Glenn R. Vandergriff
Gifted Adult Dyslexics — Without Dyslexia
Glenn is one of many adult dyslexics who read well yet have underlying dysfunctional reading mechanisms. And all suffer from many typical non-reading dyslexic symptoms involving writing, spelling, math... coordination. Since dyslexia is mistakenly defined as, and equated with, a severe reading impairment, Glenn and his niece Kelly might be considered dyslexics without a severe reading disorder or without "dyslexia."
Their content provides crucial evidence that the century-old definition equating the disorder dyslexia with a severe reading symptom also called "dyslexia" — is fallacious. And that the disorder called dyslexia is better understood as a cerebellar-vestibular (CV) or inner-ear syndrome consisting of diverse reading and non-reading symptoms coexisting in varying severities and degrees of compensation and even overcompensation. In other words, the complex dyslexic syndrome cannot be logically defined by only severe degrees of only one of its many symptoms which vary in severity.
Importantly, Glenn' and Kelly's rapid favourable symptomatic responses to inner-ear enhancing medications serve to highlight the efficacy of this unique medical treatment. Also, the inner-ear improvements to inner-ear enhancing medications tend to significantly support Levinson's CV theory of dyslexia. And since only dyslexia-related symptoms and mechanisms improve, this therapeutic method also serves as an exploratory tool which highlights all the hidden impairments characterizing this previously misunderstood complex multidimensional disorder.
Dyslexia and Me
Glenn R. Vandergriff
“Dyslexia...is much more complex and has a much wider spectrum of symptoms than is commonly believed.”
Hi. My name is Glenn and I’m a dyslexic.
Sounds like the start of a speech given at a 12-step program, doesn’t it? Well, Dyslexia is a problem that is poorly understood by the world at large. So I would like to take a few minutes of your time and tell you about my personal experience as a dyslexic. I hope this information will be of help to you or someone you know.
Dyslexia is a learning disability. But it is much more complex and has a much wider spectrum of symptoms than is commonly believed. And not every dyslexic is a slow reader. I, for instance, read over a thousand words a minute. But I assure you that I am dyslexic. Despite being a fast reader, my reading process was not normal. I was first diagnosed about 10 years ago when in my mid-thirties. Dyslexia is not related to intelligence. Both my niece Kelly and I are dyslexics and members of Mensa. We were both accepted into this high IQ club BEFORE we responded so dramatically to Dr Levinson's treatment. In fact, Kelly was 17 and had not even been diagnosed as dyslexic at the time she took the Mensa qualifying test. But more about her later…
When I was growing up and going to public school in Chattanooga, Tennessee, I was a voracious reader. I averaged eight books a week at the time. And my understanding was enough above average that my teachers always told my parents I was very bright; and that I could master any material assigned. I always tested above the 95th percentile on placement tests. And I could be counted on to be ahead of the curriculum in almost all my subjects.
But my parents were told there was a problem. I was an underachiever. I never seemed to live up to the potential that these same teachers were sure I had. Therefore they concluded I had not been trying to learn the material covered. I was called “inattentive and lazy” throughout my time in school.
My penmanship was awful. I had problems memorizing. On tests, I would often fail to give answers that both my teachers and I knew that I knew. In fact, sometimes I would just go into “brainlock” when taking a test and not be able to give any answers at all.
As I progressed through Junior High and High School things got worse. I was very articulate, but writing was very difficult for me. As a result, my papers were always short and I avoided as many written assignments as possible. Also, my penmanship had not improved even though I had come to use narrow-ruled paper and a fountain pen — forcing me to pay complete attention as I wrote.
I made straight A’s in mathematics until I got to geometry. I got a D and then a C. I went on into Senior math but hit a wall with trigonometry. I took French... and struggled to make a D. I tried Latin… same D result. All the while I was making high marks in English, History and all of the science courses.
I learned early not to trust my first response to any question. It became important to me that I answer things correctly. I had learned early how quickly ridicule would be poured on me as a child of acknowledged high ability and knowledge (from all the reading I had done) if my responses were wrong. It was expected that I “would know.” And it was always noteworthy when I was wrong.
