Alt Ed Austin is pleased to present two differing perspectives on the recent book Reversing Dyslexia by Phyllis Books, a chiropractor, nutritionist, and author based in Austin. The first is in the form of a thoughtful review (below) by Shari Holland, an Austin consultant and parent of a child diagnosed with dyslexia. The second (posted here) is Dr. Books’s response to Ms. Holland’s specific criticisms of the book. What do you think? We encourage you to make respectful use of the comments section below to continue the discussion.
Having watched my ten-year-old son struggle with dyslexia, I visualize his challenge as a very tall wall, like the kind in a military obstacle course, one that you have to haul yourself up and over, maybe with the aid of ropes, maybe with help from others. This wall of words is very tall for some kids yet hardly present for those of us who easily and eagerly learned to read. Information—science, geography, fiction, even jokes and comics—is on the other side of the wall. The effort it takes to get to the information he craves is significant for my son.
When a friend passed along Phyllis Books’s recent book Reversing Dyslexia, I was intrigued. I had previously visited her website because I had heard about a technique she uses with dyslexic kids. This book only mentions her technique by name once in a brief paragraph among a list of alternative methods that presumably may prove useful in reversing dyslexia. If her book were simply a tool for marketing her technique, I could understand her purpose in writing it. But since it doesn’t do that, the book is all the more puzzling.
The flaws are numerous and significant. Reversing Dyslexia is long on opinion and anecdotes (most have nothing to do with dyslexia) and short on research. While Dr. Books has footnotes unevenly scattered throughout the book, many of the sources she cites are dated. She acknowledges that there is little research to support her claim that dyslexia is reversible, saying that case studies have to be sufficient proof until funds are available to study alternative therapies, including her own. She uses “dyslexia” interchangeably with so many words describing learning challenges (such as ADHD) that it’s hard to understand why she used “dyslexia” in the title. In the chapter titled “Determining Dyslexia” she bizarrely claims that self-mutilation (“cutting”) and drug and alcohol abuse may be clues that your child has dyslexia (or another learning disorder). And although I am not aware that there are currently any pharmaceuticals on the market for dyslexia, the subtitle of her book is “Improving Learning and Behavior without Drugs.” In the chapter called “Rewiring the Brain,” she writes that “dyslexics may be able to adjust their learning processes without using . . . pharmaceuticals.” I found the organization of the book confusing, and the research and logic muddled.
Dr. Books’s website is as perplexing as her book. The details about her technique, called Books Neural Therapy, are vague, presumably because it is proprietary. The price of her services is also not disclosed. In an email exchange with her a year ago, she quoted her online course at around $1,000, with an unspecified higher cost if you work directly with her in her office. Her website claims that she has an 85 percent success rate in reversing dyslexia, but she provides no information about how this percentage is calculated and over what period.
Another organization, the Brain Balance Achievement Centers (BBAC), makes claims very similar to Dr. Books’s about the ability to ameliorate a whole host of learning and social disorders. The BBAC (there is one in Austin) offers a similar package of proprietary techniques that are designed to create new neural pathways based on the concept of brain plasticity. BBAC also does not disclose its pricing, but a number of blogs and message boards suggest that the cost is upwards of $5,000 for a three-month round of therapy – and since more time might be needed to see improvements in your child, the payout could be significant. Criticisms of the BBAC are easy to find on the internet (search: “brain balance criticism”).
None of the educators, researchers, neurologists, psychologists, and chiropractors that I have consulted in the last few years has ever suggested that dyslexia can be eliminated. Moreover, even Dr. Books seems to contradict herself about whether dyslexia is reversible. At one point, she writes that dyslexia “may not . . . be permanent.” The chapter on “Schooling, Tutoring, and Extracurricular Activities” inexplicably discusses the academic supports that will be helpful to dyslexics. But if dyslexia is reversible, why talk to parents about choosing a tutor or a college that caters to dyslexic students?
While her argument is just not convincing, I do not think that it is necessary to “prove” that dyslexia is reversible. The point is that children with dyslexia will be profoundly affected by it—academically, socially, and emotionally—and it is our responsibility as parents to mitigate the effects as best we can.
I agree with Dr. Books that stress can impact learning, nutrition and creative play are very important to a child’s brain development, and dyslexia is multifaceted and varied; for those reasons, an integrated approach to addressing a dyslexic child’s needs makes sense. But before spending thousands of dollars on a vaguely defined program, I’d suggest starting with getting your family’s emotional house in order, making improvements in your family’s healthy food intake, and reading up on what you can do at home or within your child’s school to address your child’s needs.
I have no doubt that Dr. Books has helped many of her clients overcome obstacles and make improvements in their lives. I’m no stranger to alternative therapies, and over the years my son and I have seen acupuncturists, chiropractors, a cranial-sacral therapist, counselors, and tutors and tried herbal, homeopathic, and other types of home remedies, with many positive outcomes. While he still struggles with dyslexia, he has experienced great improvements.
The Hawthorne Effect cannot be overlooked when it comes to alternative therapies or any intervention. To paraphrase: a child to whom positive intention is directed will improve. This may explain positive results as much as anything in some situations. As parents, we are called to summon our best efforts to address the needs of our children. Our job is to help our children understand how their dyslexic brains make them special and how to make the wall separating them from knowledge and information less daunting to scale. You may choose to engage a village of mainstream and alternative teachers, therapists, and practitioners to work with you and your child, which may involve parting with some hard-earned cash; some will be beneficial and some will not be. The only certainty is that there is no silver bullet (yet), and all we can do is search for what works for our own families, within our means.