Rhythm and Reading

Did you know that rhythm and timing are related to reading, attention, and language skills? Let me explain how.

Rhythm of Life

First of all, everything in life has a rhythm. Nature’s daily rhythms guide all that we do — from the rising and setting of the sun to the changes of the seasons.  In addition to having these external rhythms and cycles, our bodies also have their own internal rhythms and cycles.  It is these rhythms that impact our very existence.  Our breath and heartbeat are constant reminders of life’s pulsing rhythm that moves within and around us.  Our body rhythms are called circadian rhythms, and they govern when we sleep, when we wake up, when we are active, and how much energy we have.  These circadian rhythms are as predictable as clockwork, which is why we are said to have an internal body-clock.

In and Out of Sync

When our rhythms are in sync, life flows easily — we have more energy and tend to view things more positively.  We are more socially connected and find life more satisfying.  But when they are out of sync, we can feel stressed and anxious.

Imagine this —

You are taking a new fitness dance class.  At first you are getting the steps and dancing on the beat, and everything feels good. Suddenly the beat gets faster. You can’t keep up and get completely off beat. You focus on your footwork, but you lose track of the arm movements.

Would you feel overwhelmed, stressed, frustrated, or maybe even angry?  How would you respond? Would you get silly to cover your embarrassment, because you knew you couldn’t do it? Or would you keep trying, but always with the feeling of being behind everyone else?

A few months ago, I attended a training for a new program, and it got me to thinking about my students who don’t seem to have a sense of their internal rhythm, let alone the external rhythm of life, and how it impacts them in every area of their lives.

At our school, we have a number of students who seem “out of sync.” They have no sense of time. They are almost always late for school. It takes them forever to unpack and get their things set up in the morning. Even after months of being school, they struggle to keep up with the rhythm of our school. Their poor timing impacts their motor skills, their handwriting is sloppy, and they often bump into others and things. They struggle to follow conversations. Their overall speech and reading fluency lack the rhythm that is expected. And it makes me worry for them.

How must it feel to experience these feelings everyday?  Are they frustrated or even angry?  Do they feel like giving up, or do they try but always feel they are behind everyone else?

Impact of Rhythm and Timing

I have been interested in the impact of rhythm and timing on reading and language skills for some time. Much of what we do includes the use of a metronome, which requires students to keep the beat as they complete an activity.  I have noticed that there are some students that just can’t seem to get that beat.  And while this might seem strange, there is a correlation in how these students progress compared to the students who can easily keep the beat.

Timing is the foundation of nearly everything we do. That sense of rhythm and timing begins when a baby is in utero and hears its own heartbeat. The sense of timing is crucial for coordination. When timing is automatic, we function better. When it is off, it impacts everything.  For example:

  • Behavior – in order to have self-control, the timing system must be operating normally. We have the time think about how to react, and then respond in a timely fashion.  If we are always running behind, we only have time to react and cannot think through the consequences.
  • Perception of Time – lack of awareness of our “bodyclock” influences our understanding of time.
  • Motor Skills – timing affects the body’s ability to coordinate timely body movements.  This affects every part of your daily activities from brushing your teeth, to eating, to getting dressed, to walking, to pouring a drink, to handwriting, etc.
  • Turn Taking/Communication – some students know when is the appropriate time to speak, while others have a tendency to “jump the gun” and interrupt when others are speaking.
  • Listening – the brain must process time-dependent information. If the timing is off, it affects how the brain perceives and responds to sounds, which can then impact how well a person can follow directions and comprehend what is heard.
  • Reading Comprehension – similar to listening, but with written words.
  • Word Retrieval – finding the words you want to say and then putting them together quickly.
  • Reading Fluency – language has a natural rhythm and flow to it. Being able to naturally find that rhythm increases your ability to read smoothly.

In the past 13 years of working with students with learning and attention challenges, we have found that improving timing and rhythm

  • Improves attention
  • Improves coordination
  • Improves mental alertness and overall mood
  • Increases the overall flow and understanding of speech and language

There have been a number of recent studies showing that the areas of the brain that are involved in motor planning and sequencing were activated while listening to rhythmic sound. Even more exciting, is a 2013 study by Professor Nina Kraus, PhD, and Adam Tierney, PhD, at the Northwestern University Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory showing that people who have a better sense of rhythm showed more consistent brain responses to speech than those with less rhythm. The researchers suggest that the findings could apply to reading, because hearing speech sounds and associating them with letters and words are crucial for kids learning to read.


We are thrilled to announce that we now offer a rhythm based listening program called inTime. We are seeing it have a major impact on all areas of our students’ lives.  It is one more “tool” in our “toolbox” that we have to have students who struggle.

If your child struggles with any of above mentioned issues, they may benefit from our services.  Call us today to find out how we can help.


Exercise Your Body, Energize Your Brain

Small Changes, Big Results Series

Part IV:  Exercise Your Body, Energize Your Brain

The upcoming generation is known as Generation XXL due to the growing childhood obesity epidemic. Adding only a half hour of exercise to a child’s daily routine has not only benefits for weight management but brain function as well.