Even worse, sometimes my responses were unrelated to the question actually asked, having misheard or misunderstood what was said. Those unrelated responses happened fairly often and caused me to have the reputation of simply “not paying attention.” So, sometime in the first years of elementary school, I developed a technique for coping. I came to call it “tell me three times” after a fictional computer’s self-check program in one of Robert Heinlein’s novels.
Essentially, “tell me three times” meant that whenever I needed to answer a question or make a decision, I would pause and review the question at least three times in my head before I would respond. I know now that this only worked because I was very bright. But at the time it made everyone (including me) think that I was a little “slow.” The damage caused to my self-esteem by that built-in hesitation took years of undoing. In fact, this checking mechanism still has some power over me in situations where my knowledge is challenged.
Try to imagine how it feels to a child, especially a bright child, to KNOW that he or she can’t trust his own mind. And then to always be called lazy and an underachiever only made things worse. School is all about learning things and then recalling them on demand. I couldn’t trust my own mind to correctly retrieve even things I knew that I knew!
Then came college. I scored in the 98th percentile on the ACT test and had maintained a sufficient, albeit underachieving, average through High School. So I knew I could get into the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. That was the only university that I was interested in going to. UT is only a few miles from Oak Ridge. And my first love was what we called sub-atomic particle physics. Okay, probably not a good idea for someone who couldn’t pass High School geometry. But I really thought that I could sweat it out.
Well, I won’t bore you with the details of my short college career. But there were some interesting and completely mysterious highlights worth noting. I still couldn’t get through French. I got into Honors Physics and Honors Chemistry. (During the qualifying test my calculator died and I had to use a 6-inch slide rule. I passed in the top ten percent.). It was mandatory that a Physics Major take Honors Physics and Calculus. For 2 years I took Honors Physics and maintained A’s and B’s while failing Calculus 6 times. Everyone was very confused by these seemingly paradoxical results, especially me.
To make a long story short, I left UT after two and a half frustrating years of trying and failing. I did succeed in marrying Linda, who was also in Honors Physics. And I worked menial jobs until she graduated. She always believed in me, even during those frustrating times when I just couldn’t grasp and retain academic content. Before I finally left school, Linda tried to tutor me in Calculus. Neither of us could understand why I just didn’t seem able to get it whereas she was taking even more advanced math classes with little difficulty.
Time passed. Our life was busy and interesting. I did church and volunteer work. And Linda’s salary more than met our needs. I tried college twice more, but never got very far.
Then one day, when I was about 35, I read an article in Scientific American about Dyslexia. Eureka! I immediately recognized many of the symptoms within me. So I got several books about this disorder and read them. Then I made an appointment with my doctor and discussed what I had learned with him. After some tests it was confirmed… I had Dyslexia.
So, now what? The literature said that training would help dyslexics read better (which was not a problem) and obtain special consideration at school (I hadn’t been in school in years). So I was a little relieved to know what the name of the problem was and continued on with life. What else could I do?
But there were many other things affecting me… I couldn’t stand parties. I was able to understand what a single person in a small group was saying perfectly well. But in crowds it was as if everyone was speaking a foreign language. I couldn’t understand anyone. So crowds made me anxious and I learned it was called social phobia.
I was clumsy and constantly bumped into things. I strained to be better coordinated, well not graceful. But at least not lumbering.
Sunlight and bright lights felt like I was being stabbed in the eyes. I would have to squint and turn away. I learned to look at things “out of the corner of my eye.” I wore dark sunglasses all the time; even at night. Perhaps that's how I came to have exceptional peripheral vision — never ever having a car accident. Not even a scratch. I would read with one eye whenever I began to get fatigued. The letters seemed to have a shadow behind them, even large letters and signs. Closing one eye didn’t solve the problem, but it helped. Despite my rapid reading ability, the words were often blurry and I frequently lost my place. Only later when I responded to treatment did I realize all the symptoms I really had. Before the symptoms disappeared, I thought many were normal — that everyone had them.
Writing by hand had become so difficult that I would go to great lengths to avoid things as simple as writing a check or taking a message. You can’t imagine how happy I was to get my first word processor, a Kaypro computer with the C/PM operating system and running WordStar 3.0.
I was always stressed and angry. So constantly angry that I used to say that it was like I had a “demon” (metaphorically speaking) inside that I had to hold down at all times.
