A Life in Balance (A TOS Review)

The Learning Breakthrough Program is an alternative treatment for dyslexia and ADHD.  By doing the associated exercises and using their equipment, the developers of the program claim that you can train your brain and have a measurable improvement in reading and concentration all without the use of drugs.

Given that I have a nine year old who is very challenged in the attention area, I couldn’t help but be interested the hows and whys of a program that claims to heal the brain and aid in focus without medicine.  So, when I got a chance to review A Life in Balance, the story of how Frank Belgau developed the Learning Breakthrough Program, I looked forward to the chance to learn more about the program and how it came to be.

This is a book for parents who are seeking to aid and provide hope for their children with learning difficulties.  It’s also a great book to read if you’re looking at theories for how the brain develops and learning occurs.  You can currently purchase the book for $16.94.  The book fairly short at around 200 pages, and I was able to sit and read it over the course of about a week.

The book is the story of Frank Belgau as much as it is the story of a program.  Frank Belgau was a little boy who didn’t excel at school and reading the same way that his older siblings did.  He wasn’t the kind of child who his parents could brag on his accomplishments and achievements.  In fact, reading was a complete mystery to him long after most of his peers had figured it out.

One summer, he ran and ran.  He played.  He began to develop coordination that he had never had before.  As he did, he noticed that the mysteries of the written word were beginning to unlock themselves to him.  This was the beginning of a spark that would eventually lead to making a breakthrough in learning about how coordination and physical agility were related to mental agility.

The body of this book is divided into three parts.  The first part is the life story of Frank Belgau and his his work with children who were classified as “minimally brain injured.”

Belgau was always fascinated with the ways things worked and he loved the thrill of solving a problem.  He worked over a problem given by a science teacher in the back of his mind for as long as it took to figure it out.  He, as a young air force mechanic, tried to diagnose trouble with aircraft by sound before he ever took the plane apart.  So, it comes as no surprise that when he found the “minimally brain injured” in his classroom, the students that most educators and administrators had written off, he was able to see their potential.  Belgau was instructing art and found that these children were able to create meaningful works of art and to work hard at the things that were meaningful to them.

Over time, he went from teaching in the regular classroom to taking jobs where he was just teaching those who considered unteachable in the 1960s climate in which he taught.  All the time, as he continued to work with these students, he gives a picture of a man who had a puzzle that was solvable, but he just didn’t have the keys to unlock it.  He did some pretty bizarre (at least to the other teachers around him) things because he cared more about the learning that was going on than he did about the remarks of the teachers around him.

Over a period of years, he created and then refined what would become the Learning Breakthrough Program.  He didn’t always know the science behind it, and he had regrettably left the academic world in disgust with the hostility that many had shown to new ideas.  He only knew that this series of exercises worked and that he believed in them and in the potential of these children.

This brings us to the section section of the book which is an explanation of the tools used in the Learning Breakthrough Program.  It details how the balance board, bat, bean bags, etc. work and why Belgau thinks that these exercises are an effective way to combat ADHD and Dyslexia.  If you’re worried that this book is simply a sales pitch for his product, I can set your mind at ease.  The majority of this book is a fascinating tale of a man and his work.  However, this one section does explain the equipment as if you’re using it or interested in figuring out the whys behind the program.  Since we’re not using the program, this section of the book was a little slow moving for me.

The final section of the book deals with brain theories.  Some of this is scientific theory and some of it is ideas that Belgau has merged with his own to explain how he thinks that his program cures dyslexia.  It’s pretty interesting stuff, especially since Belgau provides some hands-on ways you can test these theories out on yourself or those around you.

Belgau also uses a portion of this last section to explain about how he has used the program to help combat the effects of aging on his brain and how that has led to the realization that everyone, not just those who struggle with academics can benefit from using these simple exercises.  He also reminds us that those who have more difficulty learning are frustrated.  They’re locked in a system that doesn’t understand them and can’t reach them.  They’re brains are affected, and often many are locked into a life that seems hopeless.  The hope is there, but we just have to reach them.

He also includes a large scale exercise/series of exercises called “The Moon Walk” in the appendix that you can do at home to assess your abilities and even to work on correcting some of your coordination/balance issues.

I was really drawn in by this book.  I could sense that Belgau is a man who really believes that he has a cure and that if he could get one of his Learning Breakthrough packages into the hands of every dyslexic in the world that he could cure dyslexia.  He also is unable to completely explain the science behind why the Learning Breakthrough Program produces measurable progress in reading.  However, he can show that it does via the experiences that children have had using it.  After reading his book, I don’t think he cares whether or not the academics agree with his ideas.  He just wants to get them into the hands of as many people as possible.

I think it makes a great read, especially if you have a child who is different.  One of the things that I found encouraging was to read his ideas of how motion and coordination affect your ability to learn.  I have a child who has to pace the floor, tap on things and move things around to learn much of anything at all, so I can really relate to the idea that engaging the body in learning will help aid that brain development.  I need all the encouragement that I can get sometimes, and I can say that this book has provided encouragement as I read it.


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