Expert Advice on Dyslexia & Reading Struggles with guest Donesa Walker, MS Ed

About this Episode

Does your child struggle with reading or spelling? Wondering what to do for a child with dyslexia? On this episode of Brainy Moms, Dr. Amy and Teri interview Reading and Dyslexia Specialist, Donesa Walker, MS Ed, BCCS. Donesa tells us what’s happening in the brain of struggling readers, how there are different types of dyslexia that show up in a variety of ways, what some warning signs are that parents should look out for, and what the most effective interventions should include.

Donesa shares her journey from classroom teacher to board certified cognitive specialist and how brain training has changed so many lives of both kids and adults who struggle with reading. This episode is educational, inspirational, and carries a message of hope from a delightful and charming reading expert.

About Donesa

Donesa Walker, MS Ed, BCCS, is a reading and dyslexia specialist, former classroom teacher, and Board Certified Cognitive Specialist. She has been working with dyslexic children for more than 30 years, first in the public school system and now in private practice and at her LearningRx brain training center in Shreveport, LA. Her unique perspective on dyslexia and how it impacts families comes from both personal and professional experiences. She’s passionate also about brain training, and the ability to change lives of those with dyslexia and related reading disorders. 

Connect with Donesa

Website: www.LearningRx.com/Shreveport

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/learningrxshreveport.bossier  and https://www.facebook.com/donesa.walker

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/donesa-walker-4535429/

Mentioned in this Episode

The Science of Reading

Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz, MD

Our sponsor
LearningRx is a worldwide network of brain training centers offering cognitive, reading, and math remediation and enhancement for all ages. LearningRx has worked with more than 100,000 clients who have learning struggles and disabilities, ADHD, traumatic brain injury, autism, and age-related cognitive decline. Visit www.LearningRx.com or call 1-866-BRAIN-01 to learn more. 

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Read the transcript for this episode:

Dr. Amy Moore:

Hi, and welcome to this episode of Brainy Moms, brought to you today by LearningRx Brain Training Centers. I’m your host, Dr. Amy Moore, here with my co-host Teri Miller, coming to you as usual from Colorado Springs, Colorado. We’re excited to welcome our very special guest today, Donesa Walker.

Donesa is a reading and dyslexia specialist. She has been working with dyslexic children for more than 30 years, but her unique perspective on dyslexia and how it impacts families comes from both personal and professional experiences. She’s passionate also about brain training, and the ability to change lives of not just all clients, but especially those with dyslexia and related reading disorders. Donesa lives in Louisiana, where she owns and operates LearningRx Shreveport.

Teri Miller:

Donesa, I’m so glad to have you with us today. Thank you for joining us.

Donesa Walker:

Thank you for having me. It’s a blessing.

Teri Miller:

Good. Well, I heard, a little birdie told me that you have an amazing story of how studying dyslexia and helping people with dyslexia became your passion. Would you be willing to share that story and a little bit about your life and what you brought you to where you are today? Would you share that today?

Donesa Walker:

Sure. So kind of an interesting, and today is a really special day. I know it’s a day we’re recording, so I’m not sure if it’s the same day that we’re airing if it’s live. But April the 21st is, 33 years ago, my brother was murdered by a classmate that he had gone to stay with. And when that happened, when that incident occurred was very hard on our whole entire family, our whole entire family was impacted in ways that are just still fathomable. It just keeps happening, but long story short, my parents, my dad was a pastor, my mom, or he still is a pastor. And my mom, she actually was a homemaker, but pastor’s wife, doing everything, very busy folks. And it really just struck us all very hard. And so I took on a role, I was in early years of college. In my mind, I thought I was going to be a medical doctor. That was my plan. Even though it was the early years and I wasn’t in formative classes yet, I was taking the sciences and doing that sort of thing.

Donesa Walker:

And long story short, my siblings, I started working with them and it was April senior year. My sister and my brother was in eighth grade and was helping them to try to get ready for finals, that sort of thing. And I had always known that my siblings did not like reading. I had always known because they made fun of me. In fact, my sister used to sing a song on the trampoline, read, read, read, eat, eat, eat, get so fat you turn plum green. It was so funny. Anyway, she would make fun of me because they’d be jumping around on the trampoline, playing, doing their thing. And I was reading, I had books open. And so I knew she didn’t like reading. I knew that they preferred doing other things and avoided reading, but I thought that was more of a lazy thing or a preference that you just didn’t like it.

Donesa Walker:

I didn’t realize that it was a difficulty. Of course I was young and I didn’t know anything about dyslexia or reading disabilities or anything about that. And so long story short, working with them, they blew up at me when I was trying to force them to do this reading that they didn’t read, they had learning disability with reading or a struggle with reading and kind of got angry at me that I was trying to force them to do that. And so it really just boggled my mind because I never struggled with it. And so I began to work with them and show them the patterns of reading and how it works and how the code comes together and things like that. And I started having these moments in life where I realized as I started through education and decided to go into the education field and really work with students with reading and seeing that change in their lives, big life change for me.

