Healing Learning Difficulties with NLP

"What if you already had the resources you needed to succeed?"


Perhaps you have a child with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) - or Dyslexia, or Asperger Syndrome - or you (or your spouse) have learning difficulties yourself, or both. The first step to healing or helping others heal their learning difficulties is to see them and yourself in a new way, a way which allows for change. A way which offers hope, and provides specific and useful tools and skills.

We and our children have different hair, eyes, body sizes, and different preferences in a thousand areas. Some of us prefer high levels of stimulation, while others like a more quiet world. Some are attracted to novelty and variety, whereas others are most comfortable with the consistent and predictable. In these and many other ways, we aggregate differences which sometimes collect in such a way that we put a label on them, such as "AD/HD" or "Dyslexia" or "Dyspraxia".

There are, however, other more fundamental differences between people. At the level of these differences, it is possible to gain direct access into the way a person's mind works, the way they store and process experience and emotion, the way they make decisions and choices. These differences have to do with how we experience and make sense of the world around us.

Do you often catch yourself saying things like "That looks right to me," or "I get the picture"? Or are you more likely to say "That sounds right to me," or "That rings a bell"? Or "I like the feel of that," or "I grasp it now"? Expressions like these may be clues to your preferred modality, or preferred way of making sense of your world.

If you couldn't see or hear, or if you couldn't feel texture, shape, temperature, weight, or resistance in your environment, you would literally have no way of learning. Most of us learn in many ways, yet we usually favour one modality over the others - some of visual learners, some auditory, others kinesthetic learners. Many people don't realise they are favouring one way, because nothing external tells them they are any different from anyone else. Knowing that there are differences goes a long way towards explaining things like why we have problems understanding and communicating with some people and not with others, and why we handle some situations more easily than others, and why we may have learning difficulties.


Visual Learners

  • are neat and orderly
  • speak quickly
  • are good long-range planners and organisers
  • are observant of environmental detail
  • are appearance-oriented in both dress and presentation
  • are good spellers and can actually see the words in their minds
  • remember what was seen, rather than heard
  • memorise by visual association

And ......

  • usually are not distracted by noise
  • may forget verbal instructions unless they're written down
  • are strong, fast readers
  • would rather read than be read to
  • need an overall view and purpose and are cautious until mentally clear about an issue or project
  • forget to relay verbal messages to others
  • often know what to say but can't think of the right words

Auditory Learners

  • learn by listening, and remember what was discussed rather than seen
  • speak in rhythmic patterns
  • talk to themselves while working
  • are easily distracted by noise
  • move their lips and pronounce the words as they read
  • enjoy reading aloud and listening
  • can repeat back and mimic tone pitch and timbre
  • find writing difficult, but are better at telling
  • are frequently eloquent speakers
  • are talkative, love discussion, and go into lengthy descriptions
  • have problems with projects that involve visualisation
  • can spell better out loud than in writing

Kinesthetic Learners

  • learn by manipulating and doing
  • want to act things out
  • speak slowly
  • touch people to get their attention
  • stand close when talking to someone
  • are physically oriented and move a lot, gesture a lot
  • memorise by walking and seeing
  • can't sit still for long periods of time
  • can't remember geography unless they've actually been there
  • use action words
  • like plot-oriented books - they reflect action with body movement as they read
  • may have messy handwriting
  • like involved games

For centuries the problem of dyslexia has been wrongly equated with a lack of intelligence but we now know it's more a problem of perception. Ron Davis, author of the book "The Gift of Dyslexia", discovered that dyslexia was related to a sense of internal disorientation and perception. Over the years, a number of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioners reported that their "learning disabled" clients, children and adults, had difficulty making stable, clear imaginary pictures.

Dr Don Blackerby, a well respected expert on NLP & Learning disorders in the USA, and author of the book "Rediscover the Joy of Learning", while studying children with AD/HD, discovered that their subjective experience, or perception, was driving the symptoms. The perception on their part was that they either could not control their mind or their mind controlled them. He also found that the internal experience of a person with ADD symptoms include: they perceive multiple images; these images are moving rapidly and sometimes mysteriously disappear; the images often occur simultaneously; there is a strong body and/or emotional response to the images; and they can't control any of these internal experiences.

So what if they knew how to change this perception? What if they knew how to stabilise their internal pictures and take back control of their internal experiences?

NLP Provides the HOW

It is often said that we were born with the most amazing computer in the Universe - the Human Brain. The only problem is, nobody gave us an instruction manual on how to work it. Now with NLP, Neuro Linguistic Programming, we have our first handbook for realising the potential of our mind. NLP is the wisdom of research over the past 25 years into how the human mind works. It was developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in the early 1970s.

