To those who have not spent time pouring over the wealth of academic studies discussing the relationship between balance and dyslexia (as well as a host of other reading and learning difficulties), it might seem strange to suggest that balance and dyslexia bear any relation. However, when we realize that balance is governed by the vestibular system—a vast network that spans across other neural and body systems—it begins to make sense that a lack of balance and calibration of the delicate but immense processes governing cognitive acts (like reading or writing) can be upset when the balance and sensory systems themselves are not performing properly.
Before getting into more details about the physiological relationship between balance and dyslexia, let’s put the issue into a simpler context via the “cake” analogy. Hypothetically, we are setting about to make a four-layer cake, which is not an easy task as it involves several elements that must be just right in order to make the whole thing come together and remain upright. The temperature of the over must be exact and even minor alterations in the amount of sugar, flour, or eggs can make the cake as hard as rock or too soft to be layered. Cognitive processes such as reading, which seem simple when you look on the surface and see the end result, require the fine-tuning of the process of making a cake. If there is one “misfiring” during the process, you’ll be left with something that is unusable; however if all elements are synched and balanced together accurately, the end result is smooth and flawless.
One of the reasons why learning disabilities like dyslexia are not uncommon is because the relationship between balance and sensory processing within the vestibular system is very complicated. The vestibular system, which is critical to balance (which in turn governs far more cognitive processes) relies on neural transmission and processes between many systems in the brain and the body. There are “interconnections with the inner-ear, superior temporal cortex, insula and the temporal-parietal junction within the cortex, and the postural and extraocular muscle systems, all of which contribute to balance and vestibular reflexes” (Solan, 2007). In other words, with so many neural “shots” being fired in such a vast array, there is great opportunity for problems to occur—for shot to go haywire.
One expert on the vestibular system has remarked that, “each element of learning occurs as a function of the individual’s total developmental framework….Learning in the absence of suitable developmental structures may preclude assimilation” (Solan, 2007). In other words, without proper functioning of the entire system of networks that govern neural and other processes, learning cannot occur in full. Our potential is not reached due to inefficient neural processing that results in barriers that can be targeted for improvement. At some point, the gaps in this framework will manifest and the information processing event will be stunted. This is absolutely the case with dyslexia and other reading difficulties. Without suitable interaction between the vestibular system (balance) and the brain, learning and applying reading or writing skills can be nearly impossible for some people. It is only when this imbalance has been negotiated, when calibration occurs, that the framework can be made effective once more.
The expression, “our bodies are remarkably resilient” extends beyond our physical capacity to heal and recover. This can also apply to our cognitive processes and body systems. Like other major systems in the body, the vestibular system is also resilient and can be adapted to enhance the quality of life. Scientific research has confirmed that practice reforming the balance system can have a positive impact on the underlying brain processes of those who with dyslexia and other learning disabilities.
Solan, H. A. (2007). Vestibular Function, Sensory Integration, and Balance Anomalies: A Brief Literature Review. Optometry & Vision Development, 38(1), 13-17.
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