Donesa Walker:

Once I realized that, then I was able to show them how to read and they’re very successful. They have the gift of dyslexia, which is that out of the box thinking piece. And so that’s why I got passionate about it. And I was passionate about reading. I was passionate about helping students really accomplish that. I read everything I could get my hands on about reading and the brain and everything to do with that. So that’s kind of background, it’s kind of poignant that today is a special date for that. But he definitely had a legacy, but it was not the legacy that I thought it was going to be.

Teri Miller:

Right.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Yeah. That’s kind of beautiful, well, it’s very beautiful how that tragedy opened this door for how you were going to use your giftings for the rest of your career.

Donesa Walker:

Right.

Dr. Amy Moore:

And not what you thought it was going to look like.

Donesa Walker:

Yeah.

Teri Miller:

I love the term, the gift of dyslexia. Can you talk to us, I’m curious. I want to hear more about that. Can you talk to us about that?

Donesa Walker:

The gift is the out of the box way of thinking. Think of it like the butterfly in the brain. It’s basically just the way that you think, it’s a 3D approach. It’s a way of looking at things in a different perspective and being able to look outside the box. Because we tend to follow protocols and follow codes and really dig into those types of things when we don’t struggle with that. But when you struggle with that, you also get that gifted side, which is that really strong visual skill, really strong ability to be creative. And if we look at who all of the famous dyslexics are, they were really out of the box thinkers. I mean, even in our culture today, they’re really out of the box thinkers. I was watching a show the other night, The Good Doctor, I don’t know if anybody likes that.

Dr. Amy Moore:

It’s a wonderful show.

Donesa Walker:

It’s an autistic doctor and I love it. So anyways, on there, Dr. Andrews was sharing that he was dyslexic. And I know he is a fictional character, but it’s important to understand that doctors and people who are very well gifted, people who have such high intelligence and great talent, these people, many of them have dyslexics. Dyslexia is highly common. There’s many different types of dyslexia. It’s not one thing fits all. And I love the gift of it is the creativity. It’s that out of the box way of thinking. And it’s just wonderful. There’s no other words for it, it’s just wonderful.

Dr. Amy Moore:

So I want to go back to the basics a little bit for our listeners who might be curious about dyslexia, might be wondering if maybe their child has it, but don’t know enough about it. So talk to us about what dyslexia is. And you mentioned that there’s more than one type. So share that with us too.

Donesa Walker:

So one of the things, there’s like nine different types of dyslexia and it impacts the brain in different ways. But the primary thing to remember is that it’s a neurological processing issue in the brain. So dyslexia actually means broken words. But a lot of people think that means that you flip letters, and that’s actually not the case. Some students flip letters, but it’s more of them flipping them in their mind than flipping them on the paper. So people perceive that that flippage happens every time they see it off the paper, like it’s jumping around on them. And that’s not actually what happens with most dyslexic students, that’s actually very uncommon. Some students do struggle with that.

Donesa Walker:

Sometimes it’s because of lighting. Sometimes it’s because of other issues, but the easy way to say this, and this is the way I tell most of my parents and people that I work with is that just think of it as bridges that are not there in the brain, think of the two different parts of the brain as being a visual and an auditory, not necessarily a left brain, right brain thing, but more of a visual and auditory that need to act together. And the bridge is kind of clogged. And so you can’t get the information across like you need to. One of my friends, Dr. Ledbetter says, “Those neurons that fire together, wire together.” I’ve probably heard you say that a hundred times in life.

Donesa Walker:

But the point of it is is that when they’re firing together and wiring together, they’re making those bridges or those great highways and connections. And anytime we have better highways, freeways, bridges, our travel is better. So when we don’t have enough of that connectivity, we are trying to use too many different parts of the brain inefficiently. So it’s not that the person can’t do those things, it’s more that it’s very laborious and not efficient. And so I get a lot of people that say, “Well, so and so can read, they can’t be dyslexic because they can read.” It doesn’t mean that they can’t. It means that it is much more laborious. It’s a lot more work. It’s much more fatiguing for the brain, and it can take a lot longer for them to accomplish it because of all of the data that’s having to sort with less interconnectivity.

Teri Miller:

Gosh, it makes me, sorry, I was just going to say it makes me think of a child with dyslexia, an adult with dyslexia that is thriving. That’s continuing to press through, oh my goodness. They have learned perseverance. They must have this deeply ingrained sort of work ethic and perseverance to be able to thrive despite all that extra brain work.

Donesa Walker:

That level of grit is incredible. Because they’ve learned to really dive through the hard stuff and to get to it. And when you take someone who has struggled for a long period of time and you give them the efficiency, it’s like opening a whole new world for them.

