Each person is unique in the way they learn, process, and create. However, sometimes these differences are born out of structural and functional variances within the brain and can make certain tasks incredibly challenging to complete. “Learning difficulties” encompasses a wide collection of learning disorders and struggles experienced by individuals of all ages. How they manifest and affect an individual’s functioning varies from person to person. It’s important to remember that these difficulties say nothing of the person’s intelligence—in fact most folks with learning disorders are at or above average intelligence. There is usually one area of learning that is more affected than others, like reading, math, language, or writing. The most common learning disorders are typically broken into four categories: Dyscalculia (affects math comprehension and calculation), Dysgraphia (affects handwriting and fine motor skills), Dyslexia (affects reading comprehension and writing), and Oral or Written Language Disorder (affects language-based processing skills). But there are many other ways people struggle with learning outside of these diagnosable disorders. Over time, these struggles can influence how successful we are in school or work and our sense of confidence and self-worth.
in the brain
In the brains of individuals with learning difficulties, imaging reveals both differences in the sizes of some structures and in the way the brain communicates across lobes and hemispheres. Areas most associated with memory, language, visual processing, attention, and self-esteem typically display some kind of “atypical” activity. Generally, EEGs show overall excessive beta, which can contribute to anxiety, inattention, and restlessness. Brains of individuals with learning difficulties also reveal excessive hypocoherence. In other words, brain regions that should be communicating and working together to accomplish a task aren’t sharing enough information with one another. If the brain is unable to communicate properly, it’s no wonder that person would struggle to accomplish or process something.
Different learning difficulties will affect certain brain regions more than others. For example, issues with functioning of the parietal lobes are often associated with math difficulties. The prefrontal lobes gather data to send back to the parietal lobes for processing, so if these areas are communicating effectively, then the parietal lobe doesn’t have the information it needs to execute a task. Likewise, if there is injury to the parietal lobe, mathematical processing, along with other skills like complex grammar and naming objects, will be negatively affected.
With dyslexia, it’s common to see problems in the Wernicke’s and Broca’s areas of the brain. These two structures are largely responsible for speech and language production and processing. In a non-dyslectic brain, the center of the Wernicke’s area on the left hemisphere is larger than the corresponding lateral right hemisphere location. However, both structures are relatively the same size in both hemispheres for those with dyslexia. It also appears that an important neural link near the insula cortex (involved in present moment awareness) isn’t activated, as it should be, when attempting complex reading tasks. This contributes to the Wernicke and Broca areas not communicating with one another as they do in a non-dyslexic brain.
How we can help
At NeuroGrove, the first step of any treatment package is a comprehensive assessment that includes QEEG brain mapping, LORETA 3D neuroimaging, various testing, and a thorough discussion of symptoms and goals. This allows us to assess for the brain patterns most commonly associated with various learning difficulties. We can even measure brain activity while completing challenging tasks associated with your learning concerns to really get an in-depth understanding of just what’s happening behind the scenes. Both neurofeedback and neurostimulation can be used to restore healthy brain wave activity and improve communication across the brain. Biofeedback and mindfulness training can help you to gain more control over your autonomic nervous system, allowing you to modulate physiological responses like breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and muscle tension. Mindfulness is an especially important skill to practice for not only managing the stress that comes with learning struggles, but also to best prime the brain before activities. Mindfulness can help you stay in the present moment, observe thoughts, and gain awareness around the core beliefs you hold about yourself or your abilities. Through movement therapy, we teach you healthy forms of emotional release and ways to connect with your body. Functional medicine testing and nutritional coaching address some common contributing factors to learning difficulties like diet, gut health, hormonal imbalances, inflammation etc. Many of these treatment options can also be delivered remotely, so that you can access support from wherever you are! Whichever services you choose to engage with, we will work collaboratively with you to address your needs from an integrative lens and focus on improving your overall brain-body wellness so you can be the best version of you and accomplish your goals!
What the research says
Millions of people struggle with at least one learning difficulty, whether they’ve been formally diagnosed with a disorder or not. In fact, it’s estimated that over half of adults with literacy issues actually have an undetected or untreated disorder. It’s no surprise that learning difficulties are considered an “invisible disability.” As we learn more about how these difficulties manifest in the brain, we’re better able to take brain-based approaches to symptom alleviation and improved functioning. Research looking at the effectiveness of neurotherapy and integrative approaches continues to grow every year!
- Fernandez et al., (2003) scoured EEG findings of children with learning disorders and discovered that many of the readings showed excessive theta activity. Researchers chose 10 children who demonstrated higher than normal theta/alpha power ratios for a study on the effectiveness of neurofeedback to correct this imbalance and improve functioning. The children were divided into two groups, one receiving neurofeedback, the other receiving a sham treatment. At the end of 20 sessions, participants completed various measures on brain activity and intelligence. Researchers found that the children who received neurofeedback demonstrated improved test scores as well as more balanced power ratios. Meanwhile the control group showed only minor changes in delta power. Results suggest that enhanced cognitive performance was correlated with completing a neurofeedback training protocol.
- Fernández, T., Herrera, W., Harmony, T., Díaz-Comas, L., Santiago, E., Sánchez, L., … Valdés, R. (2003). EEG and behavioral changes following neurofeedback treatment in learning disabled children. Clinical EEG (Electroencephalography), 34(3), 145–152. https://doi.org/10.1177/155005940303400308