I always seemed to hear people talking in the next room when no one was there, answering the phone when it hadn’t rung. Yet I didn't hear or ignored real comments that people made to me.
I couldn’t remember numbers at all. Linda made me stop even trying to give her phone numbers told me. I always got them wrong.
Whenever we went for a drive, I would have to get directions by instructions like, “Turn that way.” “That way” meant toward "my side" and “This way” meant "toward the passenger’s side." Left "and “right” would get the wrong turn about half the time, maybe more.
The most frustrating problem of all was that I couldn't even trust my own mind. I often reversed concepts, even to the point of saying “Yes” when I mean to say “No.” And if asked, I’ d believe I said “No.” I literally had to check and recheck everything I said.
Life went on for me with little progress and no hope for improvement. I learned to deal somewhat better with my many problems knowing they were due to dyslexia, and not altogether my fault. Anger and frustration continued as did my social phobia. We just about stopped going to parties and noisy restaurants. Linda advanced in her career and I continued to do church and volunteer work, which didn’t need much “high-powered” thought.
In the summer of 1999, our niece Kelly came to live with us while she attended college. She was given a Presidential Academic Scholarship and planned a career in Law. But even though we knew that Kelly was very bright, she was having trouble with her classes. We took her to doctors for physical tests. Nothing. We took her to a psychologist. Those tests showed that she was very intelligent, under high stress, and had difficulty with concentration. The psychologist suggested that she take classes in stress management. But then claimed there was only a low probability of these classes being helpful. Obviously the psychologist didn't know what to do. Kelly, Linda and I were at a complete loss. So we all took turns helping her, sensing she had some unknown problem.
Then one Saturday while we were hitting yard sales, Linda and Kelly found a book called A Scientific Watergate — Dyslexia by Harold N. Levinson, M.D. They thought I’d like to read it. So they paid 25 cents for the book. And I put it on “the stack” of fifteen others I bought. For some unknown reason, I pulled Dr. Levinson’s book first and started reading it. It talked about his research in Dyslexia that had been suppressed. I have to tell you, I was very skeptical. I know how much bad science is floating around out there (Can you say “cold fusion?”). But as I read the book I became more and more curious. His theory explained all of the symptoms that I have always had, many of which I had never linked with my dyslexia. And his explanation of the Cerebellar-Vestibular Syndrome (CVS) seemed very reasonable. The more I read, the more convinced I became.
Then I got mad! Dr. Levinson had been trying to get information about his theory out since the early 70’s… when I was still in college! And no one told me about it! No one knew or understood.
So a couple of nights later, Kelly and I were sitting at the table after dinner and I started telling her about what I was reading. About what some of the dyslexia related symptoms were, including showing her some pictures from the book of writing and drawings by dyslexics. She looked at me... stunned! “That sounds exactly like what’s happening to me!” She went to her room and came back with a Keepsake Album. Her writing and drawings looked very similar to the ones in the book. As we talked I shared with her what some of my symptoms had been. She told me that she had many of the same difficulties. Including the problem of hallucinating the sounds of people talking in the next room, something I had never told anyone about. You can guess how early I figured out that letting people know about our hallucinations was a bad idea! As had Kelly!
So we called Dr. Levinson’s clinic in Great Neck, New York and made an appointment for her. But we had to wait. Kelly’s mid-term exams came and went. Linda, I, and Kelly’s fiancé helped her study. She made C’s. If things didn’t change, she would lose her scholarship.
When we got to Dr. Levinson’s office, Kelly took the tests and was diagnosed as dyslexic with associated Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Dr. Levinson prescribed a course of medication . Kelly wanted to start that day, not even waiting until we got back home to DC.
By the time her final exams came around she had been on all of the medications for a few weeks. Everyone had already noticed how different her attitude and mood had become. But we weren’t ready for how much change the medications really made. Kelly could sit and read her texts for hours at a stretch. She no longer needed much help with memorization and didn’t get stressed as exam time approached. We thought, “She seems better. Could it be a placebo effect? Hopefully she isn’t just ignoring a problem.” Then her grades came. Mostly A’s, with a few B’s. We were amazed!
