Fitting in the Diet Piece

Note: This section on diet, or more accurately, nutrition, has been moved ahead of both vision and phonics in the hierarchy of what I think needs to be considered when confronted with a child who is struggling to read, whether he's been formally diagnosed as dyslexic or not.

When I started this process of trying to help struggling readers, phonics instruction was front and center in the hierarchy (and little else.) From experience, I realized that vision needs should be met first if they existed, and that phonics instruction was more easily learned following vision therapy. Now, I find myself wondering whether Dr. Cannell is onto something and have decided that the first action a parent should take is to ensure that a child's vitamin D3 levels are sufficient and that other relatively minor nutritional needs are met.

So, over time my thinking has evolved regarding the sequencing of various interventions. Here's what I would do now if my child was struggling with reading:

Address Nutrition First

Regardless of my child's age, I would pick a level for vitamin D3 that I felt was optimal and test twice yearly to see that it was being maintained by some combination of sun exposure, tanning, and direct supplementation. If it were my child, I would aim for the high end of the 40-60 ng/ml range that the vitamin D experts have agreed upon and consider going even higher if Asperger's or autism were an issue. (That's for my child; personally, I try to maintain my own level closer to 80 ng/ml.) I would also seek to be providing a combination of diet and supplementation, preferably diet alone, that ensured adequate intake of vitamins as well as Omega 3 essential fatty acids.

I would hope, if my child was very young, that any tendency to dyslexia, along with the more serious conditions such as Asperger's and autism, would be completely avoided by taking these nutrition steps. I would also hope, if my child was already experiencing symptoms of dyslexia, that these nutrition steps would have a treatment effect and begin to alleviate the symptoms. And with an older child, frankly I'd still hope for a reduction in symptoms, but would provide the nutrition anyway, particularly the vitamin D3, for the purpose of ensuring his long-range health.

Address Vision Needs Next

You will need to read the next section, The Vision Piece of the Dyslexia Puzzle, to fully understand my stance here. Essentially though, I've been convinced by fairly extensive experience that many struggling readers have undiagnosed, and therefore untreated, vision issues that make reading difficult for them. Addressing those needs can be both expensive and time consuming, but necessary. I would watch a younger child, hoping that the nutrition route was generating proper development of visual and auditory skills, and have his vision evaluated by a developmental optometrist at the first signs of trouble learning to read.

With an older child, I would make the vision evaluation a priority shortly after addressing the nutritional aspects. Even if a reading problem did have its roots in a vitamin D3 deficiency, vision therapy could be needed to efficiently train the skills that a child did not learn on his own during an earlier stage of development.

Address Phonics Needs Last

When I started this process back in 1998 I was convinced by several sources that most reading problems could be traced to either poor or non-existent phonics instruction and that children were struggling because they either didn't understand the English phonics code, or because they hadn't been trained in the essential reading skills of blending and segmenting and manipulation phonemes, or some combination of these. Once properly taught with an intensive phonics program, they would be able to read. A large number of phonics instructors still believe that, but I no longer do. 

Instead, I found that deficient vision skills were present in many of the children I encountered. Furthermore, addressing those vision skill deficits first often meant that additional phonics instruction was not actually needed. Some children had enough prior phonics knowledge that they could read well once their vision needs were met.

And now, due to Dr. Cannell's work combined with the results of other nutritional studies that I'd become aware of earlier, I have moved phonics instruction to third on the list of priorities.

Nevertheless, a certain percentage of struggling readers will still struggle after all underlying needs are met, simply because they have failed to learn how English print works and they will need specific instruction on how to decode words. For that purpose, I think that you'll find that the OnTrack Reading Phonics Program I developed and describe in The Phonics Piece of the Dyslexia Puzzle will be a fast, efficient, and inexpensive way to introduce the missing phonics information to your child.