Teri Miller:

Wow.

Dr. Amy Moore:

So in what ways do you see dyslexia manifest itself? What are we seeing in the classroom? What are we seeing at home?

Donesa Walker:

So that varies also. A lot of people think that dyslexia’s only in one thing is the child cannot read. And that’s not usually the truth. Sometimes in the early ages, it is that the child hasn’t learned to read. Many times our children, especially like in stealth dyslexia, they actually learn to read by word calling, they word call. They memorize the words, they get up later in life and the comprehension is being affected. So they’re having to read it two and three or four times to get it. And unfortunately, this is a technique that we teach kids, practice reading it two or three or four times so that you get fluency. And that’s a good thing to get fluency, but the dyslexic child tends to interpret that to mean, I need to read it two or three times to get it.

Donesa Walker:

And so they just tend to work harder. They tend to slower. They tend to be highly emotional with a lot of anxiety when it comes, especially to timed things like time test, timed reading, cold readings are very difficult because they’re used to reading things two or three times to get it. So you can see all of those evidences there. A lot of sensory issues can be involved with dyslexia. So we see a lot of different types of dyslexia that impact. In 2014, some Norwegian scientists actually were talking and doing a discovery through the brain and research and came across intentional dyslexia where words were actually traveling meaning. So the meaning of the word, maybe you read the word mare, but you say pregnant horse. And so what you’re saying is what you’re meaning, you’re saying the meaning, even though you’re reading a different word, because your brain’s intentional line, right.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Donesa’s Southern accent slowed down my comprehension of what she was just saying.

Teri Miller:

Same here.

Dr. Amy Moore:

I thought you said mayor, M-A-Y-O-R, like the person that leads the city, you were saying, mare M-A-R-E, a pregnant horse. Okay.

Teri Miller:

Same here, Amy, it took me this minute.

Dr. Amy Moore:

We’re all southerners. That’s funny to me.

Donesa Walker:

That’s awesome.

Teri Miller:

Well, so you’re talking about, I’m hearing you state things that are warning signs for parents to look for, things that parents need to be aware of. And so you’ve named a few. What else could parents be on the lookout for with their young children to be prepared or watch for signs of dyslexia?

Dr. Amy Moore:

Yeah. And before you answer that, let me just add that we don’t always as parents see what the teacher sees in the classroom. For example, my son, Evan fell through the cracks until fourth grade because I could see him read because he was memorizing words.

Teri Miller:

Wow. Yeah.

Dr. Amy Moore:

But I didn’t realize that he had no ability to apply sound to code and could not spell. And so I wasn’t seeing what the teacher was seeing. So anyway, so speak to how parents can be on the lookout for potential problems and red flags.

Donesa Walker:

So one of the biggest clues, especially early on is when their verbal ability is much, much higher than their ability to relate words to context. And what I mean by that is contextual words such as hot, where they only have one meaning to the word hot. But they can use huge words, like big words, and they tend to use much bigger words and stick with one simple meaning for a word like hot. Does that make sense?

Teri Miller:

When they’re writing or talking?

Donesa Walker:

In their speech, yes. In their speech, they use the word hot only to mean heat, and they don’t really use that word for other contexts. So this is one that a lot of parents are like, I don’t know why vocabulary is so huge when we talk. But when we go to write, we use really simplistic language. We can’t put on the paper anything like we talk. Or when we go to read… so that disconnect can really be a sign of not only of dyslexia, but often dysgraphia. Which is a related disorder, that’s harder for them to get their thought process to the paper. And so they tend to go simplistic getting it to paper because they have to think of the code and what I said. And it tasks that working memory so much that their language comes down significantly. So that’s one of the big signs early on is the language doesn’t match their print and paper interaction. There’s a disconnect there. And what happens there.

Donesa Walker:

Withdrawal a lot of times around age nine, they start feeling different. They start saying self-shaming words, Dr. Sally Shaywitz on the website, Children of the Code, not the corn, childrenofthecode.org is a really good place to go. And on that one, it talks about mind shame. It talks about how mind shame starts very early on. They’re embarrassed that they can’t or the sibling can. And so they start thriving in other areas, maybe in dramatics and dance and they want to be at all those other places, but they avoid schoolwork, and they cry, and they have such meltdowns and things when it comes to doing schoolwork. So those are some of the bigger signs that you see other than they can word call really well. But then you ask them for what they just read, and their comprehension is off, because they were working so hard to word call and to code, then they lost complete meaning of the experience.

Teri Miller:

Okay. That makes sense.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Yeah, absolutely.

Teri Miller:

Did you see that with Evan? Does some of that ring true with your experiences?

Dr. Amy Moore:

Sure. I mean, Evan is a musician and an athlete because that’s what he leaned into. That’s where he was most comfortable.

Teri Miller:

And in conversation, he is so well-spoken. He’s just very verbally adept. But like you said, it wasn’t on paper.