NLP goes a long way to showing you how to run your brain, how to control how you feel, how to be a more-effective human being, how to improve your learning and communication skills and how your mind influences your health.

NLP enable people to overcome limitations, conflicts, fears, anxieties, and many physical problems with relative ease and achieve an increased level of personal success in a greatly shortened period of time.

Sometimes referred to as 'the study of subjective experience' NLP offers very exciting opportunities for students who have been diagnosed with learning disabilities. NLP is the study of how individuals put their experience (pictures, words, feelings, actions) together and how effective they are in achieving the results they want. It is based on the premise that we are "programmed" by our past experiences - sometimes in ways that support us and sometimes in ways that limit us. NLP enables you to recognise non-judgmentally any limiting behavioural, communication, learning, or emotional patterns and gives you the tools to do something about them. It shows you how you can shift, or, if necessary, "reprogram" certain beliefs, internal states, behaviours or (learning) strategies so that you are freed-up to get the results you want in your life.

So the NLP modelling skills offers the very precise tools that are needed to figure out the different style of subjective experience of this group of students. Many times the difference is at the capability level in the form of thinking or learning strategies. Much of the time the only thing that is needed is the addition or deletion of a simple step in their learning strategy. Once the step is dealt with, learning can occur.

NLP & Dyslexia

Dyslexia inhibits the writing and reading ability of nearly fifteen per cent of all children and adults. There are many associated features or symptoms which teachers and parents can observe that provide clues to the diagnosis of dyslexia. These include the following: a puzzling gap between written language skills and intelligence; delayed and poor reading and spelling; bizarre spelling; left/right confusion and directional difficulties; sequencing difficulties; and poor short-term memory skills (following instructions, repeating digits).

Ron Davis was a dyslexic and through his own efforts discovered how to overcome the barrier to reading. Through a set of orientation exercises a strong visual stabilisation takes place which benefits attention focus and creates the feeling of 'control'. Gaining control of and being in charge of one's learning system is essential to learning, especially when something as complex as a reading system is being learned.

Alan Heath and John Ellis in their book "Beating Dyslexia" highlight recent research that has discovered that dyslexics do not access part of their visual memory. Using NLP techniques such as the "visual spelling strategy" and "emotional state management" they have helped many students transform their lives. They show how to teach dyslexics how to access their 'visual memory' quickly and easily, and so 'see' words correctly. This will have invaluable benefits, not least of which are increased confidence and self-esteem, and reduction in frustration.

In this learning disability, one of the complaints is that the student will not be able to discern the difference between a b and d, or a 6 or 9 or a p or q, as examples. What we found many of them doing was not connecting the sound of the letter or number with the image. When somebody would say "Draw me a b" the sound did not pull up the image for the student to copy. Using NLP techniques, it is a simple matter to teach the student to connect the sound to an image now that we know what is needed.

Students with dyslexia symptoms will also reverse certain words. For example they will pronounce the word saw as was. This appears to be a simple matter of knowing right from left and in knowing that words can only be read from left to right. Again using NLP techniques, it is very quick to reprogram their mind to know the difference between right and left and to read only from left to right


DYSLEXIA: How to recognise it

  1. Do you find difficulty telling left from right?
  2. Is map reading or finding your way to a strange place confusing?
  3. Do you dislike reading aloud?
  4. Do you take longer than you should to read a page of a book?
  5. Do you find it difficult to remember the sense of what you have read?
  6. Do you dislike reading long books?
  7. Is your spelling poor?
  8. Is your writing difficult to read?
  9. Do you get confused if you have to speak in public?
  10. Do you find it difficult to take messages on the telephone and pass them on correctly?
  11. When you have to say a long word, do you sometimes find it difficult to get all the sounds in the right order?
  12. Do you find it difficult to do sums in your head without using your fingers or paper?
  13. When using the telephone, do you tend to get the number mixed up when you dial?
  14. Do you find it difficult to say the months of the year forwards in a fluent manner?
  15. Do you find it difficult to say the months of the year backwards?
  16. Do you mix up dates and times and miss appointments?
  17. When writing cheques do you frequently find yourself making mistakes?
  18. Do you find forms difficult and confusing?
  19. Do you mix up bus numbers like 95 and 59?
  20. Did you find it hard to learn your multiplication tables at school?


Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a condition that some people experience which manifests itself through numerous symptoms which may include one or more of the following: hyperactivity, impulsiveness, distractibility, lack of organisation, forgetfulness and procrastination.

