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.


Dyslexia and Reading Difficulties

Dyslexia and Reading Difficulties

What comes to mind when you think of the word DYSLEXIA? 

I recently asked a group of people this question and here are some of their responses:

“Difficulty with reading… letters appear out of order or backwards….issues with spelling and numerical order…transposing letters and numbers…more than 2 years behind in reading.” 

Current Definition of Dyslexia

When I was in college, I was taught that dyslexia was a result of visual processing issues, and those issues caused the reversals and the difficulty with reading.  The meaning and causes of dyslexia have changed in recent years.  So while some people with dyslexia do have these problems, they are not the most common characteristics of dyslexia.

Experts now believe that dyslexia has little to do with recognizing the visual form of words.  They have found that the brains of people with dyslexia are wired differently; they have difficulty with phonological awareness, or the ability to blend, segment, and analyze the sounds in words.

Causes of Reading Difficulties

Although the definition of dyslexia may be good to understand, the thing I think is most important to know is this – difficulty with reading can be caused by different issues.  Personally, I don’t usually care about the label as much as I do about what is causing the reading difficulty.  In our practice, we use our evaluation to uncover the cause of the problem.  Then, we use the information to determine what strategies will work best to help that student improve their reading.

In the last 20 years of evaluating students with reading difficulties, I have identified 3 causes of reading challenges, each requiring a different type of solution.

Inability to Process Sounds — The first cause is the inability to process the sounds in the words. (This would be considered dyslexia based on the current definition.) If you have difficulties in this area, it is almost impossible to understand and use phonics.  In these cases, we need to train the brain to process the sounds, and then we teach phonics.  The results are quite amazing when you treat what was causing the problem in the first place.

Visual Issues — Visual issues, also, can cause reading challenges.  These students often have issues with visual-spatial skills and visual efficiency, such as tracking.  They are the ones who have reversals issues, who mix up letters, and who can’t remember the word from one line to the next.  They often can decode words, but struggle with reading fluency.  While we still teach phonics to these students, we do many other activities to increase their visual skills first.

Double Whammy — Finally, the third cause is the one that Sally Shaywitz, author of Overcoming Dyslexia, calls a “double deficit.”  (I call it a “double whammy.”)  These students have both issues.  Unfortunately, it takes much longer to address their issues.  They don’t connect the sounds to the symbols.  We can teach them phonics until they are “blue in the face,” and yet they won’t naturally apply the rules.  These students will need a combination of strategies to learn to read.Student with Reading Difficulties

Finding the Best Solution

We see students who have been diagnosed with dyslexia all the time.  The recommendation by the diagnosing medical professional is almost always for a reading program that teaches systematic, explicit phonics.  While I think this is the best way to teach reading, some students need more to overcome their reading challenges.  I don’t believe in a “one-size-fits-all” approach.  Frankly, the continuous recommendation of this approach makes me sad and mad!  Our students deserve more.

All this to say, if your child is struggling with reading, you need to know what is causing the problem in the first place.  If someone tells you, for example, that your child doesn’t know her consonant blends – that is good information, but you want to ask, “What is causing that to happen? Where is the breakdown occurring in her brain?”  After all, once you know the problem, the solution is easy to determine.

If your child is struggling with reading, we would love to help you find the causes AND the solution.  Contact us to schedule an evaluation.


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