Donesa Walker:

And we see a lot of comorbidity. We see a lot, and that’s a fancy word that basically means ADD and dyslexia together. So many times a lot of our dyslexic children get diagnosed with ADD or ADHD because that’s what’s presenting, and the dyslexia kind of gets left behind the curtain until they’re older, because it’s a processing issue. People just say, “Well, he’s just slower. He’s not interested.” Like in my siblings case, they’re just not interested in reading. My sister was always the drama queen and I mean, she was homecoming queen. She was in all of those wonderful things. And she’s like one of the most brilliant people I know. I mean, she’s like super, super brilliant, and skilled in every area. And so is my brother, but they both felt inept, to themselves, they felt unable until they understood that ability. And then both of them, I mean today, much more highly successful than I am. They’re just rock stars, but it’s just because they had the gift, it was just hidden behind the curtain. And once you pulled the curtain back, the gifts shown.

Teri Miller:

Wow, we’re going to get to interventions, things to help dyslexia. But even before that, I’m just, from that emotional place, that encouragement place as a parent, if a parent is seeing these signs or even if dyslexia is officially diagnosed and they’re starting to see the child with that self-shaming and those struggles, what can we do as parents if we’re seeing our kids struggle with dyslexia? Besides intervention.

Donesa Walker:

I think one of the first things, yeah, besides intervention, one of the first things you can do is you can see them. That’s the most powerful thing that you can do is to tell a child, “I see you, I see what you’re going through. I see your struggle. I am going to partner with you and get the help that you need. Whatever intervention phase, I am going to do my part to walk with you because I see you. You are not broken. This is another thing, there’s nothing wrong with you. You learn a little differently, you process things a little differently and we’re going to help you to cope in this world.” A lot of my parents, I tell them this. Remember that a race car is fabulous on the race track, but if you take that beautiful, wonderful, very fast race car that’s worth 10 times what my car is, and you put it on the same road, in Louisiana, our roads are terrible. If you put it on this same road, then you’re going to blow a tire, and you’re going to go slow because you’re going to slip.

Donesa Walker:

And so you’re not going to perform well at all. And you’re going to look like you can’t drive. Like you can’t move anywhere. So you have this wonderful, fastest race car ever when it’s in the right place, it can move some monkeys. It can get them around. But then when you get over here and you’re trying to cope with all the other cars going around, you feel like you’re slipping and sliding and having no traction. So all we’ve got to do with intervention is swap out the tires. You got to swap out the tires for this other world, and then put them back on when you go to your world.

Teri Miller:

That’s awesome.

Dr. Amy Moore:

It is. All right. So speaking of intervention, talk to us about what are the most effective ways to address dyslexia?

Donesa Walker:

So because of the different types of dyslexia, one of the first things that I would love every parent to do is first and foremost, go get a cognitive assessment. I don’t care where you go and get that cognitive assessment, but go find out what is the underlying piece that’s causing that, because many children are missed in our school systems, because the checklists are primarily looking for dysphonetic dyslexia. And dysphonetic dyslexia is one out of nine types. So your child may be struggling with that and the teacher says, no, it’s not dyslexia. So you really need to have a full cognitive assessment wherever you get that done, because that’s a first step in addressing and understanding. Is it primarily a memory, long-term memory processing issue? Is it in the auditory processor? Is it in the visual processor? Where are your strengths? Where are your weaknesses? Because understanding that can be all the difference in choosing the right interventional tool that you want to use.

Donesa Walker:

Background, I was in the public school system for 21 years as a dyslexia specialist for 13 of those years. And a district reading coordinator. So I worked at the district level and at the lower level. There are so many different programs out there. I mean, there’s everything from the Scottish Rite Take Flight to the CEI Institute, there is Lindamood-Bell. I can name Wilson and Davis and Brighton. And I mean, there’s a ton, Barton, so many different methodologies out there. Understanding what’s the right methodology for you and under and addressing that is, well, no, it is, it is the reason why I own a LearningRx center right now. So it started because I was investigating, what is the cause behind dyslexia? What in the brain is off or not functioning in the same way?

Donesa Walker:

And I started looking and reading and I read everything that I could get my hands on about how the brain learns and wanting to do that. And that’s how I came across LearningRx in a roundabout way. I actually had a parent of one of my dyslexic students, I had worked with that child from second grade, understand, I’m a specialist here in the district. And I worked with him from second grade to eighth grade. And every year in all these different programs, I would see him take a couple steps forward and steps back, steps forward, steps back. And it was this constant process. He was making small gains, but they weren’t huge gains. And his mama took him to LearningRx in Longview at that time. And within six weeks, this duck and cover kid. And what I mean by that is every time he got called on, he ducked and covered. He pulled that hoodie up, he didn’t want to be called on.