How Exercise Affects the Brain

Have you ever sat in a long meeting or seminar and found yourself getting sleepy, antsy, and dying for a break so you could get up and move around?
Exercise for Your Brain

Research shows that physical movement can enhance clarity, attention, and readiness for learning. Physical movement increases oxygen flow to the brain, improving alertness, concentration, and receptivity. Adding movement or physical action to a learning activity increases recall.

At the Learning Enhancement Centers, we find that integrative movements that cross the midline of the body are extremely helpful in bringing students to a calm, alert, and mentally and emotionally ready state for learning. We use the Brain Gym activities with our students. The movements can be easily integrated into the classroom or home. Here are two books that are great references:

  • Brain Gym Teacher’s Edition by Paul E. Dennison and Gail E. Dennison (www.braingym.com)
  • Hands On: How to use Brain Gym in the Classroom by Isabel Cohen and Marcelle Goldsmith (www.braingym.com)

Periodic brain breaks that involve movement throughout the school day and homework time will also improve learning, productivity, and attitude. Breaking up learning with Brain breaks help to keep the pupils in the most receptive state for learning. These short exercises increase oxygen supply, release stress, and allow learners to refocus.

Finally, deep breathing and water are also great brain energizers. Deep breathing immediately brings more oxygen to the brain and encourages relaxation, improving thinking and focus. Water improves the electrical transmissions in the brain and nervous system, providing energy for learning and attention.


How to Add Exercise to Your Child’s Life

Here are some links for fun, quick movement exercises that can be easily integrated into the classroom, clinic, or home:

This week, try adding some movement into your and your child’s day. My personal strategy is to work for 25 minutes and then move for 2-5 minutes. Do you notice a difference? Are you better able to focus? Do you notice that you have more energy for the task at hand?


Other Articles in the Small Changes, Big Results Series:


Sensory Processing Disorder vs ADD

In our last two blogs, we talked about how weaknesses in auditory processing and reflex integration can look like attention deficit.  In this article, we talk about the impact of sensory processing on attention.

Sensory processing refers to how our brain receives information from the senses of the body and processes it.  The brain then has to decide how to respond and then commands the body to respond appropriately.  For most individuals, this is done without issue.  However, someone who has difficulty processing this information and responding appropriately is said to have a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).

Most of us are aware of the five senses:  sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing.  However, there are two other very important senses:  Vestibular and Proprioceptive.

The Vestibular sense is housed in the inner ear.  It helps us to make sense of where our body is positioned in space.  It allows us to make changes in our posture and balance.  It detects head acceleration, head position, and the pull of gravity.  (Most older people have a poor vestibular system.)

The Proprioceptive system allows our body to judge the space around us, know where we are in relation to that space, and know where our body parts are and what they are doing.   It is housed in the receptors in the joints, muscles, and ligaments.  It tells us how much pressure and force is needed to do something, and is stimulated by heavy work, pulling, pushing, carrying, jumping, hugging, etc.   Without movement affecting the muscles and joints, the receptors go to sleep.

Sensory processing can be so difficult to explain.  Some students can be overstimulated by the sensory information, while others can be understimulated.  Students can vary in how they respond.  Some will act in accordance and others will try to counteract their response.

For example, a student who is overstimulated becomes overloaded by the sensory input, and if they are acting in accordance, they will become distractible, hyperactive, or silly.  But if they try to counteract the stimulation, they might become avoidant, or rigid or ritualistic, or resistant to change.

If understimulated, the student may respond in accordance and appear bored, tired, or apathetic.  Whereas, the student who is trying to counteract this understimulation might try to get more sensory input by seeking the sensations, and seem active, fidgety, and excitable.

As my friend, Denise, says, “If you have met one kid with Sensory Processing Disorder, you have met one kid with Sensory Processing Disorder.”

Here is a very short checklist of sensory symptoms.  (A long one can be found at http://www.sensory-processing-disorder.com/sensory-processing-disorder-checklist.html)

  • Responds negatively to loud or unexpected noises
  • Holds head upright even when bending over or  leaning (i.e. Maintains a rigid position/posture during activity)
  • Seeks to make noise for “noise’s sake”
  •  Rocks/twirls/bounces frequently
  • Seeks hugs or other deep pressure
  • Avoids getting messy
  • Has difficulty standing close to other people
  • Appears sensitive to changes in lighting
  • Reacts emotionally or aggressively to touch
  • Exerts too much or not enough pressure when handling objects
  • Gags easily with certain food textures
  • Touches people or objects to the point of irritating others


  • Dislikes playground equipment or moving toys
  • Seeks all kinds of movement
  • Takes movement or climbing risks that compromise personal safety
  • Appears lethargic (no energy, sluggish)
  • Is sensitive to certain fabrics or clothing
  • Limits self to particular foods or food temperatures
  • Prefers long sleeved clothing when it’s warm or short sleeves when it is cold
  • Displays unusual need for touching certain toys,  surfaces or textures
  • Insists on removing shoes as soon as possible, or insists on leaving shoes on
  • Decreased awareness or response to pain or temperature
  • Chews, licks, or mouths non-food objects


Sensory Processing Disorder is something we screen for during our evaluation.  Learning Enhancement Centers has many strategies that can be used to help a student with SPD.  However, there are times when we feel that the student should work with an Occupational Therapist (OT) first.  Once again, this is why an evaluation is so important to make sure that the cause of the problem is being addressed, not just the symptom.