Then the Christmas season arrived. In Washington, D.C. that means parties. Linda was a Deputy Program Manager at one of the agencies here. So we had to go to that office party. I thought, “Kelly’s medication worked so well, I’ll try an experiment.” Part of Dr. Levinson’s treatment uses anti-motion-sickness medications, such as Dramamine. So about 30 minutes before we arrived at the party, I took 2 Dramamine tablets. I have to say that I was surprised. I could actually understand what people were saying! I didn’t feel “crowded,” like I usually did. No anxiety. Interesting!
One thing that really stood out concerned a singer/guitarist who was performing Rock and Roll hits in one of the alcoves. About 15 minutes after we arrived, I found myself standing, listening to, and understanding what he was singing. That was something that I usually couldn’t do. After a few minutes, we wandered on. Later, I happened to come back to where he was performing. I couldn't understand a word! I looked at my watch and realized that the Dramamine had probably worn off about a quarter of an hour earlier. WOW!
We made an appointment with Dr. Levinson for me. I took the tests and was prescribed a slate of medications. (Not the same selection as Kelly, by the way.)
Now as I write this , both Kelly and I have been on our medication for quite a while. I can tell when mine is starting to wear off, so I seldom miss a dose. I would never give it up and go back to the way I was before my first visit to Dr. Levinson.
Now the world stands still for Kelly and me. We don’t have to hold it and ourselves steady by force of will. I only wish I had known about Dr. Levinson’s work 25 year’s ago.
After 2 Years
Glenn R. Vandergriff
“The treatment has made enough of a difference in me that friends who hadn’t seen me since I started it commented on the change.”
Hi. My name is Glenn and I’m still a dyslexic. But things have really changed.
Linda and I just got back from Los Angeles. During some of our visits with friends we hadn't seen in years, it was remarked that I am more relaxed and pleasant than I used to be when I lived out there. While some of the change is probably related to the simple fact that I’m five years older, I know that most of the improvement has resulted from the system of medications prescribed by Dr. Levinson.
In the last two years, I have learned that much of my anger, frustration and discomfort resulted from symptoms stemming from the Cerebellar-Vestibular Syndrome. If I take the medication when I am going to be around groups, I won’t be isolated by the inability to understand what they are saying. I have also learned that when I begin to lose the ability to understand whats being said and helpless to communicate, feeling the “closeness” and pressure, an extra dose of Dramamine will dissolve my anxiety and restore my ability to be part of the group in about ten minutes. So I am now comfortable and relaxed in groups. And I have the confidence that results from being sure that if I begin to feel the pressure building, a dose of Dramamine will stop it. So my dread of anticipating going to parties and crowded places is also so much better, but not entirely gone yet. I guess I have to completely unlearn prior years of dreading and real party confusion and anxiety.
I no longer feel that things must be in exact order, that every corner must be a straight angle, that every stack of paper must be neat and in alignment with the edge of the desk. I guess you could say that I am no longer obsessed by the need to force the world into order. That's because I no longer inwardly feel chaotic and out of control.
One of Linda’s favorite pictures from the time before we met Dr. Levinson is of a bowl of peanut M&Ms. I was sitting at the kitchen table watching TV and eating the candies. Without even thinking, I arranged the candies into separate colors in the bowl. It just felt better. Organized! Not chaotic and disorganized! And it was typical of the compulsive things I used to do. Linda came in from work and there the bowl was. She quickly snapped a photo, which had haunted me for years. Now, though, when I feel that obsession and compulsion coming out, I know that it is just the medication wearing off. And I know how to regain control.
Let me remind you again, the medications which I take are not psycho-active, like Ritalin or Prozac. I take Meclizine (a prescription drug for motion sickness) and Dramamine (a non-prescription drug for motion sickness). It is in their action of aiding the timing of my Cerebellar-Vestibular system that they give me relief.
In short, the treatment prescribed by Dr. Levinson has over the last two years made enough of a difference in me that friends who hadn’t seen me since I started it commented on the change. I find that amazing! Even more amazing, I do not feel Im the same dyslexic I was prior to treatment. Thank God.
"Without even thinking about it, I arranged the candies into separate colors in the bowl."