Donesa Walker:

And I was his reading teacher, and within six weeks, the kid’s raising his hand to answer questions in reading class in eighth grade. And I’m like, what happened to this kid? And so I called his mom in and she told me, and I was like, okay, RX, that has to be a drug, right? I mean it has to be. And so I was like, “Well, could I maybe go with you one evening and see what they’re doing?” And so I went, I was blown away. I was like, I don’t understand how this is really changing, but it had all the right things in it. It had the coding that was organized and methodical and all of that, just like the Orton-Gillinghams and some of the other methodologies were there. It had the kinesthetic connect that was in there, like Barton. It had the wonderful pieces in there, the pictures and wonderful things like Spalding. It pulled the best of every method that I knew and put it all together at one, plus it worked on memory. Plus it worked on processing.

Donesa Walker:

It blew my mind that all of these different pieces were coming together and how they were so intricately woven. That was the cool piece. And so to watch this kid go from, like I said, duck and cover to thriving blew my ever-loving mind. And his mom was a speech therapist. And she had been working with him. It wasn’t like she hadn’t. And so this was just one of those things that took me to the next level. And of course, so my next step was, I want this in my school system. I want to call this company and I need to put this in my school system so other kids can do that well. The reality of that is, the way that we do things in school we’re not doing as much one-to-one. It’s hard to address one-to-one in the school setting, in the school day. I had 149 dyslexic students that I was seeing over the course of a week as a dyslexia specialist. Traveling multiple campuses. Seeing these kids. I had to have small groups. I couldn’t do one-to-one.

Donesa Walker:

And so just looking at methodology and saying, it would take me 10 years to do the intervention that LearningRx is doing with a child in six months. That’s really where the power is. It’s that intricately woven intensity that makes the biggest gigantic changes that you see.

Dr. Amy Moore:

And so you left your career in the school system.

Donesa Walker:

I did. Yeah. I actually went to my boss, she was the assistant superintendent. And I went to her and I told her, “We got to do this. This is the way to go.” And so we did the investigation together, and she was three years from retirement and I was a broke teacher and she told me, she said, “I’m three years from retirement. I’ll put up the money if you put skin in the game.” In Texas, there’s a wonderful little thing, your age plus your years of teaching have to equal 85 to retire. So I had enough years in that I could go do a whole different career, come back and still retire, because I was already vested. You only have to be five years to vest in Texas. And I had already been in the system 20 years. And so she was like, “If you want to leave and you want to do this, I’ll put up the money to do it.”

Donesa Walker:

And so she did, she put up the money to do it. Dr. Margie [Bell 00:27:51], I salute you. And she actually did LearningRx with me for several years. And then I bought her out, and she opened, well, she bought out the Longview Center and had for a few years before she officially retired, and did her thing. And I think even now she’s doing some things in education, just because that’s who she is. But, the point of it is, it was skin in the game. So 15 years I’ve been doing this, I’m super passionate about it. I read everything I can get my hands on about dyslexia and everything that we’re learning. It’s a constantly changing field. You’re learning more and more things constantly because we’re doing more scans in the brain. We’re doing more investigational. And I love that as a society, we’re getting back to the science behind the reading, that is really important to me because the science behind reading is really the key to answering what’s going on in the brain while we’re learning and having these learning processes.

Teri Miller:

Yeah.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Absolutely. So speaking of LearningRx, we’re going to take a break. Let Teri read an ad from LearningRx, who sponsors our show. And when we come back, I want to talk about, do you need an official diagnosis in order to pursue this route? What are related disorders? Let’s talk about that when we come back from the break.

Donesa Walker:

Let’s break.

Teri Miller: Reading sponsor ad from LearningRx

Are you concerned about your child’s reading or spelling performance? Are you worried your child’s reading curriculum isn’t thorough enough? Well, most learning struggles aren’t the results of poor curriculum or instruction, they’re typically caused by having cognitive skills that need to be strengthened, skills like auditory processing, memory and processing speed, LearningRx one-on-one brain training programs are designed to target and strengthen the skills that we rely on for reading, spelling, writing, and learning. LearningRx can help you identify which skills may be keeping your child from performing their best. In fact, they’ve worked with more than 100,000 children and adults who wanted to think and perform better. They’d like to help get your child on the path to a brighter and more confident future. Give LearningRx a call at 866-BRAIN-01, or visit LearningRx.com. That’s LearningRx.com.

Dr. Amy Moore:

And we’re back talking to Donesa Walker, reading and dyslexia specialist, and owner of LearningRx Shreveport. So Donesa, talk to us a little bit about how important an official dyslexia diagnosis is. Do you actually need one to come in to LearningRx? What’s the benefit of getting one first or at all? Just talk us through that for parents who are wondering.

