Reversing dyslexia? A response from Dr. Books

In guest contributor Shari Holland’s review of the recent book Reversing Dyslexia, she voices several common concerns about author Phyllis Books’s unusual claims. Upon Alt Ed Austin’s invitation, Dr. Books has responded to Ms. Holland’s critique. We encourage you to join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

Dr. Phyllis BooksThank you so much for the opportunity to address the comments from Shari Holland regarding my first book. There are points on which Shari and I agree. For example, I think it is fair to say we both agree that dyslexia, as well as many other learning challenges, and indeed our overall health and well-being, respond well to good lifestyle habits, which include adequate sleep, healthy eating, and a good balance of work and play. It is easy to take these natural methods for granted or even dismiss their importance.

The Hawthorne Effect, which she discusses, is another area of agreement. Positive psychology, placebo studies, even studies on plants, all point out the importance of a positive framework to seed a positive outcome. Before I work with children, I have parents agree with me about who is responsible for what during our time together. One tenet is for the parent to keep an open mind and to hold the space for the child to change. There are many factors (such as getting decent nutrition, sufficient exercise, and enough sleep) that I have no control over but ultimately affect the long-term success of Books Neural TherapyTM (BNT).

Shari writes, “Dr. Books seems to contradict herself about whether dyslexia is reversible. At one point, she writes that dyslexia may not be permanent.” The very fact that I have no control over variables mentioned above is reason for me to not make 100 percent guarantees. I willingly affirm that I have an 85 percent success rate, which, as my brochures and other literature say, is based on questionnaires gathered from clients six to ten years after treatment.

There are, however, several points I would like to correct or on which I would like to offer another view:

Shari states that she “found the organization of the book confusing and the logic muddled.” And “[I use] ‘dyslexia’ interchangeably with so many words describing learning challenges it’s hard to understand why [I] used dyslexia in the title.”

I have a degree in English and a master’s degree in communication, and my first thought was to find her comment disconcerting were it not for the fact that my publisher, who has been very successful over the past thirty years in publishing books written by professionals, chose to develop the chapters in a formula that works for most readers.

Upon further reflection, I wonder if some of the uncertainty she experienced about the title might not be caused by what the publisher left out of the contents of my book as originally submitted. My original book, before the publisher put the editing crew on it, was more of a “how to” guide for parents. The subtitle “Improving Learning and Behavior without Drugs” still reflects my original intention with the book; however, much of the content morphed into a different kind of book.  The publisher thought it best that my first book help establish me as a neutral expert in the field of dyslexia by explaining the whole playing field of dyslexia—describing the larger context of dyslexia, its many facets, and ways dyslexia can affect someone’s life—and offering insight and suggestions for addressing the various forms of dyslexia and issues the family member might be dealing with at any particular age. In the published content, I can see how she might mix up the definition of dyslexia, the definition of the various other diagnoses that may or may not accompany dyslexia, and the various ways children handle the emotional issues that so often accompany dyslexia.

Dyslexia is not a one-dimensional issue, which is one of the main points of the book. As Dr. Fred Pescatore, a New York–based integrative physician and author of several books on children’s health, states in the foreword to my book, “Dyslexia is not simply having difficulty with reading and writing. It is a disorder that permeates a person’s entire life, promoting all sorts of unwanted symptoms, from poor organizational skills to behavior and attitude problems.”

Shari writes, “If dyslexia is reversible, why talk to parents about choosing a tutor or a college that caters to dyslexic students?”

Actually, that was also my first response when my publisher insisted on adding a chapter on schooling, tutoring, and extracurricular activities. His response was wise: “You don’t know when people are going to pick up your book. Their child may be about to enter college when they first see your book. You need to meet people where they are. And since you aren’t there in person, you have to consider all possible situations, not just if their children have access to you at an early age.”

Shari wonders why I wrote the book if it wasn’t to promote my own therapy.

The preface says: “I wrote this book to dispel the myth that dyslexia is permanent. The idea that learning disorders are unchangeable is simply untrue, and it harms children. . . . I also wrote this book to open minds to a new way of looking at dyslexia, to create empowered advocates for dyslexic kids, and to make sure individuals get the help they need to dismantle the problem of dyslexia for good. Most of all, I wrote this book to help free the human spirit—the spirit that still lies inside every dyslexic person and begs to be unchained.”

Final thoughts: I’m passionate about my work with children, and I love my life. My life is geared around helping children become healthy, happy, and self-reliant—and to be free enough to usher their dreams into reality.

It takes a new mindset to believe there is hope for your dyslexic child, especially when “the experts” have ingrained the idea that it is permanent. My book may not be accepted well by people who want to hold onto their old beliefs. Even Einstein said, “I have all the new facts about quantum mechanics. I just don’t want to believe it.”

“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right” is a statement very apropos with regard to dyslexia. If you believe and choose to hold onto your belief that dyslexia isn’t reversible, it won’t be. Not because that belief is true, but because your child will pick up on your belief—the belief of traditional education and the medical model which are embedded with the concept that dyslexia is permanent.

“We should never wait for science to give us permission to do the uncommon; if we do, then we are turning science into another religion. We should be brave enough to contemplate our lives and move ‘outside the box’ and do it repeatedly” (Dr. Joe Dispenza in Evolve Your Brain). I encourage all parents to be brave enough to follow their own internal compass. You know your child better than any expert. Scientific studies don’t trump your own truth, and no two dyslexics are alike. Seek help wherever you can. Believe in your own ability to choose wisely. Keep looking for ways to bring out your child’s highest potential. Believe in your child. The world needs you both.

Dr. Phyllis Books

Reversing dyslexia?

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.

Guest contributor Shari HollandHaving 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.

Shari Holland