A Summary of Glenn Vandergriff’s Dyslexic Symptoms and Syndrome
Reading: Eye tracking difficulties (worse with big print), blurring and photophobia (light sensitivity). Sees shadows around letters and words. Letter and word reversals when younger, and even now when fatigued.
Writing: Dyscoordinated and angulated writing as well as poor spacing and reversals.
Spelling: Difficulty recalling the correct letter sequence in words as well as impaired phonetic capability.
Math: Difficulty with geometry, trigonometry and calculus — failing it 6 times. Number reversals and "careless" errors.
Memory: Impaired recall for numbers, lists and names. Reversal of instructions heard and repeated. Reversing expressed concepts, ie., saying "yes" when meaning "no" and mis-recalling hearing "no."
Direction: Right/left uncertainty — especially when driving. Directional reversals.
Space: A sense of spatial instability and a need to force stability. Feels out of place and can’t hold things still, as if they were moving about him.
Time: impaired sense of time and timing.
Speech: Diminished word and thought recall. Impaired auditory processing, especially in noisy backgrounds. Auditory illusions or pseudohallucinations. Auditory misperceptions and slips of the tongue — even opposites.
Grammar: Incorrect use of commas and more complex grammar.
Language: Difficulty with French and Latin.
Concentration/Distractability: Interest-dependent concentration with over focusing. Easily bored with a procrastination tendency. Highly distracted by verbal background content.
Activity: Restless and fidgety.
Mood: Constantly angry, irritable and stressed. Easily frustrated.
Anxiety: Crowd or group anxiety, obsessive/compulsive activity.
Balance and Coordination: Unsteady balance, accident proneness, fine-motor incoordination for writing and reading.
Upon careful questioning, the vast majority of dyslexics reveal a wide range of symptoms which can be grouped into multiple (15+) categories. Very, very rarely do dyslexics evidence only reading-related symptoms. Exceptions aside, similar retrospective evaluations reveal that adult dyslexics evidence significantly less symptoms than they did during childhood, suggesting compensation over time.
When large samples of dysfunctioning dyslexic children and adults are successfully treated medically and their reported and observed improvements compiled and analyzed, the results would mirror the above 15+ categories. In other words, inner-ear enhancing medications are capable of improving 15+ areas of major functioning in inner-ear impaired dyslexics. Rarely is improvement limited to the reading category.
Despite significant symptomatic improvements, dyslexics of all ages reveal some neurophysiological evidence of an inner-ear or CV dysfunction, albeit less than pre-treatment.
After 2–4 yrs. of successful medical treatment, approx. 80% of dyslexics no longer need all or some medications for continued improvement. It thus appears that the medications "teach" the brain how to better function without them. Occasionally, this "neuroplastic-like learning" occurs within months rather than years. And it is often chemically-specific since different medications are needed for longer periods than others.
Conclusions: The above data derived from thousands of dyslexics clearly supports Levinson's conviction that dyslexia is an inner-ear(CV) syndrome affecting over 15+ major areas of functioning and encompassing hundreds of diverse symptoms. Quite clearly, dyslexia is not just a severe reading or phonetic impairment.
Although dyslexia results from an inner-ear (CV)impairment, compensation or improvements appear due to both cerebral and related brain processors, including enhanced CV functioning. And since there exists "dyslexics without dyslexia," it became apparent that a CV impairment alone is insufficient to cause this syndrome. Although a CV dysfunction is necessary to trigger dyslexia, there must also coexist a failure of the cerebral cortex and related brain processors to compensate for this CV impairment. These and related insights led Levinson to conceptualize dyslexia so as to encompass and/or explain all dyslexia data and theories.
A Clinically-Derived Concept and Definition Of Dyslexia
Dyslexia and its many symptoms result when cerebral and related brain processors fail to compensate for the scrambled signals received and sent. And this signal defect is due a fine-tuning impairment of inner-ear or CV origin. Thus the pattern and severity of all dyslexic symptoms can readily be explained by:
- the pattern and severity of CV determined signal scrambling,
- the specific cerebral and related brain processors receiving and sending scrambled signals,
- the compensatory ability of the CV system to decrease its signal-scrambling,
- the compensatory descrambling capability of the cerebral cortex and related brain processors.