Donesa Walker:

So first of all, it’s really hard to get a dyslexia diagnosis nowadays. I know that sounds very frustrating. And a lot of people are like, what? I mean, dyslexia is super common. One in five children have dyslexia. So it’s a super, super common thing. And again, we’re talking about all those different types. So you have to do very specific testing to find out specific types. And there’s very few people who are doing that testing on a full basis nowadays. There are some, but it’s harder. In some areas probably it’s harder than other areas to find a specialist or the people that do that, to find a dyslexia school. Here in our area, it’s incredibly difficult. So I’m not sure for all the areas across the country how difficult it is. So what is the reason to have a dyslexia diagnosis?

Donesa Walker:

One reason to have a dyslexia diagnosis is if you need to get accommodations for the school system, and you’re wanting to do that, generally they’re going to request a diagnosis for that. Whether that’s elementary school, high school, or even college, they’re going to want some kind of documentation. If you’re wanting help on some type of standardized test, even as you go up, the doctor’s test or the LSAT or the GRE, any of those, if you’re needing help, I’ve recently had someone who had dyslexia in their late 60s who was needing intervention because getting a diagnosis was incredibly difficult at that age. But they were having to take a master electrician test after they’ve been doing it their whole career. A new test was introduced. So there’s different reasons to go and seek that diagnosis. At LearningRx, we don’t require you to have a diagnosis. That’s not a requirement for you to come here for you to get intervention, for you to do a test and find out what your underlying cognitive weakness is.

Donesa Walker:

In fact, we don’t focus on diagnosis. We want to get to the root cause, and we actually want to help you change those skills that are inefficient skills into efficiencies. So that doesn’t mean that you automatically become fixed, because you weren’t broken. So that’s the whole thing. You had an inefficiency, and you took it to an efficiency. So you boosted that skillset. And for a lot of people that may be coming from 10% to 20%. For some people that can come from one to two, you doubled your skill. So it just depends on where your starting point is. I mean, if you start at 80%, going up to 85 is a 5% boost. So it just depends on your skillset.

Donesa Walker:

Now, I can tell you all day long that our results are bar none to anybody else’s, because I do this. I mean, I’ve had here, locally, over 1,500 graduates at our campus, which is mindboggling. I mean, I get so many lives and stories, we could spend hours talking about all the stories, but dyslexia impacts people at so many different points. I mean, there’s dyslexia that comes from trauma, trauma-induced dyslexia, such as TBIs, or even some memory issues that can cause those, even had some people recently who’ve been struggling with some COVID type things that have caused the same symptomatology and weak skills present in dyslexia now present in their brain because of masking and COVID. And so many things that push that down. Now, does that mean that they’re formally dyslexic or they’re going to get that diagnosis? Very hard to do, very hard to do. So not about slapping on that label for me, it’s more about getting that intervention.

Teri Miller:

Okay.

Dr. Amy Moore:

So can you have a reading problem or a reading struggle without it being dyslexia?

Donesa Walker:

Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Two out of five people have reading issues. One out of five dyslexic. So that’s only 50% of the people with reading difficulties that have dyslexia. So don’t think that. Sometimes that’s an instructional issue. In fact, when you’re looking at dyslexia diagnosis, you’re looking at the five different trees. That there’s a family history, that you’ve had adequate instruction and you’ve had adequate nutrition and things that you need for your brain to develop properly. So you’re looking at all those different trees to make sure before you actually get to a formal diagnosis. And that’s why often many people are missed out on a formal diagnosis who have all of the tendencies, or what we call characteristics of dyslexia. So you can have characteristics of dyslexia and not be dyslexic, and still struggle with the same thing.

Donesa Walker:

Sometimes you can even look at it, interesting research says that you can do brain scans as early as age four, and identify dyslexia from a brain scan. I’ve not seen all of those scans. I’ve seen a few of those. What I really like is also looking at like Dr. Shaywitz’s research and showing that children who had dyslexia through brain training, actual brain scans, through brain training and not just LearningRx brain training, but brain training, actually changing the way that the brain wires so that you cannot tell the difference between the dyslexic brain and the quote unquote normal brain. That’s powerful. That’s super powerful. That’s not saying that you were fixed and broken, but it’s saying that again, you changed those tires, and now you’re running on the road just as efficiently as everybody else, but you still have the gift. And that’s the cool part. So now you can run on both tracks when my car can only run on this track.

Teri Miller:

Right. I love that perspective again, that there’s nothing broken. That an intervention is not about fixing your child. That intervention is not about so to speak curing dyslexia, but that intervention is to help your child recover from the dyslexic inefficiencies. Recover, I don’t know, maybe that’s the wrong word, to help your child improve the dyslexic inefficiencies. Just change the tires. I love that analogy.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Yeah. Hey, I want to just clarify before parents go running out asking their doctor for a functional MRI for dyslexia. So we use that in research. That we do not use functional MRI on four year olds to diagnose dyslexia clinically.

Teri Miller:

Right. Not diagnostics. Yeah.

