hard for this.


[00:49:12] JH:You’re like, “We know this.”


[00:49:16] RH: Oh! It’s so good. Bless your heart.


[00:49:19] JH: Oh my goodness!


[00:49:21] RH:Okay. Well, I do think before we wrap up this interview, you have a ton of resources to offer parents, therapists, educators, whoever’s listening, we’ve got a little bit of everything when it comes to our audience. Where can people find your work, work with you soak up all that you have to offer? 


[00:49:41] LBA:I have a slew of webinars on sensationalbrain.com. I have lots and lots. We have one dyslexia, we have couple on dysgraphia, lots in that area. You can also go to more loribensonadams.com, which is my website, which gives you my contact information. I do a lot of coaching with parents and helping parents kind of figure out how to advocate. I do some coaching with kids, and helping them learn to advocate. I do a lot of work with high school kids, trying to help them find their voice and figure out how to have those conversations with teachers and their confidence.


[00:50:19] RH: That’s awesome.


[00:50:20] LBA: Yeah. If you’re a Facebook person, Breakthrough Learning Solutions, Facebook. That’s it.


[00:50:27] RH:Perfect. So good. Oh, you’re fantastic. This was so fun.


[00:50:32] JH:I know. I love it.


[00:50:34] RH:I told you you’d love her. She great.


[00:50:37] JH: She did. It’s true.


[00:50:38] RH: I was like, “This is Lori, she’s fantastic. You’re just going to get in such a big hit.”


[00:50:43] LBA:Well, thank you and thank you for [inaudible 00:50:45] because obviously a passion area, both professional and personally for me. If there’s anything I can do, especially out there for families, right? Been there, done that. Happy to help you walk a little bit and figure out what’s best for you guys.


[00:51:00] JH: Awesome.


[00:51:01] RH:Well, thank you again. We appreciate it. We’ll make sure we have all of your contact info, website, Facebook. courses on sensational brain. We’ll have everything linked in the show notes for people to take advantage of. 


[00:51:12] LBA: Thank you.


[00:51:13] RH: Yes.


[00:51:14] LBA: Had fun.


[00:51:16] JH: Thank you.


[00:51:16] RH: Thanks, Lori. Bye.


[00:51:20] RH: Thank you so much for listening to All Thing Sensory by Harka. If you want more information on anything we mentioned in the show, head over to harkla.co/podcast to get all of the show notes. 


[00:51:31] JH:We always have the show notes and links, plus full transcripts to make following along as easy as possible for everyone. If you have follow-up questions, the best place to ask those is in the comments on the show notes or message us on our Instagram account, which is at @harkla_family. If you just search Harkla, you’ll find us.


[00:51:51] RH:Like we mentioned before, our podcast listeners get 10 percent off their first order at Harkla, whether it’s for one of our digital courses, one of our sensory swings, the discount code SENSORY will save you 10 percent. That code is S-E-N-S-O-R-Y. Head over to harkla.co/sensory to use that code right now so you don’t forget.


[00:52:13] JH:We’re so excited to work together to help create confident kids all over the world and work towards a happier healthier life.


[00:52:21] RH: All right. We’ll talk to you guys next week. Just a friendly reminder, this is general information related to occupational therapy, pediatrics, and sensory integration. We do not know you or your child, therefore we do not know any specific needs. Therefore, you should always refer back to your pediatrician and occupational therapist for more information. 




While we make every effort to share correct information, we are still learning. We will double check all of our facts but realize that medicine is a constantly changing science and art. One doctor / therapist may have a different way of doing things from another. We are simply presenting our views and opinions on how to address common sensory challenges, health related difficulties and what we have found to be beneficial that will be as evidenced based as possible. By listening to this podcast, you agree not to use this podcast as medical advice to treat any medical condition in either yourself or your children. Consult your child’s pediatrician/ therapist for any medical issues that he or she may be having. This entire disclaimer also applies to any guests or contributors to the podcast. Under no circumstances shall Rachel Harrington, Harkla, Jessica Hill, or any guests or contributors to the podcast, as well as any employees, associates, or affiliates of Harkla, be responsible for damages arising from use of the podcast.

Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.

This podcast should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever, including but not limited to establishing “standard of care” in a legal sense or as a basis for expert witness testimony. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the podcast.

Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC
Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC

Rachel Harrington, COTA/l, AC, CPRCS, and Jessica Hill, COTA/L, CPRCS are Harkla's in-house Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA) and Certified Primitive Reflex Clinical Specialists. They have been working with children for over 6 years in outpatient settings. They specialize in creating easy-to-digest, actionable content that families can use to help their child's progress at home. Jessica and Rachel are the in-house experts, content creators, and podcast hosts at Harkla! To learn more about Jessica and Rachel, visit the Harkla About Us Page. Make sure to listen to their weekly podcast, All Things Sensory by Harkla for actionable, fun advice on child development.

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#307 - Social Emotional Learning, Sensory Corners, and Fidgets with Jewelisa Blanks, M.Ed, Founder of Gifts of Joy

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC May 07, 2024

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