The current widespread, accepted treatment is medication (use of drugs such as Ritalin). Although, for some it may be the only treatment, there are those parents and professionals who question the advisability of putting a child on drugs.

Don Blackerby, a former teacher, struggled at school himself. While studying children with AD/HD, Don discovered that their subjective experience was driving the symptoms. What he found was a wonderful, creative mind, in most cases, but that was out of control! The perception on their part was that they either could not control their mind or their mind controlled them. After awhile, this became a belief about their capabilities. Later on they would start to de-value school and learning. By the teenage years they would start to develop beliefs about their own identity about being "weird" or "different".


AD/HD: How to recognise it

The American Psychiatric Association defines a person as having AD/HD if they meet eight or more of the following:

  1. When required to remain seated, a person has a difficulty doing so
  2. Stimuli extraneous to the task at hand are easily distracting
  3. Holding attention to a single task or play activity is difficult
  4. Frequently will hop from one activity to another, without completing the first
  5. Fidgets or squirms, or feels restless mentally
  6. Doesn't want to, or can't, wait for his or her turn when involved in group activities
  7. Before a question is finished, will often interrupt the questioner with an answer
  8. Has problems with a job or chore follow-through, and this difficulty doesn't stem from some other learning disability or defiant behaviour
  9. Can't play quietly without difficulty
  10. Impulsive jumps into physically dangerous activities without weighing the consequences. (This is different from garden-variety thrill-seeking, and more accurately characterised by a child running into the street without looking.)
  11. Easily loses things such as pencils, tools, papers, which may be necessary to complete school or other work.
  12. Interrupts others inappropriately, butting in when not invited.
  13. Talks impulsively and excessively.
  14. Others report that the person doesn't seem to be listening when spoken to.

To meet AD/HD criteria, the behaviours must have started before the age of seven, not represent some other form of classifiable mental illness, and occur more frequently than the average person of the same age.

Neuro-Logical Levels

Don Blackerby found that to make a diiference work was needed to be done at many of what NLP refers to as the "logical levels" (identity, beliefs and values, capabilities and skills, behaviour, and environment) instead of just at the behaviour and environment. In fact, the interventions at those two levels would not hold in the face of limiting beliefs at the higher levels of capability, beliefs/values, and identity. This explained why it was so difficult to work with AD/HD in the traditional ways. They were trying to solve the problem at a lower level than where the "real issue" was. Albert Einstein once said "You cannot solve a problem at the same level it was created. You have to go to a higher level."

Knowing that the "real issue" was the feeling that the mind was out of control and that, therefore, they would not to be able to succeed in the normal classroom, led Don to develop ways to teach them to control their mind and then teach them effective learning strategies. As he worked with them, he also was ferreting out any limiting beliefs that they may have fallen prey to and help them change those beliefs to beliefs that were more empowering. The results have proven to be absolutely astonishing. So, once they know how to use their mind to their advantage, they unleash that tremendous potential to become whatever they want to be.

New Oceans & Learning Difficulties

Our work as educators and therapists of NLP, AD/HD, and other learning disabilities, has been guided by a belief that all children are gifted children. Each child comes into the world with unique potentials that, if properly nourished, can contribute to the betterment of our world. The biggest challenge for parents and teachers is to remove the roadblocks that keep those gifts from being recognised, celebrated, and nurtured.

If in reading this article you too would like remove those roadblocks and to rediscover the joys of learning and teaching please contact us or read one of the books below.

Related Books

BEATING DYSLEXIA: A Natural Way - Alan Heath & John Ellis

THE GIFT OF DYSLEXIA: Why some of the brightest people can't read and how they can learn - Ronald Davis

HEALING ADD: Using NLP and other methods to heal from growing up a Hunter in a Farmer's World - Thom Hartmann

REDISCOVER THE JOY OF LEARNING: With Blackerby's Academic Success Skills Tips - Don A Blackerby

Further Information:

For further information contact Paul Jacobs at New Oceans, tel: 01727 869782, email: [email protected]

Paul Jacobs is passionate about helping individuals and organisations rediscover the joys of learning. He is a Master NLP Practitioner, an NLP Trainer and a partner in New Oceans, an NLP education and training organisation. Paul is also co-founder of the NLP Education Network (NLPednet). NLPednet has a mission to put the joy back in learning and teaching, and runs regular workshops and conferences.

For more information on New Oceans services contact
New Oceans House, 39 Jennings Road, St Albans Herts AL1 4NX
Tel: 01727 869782 Fax: 01727 842181
Email: [email protected]

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