Donesa Walker:

I’m sorry. I’m glad that she clarified that. No, I was saying that researchers have discovered that.

Dr. Amy Moore:

No, you said it right. I just wanted to clarify, because I don’t want a line out the door at all the family doctors of everyone listening, people asking for their MRI.

Teri Miller:

Right.

Donesa Walker:

Yeah. That would be a hot mess. Well, and who wants to put your child through that? They’re going through enough anyway. So trying to do that and adding to the frustration, I mean, really, the thing about it is embracing who they are for their skills that they do have and giving them the tools that they need in order to boost that skill and make it more efficient. And like I said, what I love behind the power of LearningRx it’s not that it’s magic. It’s not magic. It’s hard work, it’s exercise, but it boosts the efficiency. And so that’s what I love is that you can go from being a non-reader to being a reader just by getting the right skillset.

Teri Miller:

Yeah.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Absolutely. So for those of you who have not seen any of my testimonies of LearningRx from my son, Evan, this is exactly the situation that he was in. This is exactly the program that he went through. And so I’m not just a researcher, but also a mom and a believer in this completely. So Donesa, can you take a few minutes for parents who aren’t necessarily familiar with what brain training is, and how we can impact change in the brain for children and adults with dyslexia? What does it look like? What does it look like to come and get brain training for dyslexia? And reading difficulties in general?

Donesa Walker:

Yeah. So first we do the CORE assessment, the reason why is not to slap a diagnosis on anybody, but rather to look at where those weaknesses are, and so that we can do the appropriate exercises to boost the skill. So the primary skill that’s weak in dyslexia, all types. Because there’s different types, but all types is going to be a processing speed issue, because it’s a processing speed delay. And so again, that race car thing, efficiency thing. So if you think of it in that terminology, and you say, “Okay, well this is a skill,” then building that rapid automatic naming skill is really incredible. But honestly, if you sat there and just did rapid automatic naming all the time, the child would be bored out of their everloving mind, and they would give up on you. And that’s not going to change the ability to read automatically just by changing one skill.

Donesa Walker:

So what makes the training so dynamic is the intricacies of changing those things constantly. You’re doing constant different exercises. One of the things I love about brain training is it goes back to the principle and the science that tells us when you play anything, you learn it by doing it twice. When you do drill, drill, drill, drill, drill, it takes you 10 times. So if you can play with it, then it’s going to be much more fun. So if you can play with sounds and play with words and pull them into that brain training in a competitive manner, and with that supportive system of that private one-to-one coach, then you’re getting the best of both worlds, because you’re encouraging that child who’s on that cusp, get out of that mind shame and I’m cheering you on, I’m your cheerleader and I’m pushing you to try it. It’s hard. I get that it’s hard, but let’s try it one more time. Or, hey, let’s just say this one’s the toughest skill for you. Let’s say we’re going to try it three times today, and then if you are done with it, we’ll move on.

Donesa Walker:

And that ability to just move that bubble a little bit for them at a time is incredible. When I tell my kids, again, going back to the race car, every race track, they run around those tracks and then they have to run through the pit, and the pit has to re-gas them up, and the pit has to change those tires out, and they have to do those things really fast. And in doing the faster that they do it, the more likely that car is to win the race. And so when I tell them we’re working on processing speed, because we want to be the fastest one on that race so that we can get that efficiency where we need to do it. And they love that because then timing of things, that usually brought them anxiety, now becomes ownership.

Donesa Walker:

I love the fact that when you’re doing the mad minute, and I tell my teachers that I’m working with, instead of going and saying, okay, and if you’re a homeschool mom, same thing, instead of saying, “Okay, we’re going to see how many math facts you can get done in one minute.” If you don’t get it done, let them finish. Let them finish the page. Because one of the biggest frustrations as a reader is never getting to finish the story in a cold read. Never. You only get it so far. And you never get to finish the story. How irritating is that? So let them finish the story, and time them. And then the next time they read, they read it faster, because they now have a grasp of getting to finish the story. So my gosh, let them finish the story, let them finish the math facts page. Let them have that opportunity to do that, and without the stress, just let it be. And then when they increase their time, let them measure their own time, and let that become an increase for them and a win for them.

Teri Miller:

Yeah. To always have that encouragement. That’s so good. It’s that process of building that grit, building that resilience, instead of constantly being frustrated, that’s so good.

Donesa Walker:

Well, and the fact, even, we use the metronome for some things here, a little metronome, you can take that and you can start it at a lower level and you can boost that each time, and they’re used to doing it every other beat. So when you boost it up just a little bit at a time, they’re getting faster and faster because they’re doing it to every other beat without that crunch, without that stress. And they just don’t even realize that they’re getting faster and faster because you have boosted it so gradually for them as their personal coach that they have gotten up to the average reading speed before they even know it.

Teri Miller:

That’s awesome.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Hey, talk to us a little bit about the benefits of working one-on-one with a personal coach or a trainer.

Donesa Walker:

Yeah. Let me just say, there’s nothing like it. One, because you know the intricacies of that person, you know their insides, their downsides, their upside downs. You know when it’s a bad day, you know when it’s a good day, you know when to push in certain areas and when not to push in certain areas, you just can’t do that in a classroom. I told you I was in a classroom for many years, and I was working in small groups, with kiddos. And one-to-one. The power of one-to-one is that you can do that immediate feedback, the immediate feedback that doesn’t have that second, you can move it on the spot and sequence things, the power of the words that you use, and being able to lift them up when they’re in a bad place, being able to encourage them, being able to let them see the gains that they’re not seeing for themselves.

Donesa Walker:

As parents, we don’t often see that. I just had to buy new pants for my son, and I bought the pants that I thought that he wore. And they came in and he said, “Mom, these are too short.” And I said, “Well, that’s the length that you’ve been wearing.” And he was like, “Have you looked at me? I’m over six feet tall.” And I was like, “Oh, oh yeah.” I need to get pants that are two inches longer. So this is what happens to us as parents is we don’t realize it. We don’t realize that there’s been growth because we see it every day. And it happens in the classroom too. We don’t see big leaps of growth, but a personal trainer, every moment you see, every personal little bitty gain becomes huge. And you can celebrate the small steps as big things. And that’s powerful. That is super powerful for someone who has struggled to make small steps.

Dr. Amy Moore:

And you quantify that change, right? I mean, you’re measuring that in every single training session.

Donesa Walker:

Every single session, every single session, you are seeing those steps and those improvements, if that improvement is a two second improvement, or you’re reading this much faster, and you’re able to do that, whereas the child or the parent, or even the teacher would not even notice that change, because you’re seeing it on this step-by-step basis. And that’s incredible. And when you tell them that there’s been a big big change, and they don’t realize how big, big, big that change is, they think it’s just, I don’t see any difference. I’m not seeing any difference. Okay. Well, let me show you where you were, and let me show you where you are. And that is powerful. And I can say, “This is what you looked like when you started, this is what your weaknesses were, and this is where you are right now.” And then it’s like, oh yeah, I can do this. Because they grew into that in themselves. And they didn’t realize how much that they had even grown.

Teri Miller:

Yeah. It’s something that we see, people that go to a personal trainer or go to the gym or on some diet program or whatever, they do the before and after pictures or the before and after measurements. But we don’t hear about that much in this kind of thing, cognitive growth, okay, except for standardized testing, like in public schools, which mostly kids just, they don’t want to have to deal with, but I just love that as you’re keeping track, you can show them progress. So in this process, kids are not just having cognitive gains. They are having confidence gains. They are getting so much emotional growth, so much psychological growth, and not just learning to read better. There’s even more to it.

Donesa Walker:

Absolutely. There’s just so much power to that. Being able to believe in yourself and to embrace that for yourself is just one of the most powerful things that you can do in the world. And so if you can believe in yourself, that alone is the gift that keeps on giving.

Teri Miller:

Yeah, that confidence.

Dr. Amy Moore:

So, Donesa, is there anything else that you’d like to leave our guests, our listeners with today that you haven’t gotten to say?

Donesa Walker:

Yes, it’s never too late. There is no such thing as being stuck with the brain that you’re in. There’s no such thing as being stuck in your situation. You can be 30, 40, 50, 60, and been unable to read your whole life, and you can come back and you can do brain training and you can read. That to me is priceless. It doesn’t matter, you can read, we can help.

Dr. Amy Moore:

I love that.

Teri Miller:

Yes.

Dr. Amy Moore:

So this has been a fantastic conversation today with our very special guest Donesa Walker, talking to us about dyslexia and reading struggles for all ages, and the promise of brain training for helping to remediate those struggles. So if you would like to learn more about Donesa and her work, you can find her on social media @Donesa.Walker, that’s D-O-N-E-S-A dot Walker. Her website is LearningRx.com/Shreveport, right? And then the main website for LearningRx is LearningRx.com. You can also call 1-866-BRAIN-01 as Teri mentioned in the ad to get connected with a brain training program. So you don’t have to even live near a center, LearningRx offers brain training programs via Zoom, and there’s peer-reviewed research that shows that it’s as effective. So if you don’t live near a center, it’s fine. You can get training for you or your child.

Donesa Walker:

And it’s still one-to-one.

Dr. Amy Moore:

And it’s still one-to-one. Absolutely. So thank you so much for listening today. If you liked our show, we would love it if you would leave us a five star rating and review on Apple Podcasts. If you would rather watch us, we are on YouTube, and you can find us on every social media channel @TheBrainyMoms. So look, until next time, we know that you’re busy moms and we’re busy moms, so we’re out.

Teri Miller:

See ya!

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