LD Expert Podcast

Episode 24: Stories and Advice from a Cognitive Consultant – Alexandra Dunnison


    In this Episode

    Have you ever felt totally at a loss as to what to do if you have a child or teen with learning or attention challenges?

    Our special guest on this week’s podcast episode is Alexandra Dunnison, a cognitive consultant. She helps families find appropriate neuroplastic techniques, therapies, and programs to increase their abilities and overcome, or greatly improve, learning difficulties and other cognitive processes.

    She shares stories and advice so that you don’t end up on a 30+ year journey of finding help like some of her clients.


    In this week's episode, you'll learn:

    • Common themes from families who have struggling students
    • What getting to the root of the problem looks like and what it doesn’t look like
    • Recommended reading for parents, educators and professionals from Take the Stone Out of the Shoe

    Episode Highlight

    But often people will say, well, they would do it, but they're just bored. And I know that boredom really is because someone is struggling. When they use the term boredom, 90% of the time it's just because something is too hard for them.” - Alexandra Dunnison



    Episode Transcript


    [00:00:03.130] - Jill Stowell

    Have you ever felt totally at a loss as to what to do if you have a child or teen with learning or attention challenges? You probably have because understanding what's going on and what to do about it is not easy. This is the LD Expert podcast. I'm Jill Stowell, founder of Stowell Learning Centers and author of a brand new book just out this week called Take the Stone Out of the Shoe: A Must Have Guide to Understanding, Supporting, and Correcting Dyslexia Learning and Attention Challenges. Our conversation today is with Alexandra Dunnison, a cognitive consultant who really understands how lost you can feel when you're trying to get help for your kids. Alexandra has guided parents from all over the world through this process. Alexandra, you have been a guest on our LD Expert live broadcast twice and it's so nice to have you back today.


    [00:01:14.390] - Alexandra Dunnison

    Thank you for having me. Nice to see you.


    [00:01:17.750] - Jill Stowell

    So Alexandra, what do parents, when they come looking for you, why do they do that and how do they find you?


    [00:01:31.610] - Alexandra Dunnison

    It's a very back route process. Usually because I don't do traditional work, but usually it's word of mouth and it's after people have kind of we'll use the version of the stone again, they turned over what they think is every stone and they still aren't really getting anywhere. And then somebody says, have you tried this? Have you tried this? And eventually someone will say, well, maybe you should talk to Alexandra. She might be able to help you find a different route.


    [00:02:04.310] - Jill Stowell

    And so they have been on the journey for a while. By the time they find you, sometimes.


    [00:02:11.440] - Alexandra Dunnison

    It's 30 years or more coming to me. So the youngest might be 18 months, but they can be 30, 40, 50, even 60 years old that I'll have someone that has been on the journey for many years. Yeah.


    [00:02:28.380] - Jill Stowell

    Wow. And so what are the common themes that you see with parents or with adults who contact you?


    [00:02:41.570] - Alexandra Dunnison

    Life is a lot harder than it needs to be. Everything seems to take more time and that they feel that they aren't able to access things that other people are able to access as easily.


    [00:02:55.190] - Jill Stowell

    Wow, that is so true. Life is just harder than it needs to be. They find ways, but it's just hard. Yeah. So do you have a specific example of a family that you could share with us? Maybe their situation and how you helped them?


    [00:03:16.730] - Alexandra Dunnison

    Yeah, actually I'm working with the family currently. That's a great example because originally they came to me after having found another neuroplastic intervention, one method of helping them that sort of opened up their eyes to the fact that there are other options that they can do more things to actually get better progress. And the daughter is 16, but she's more like a twelve year old. And I first started working with her. So I look at everything that they've been doing and help guide them in that way. And some of the things have also now helped the mother and now the son, who is actually in university studying neuroscience, but he's got some issues even though he's very bright. And now it's like everyone seems to be benefiting, which is really cool when that happens, it's actually not just the person that came to me for, but it really affects the whole family.


    [00:04:09.410] - Jill Stowell

    It does, yeah. So you literally work with people around the world. When you look for professionals or therapies or programs to kind of add to your list of referrals, what are you looking for?


    [00:04:31.070] - Alexandra Dunnison

    Yes, I know what therapies, what programs, what techniques I'm looking for, but I'm also really looking for a good fit and somebody who's really understand is on the same page. So it's really important to me that I'm not just going to say I'm going to go find a vision therapist, but I'm literally going to read their website, I'm going to connect with them, I'm going to talk to other people, then to see them and make sure that they are the right fit for that person right. That I'm looking for.


    [00:04:59.870] - Jill Stowell

    Yeah, that's really important because it's a process and you've got to be able to stick it out. So you want it to be a really good fit.


    [00:05:09.040] - Alexandra Dunnison

    Right. Oh, actually, I should also add, of course, the finances. That's another issue. Right. So someone may say to me, they have unlimited resources, they're willing to fly to Iceland, they don't care, they'll do whatever it takes. So obviously I would look for something else for that person. Then I look for someone who tells me the resources are limited and they can't travel. So then I would look for something closer to home that's more affordable.


    [00:05:34.190] - Jill Stowell

    Perfect. So we have been connected for a few years. How did you come across Stowell Learning Centers and kind of what piqued your interest?


    [00:05:48.930] - Alexandra Dunnison

    Yes. So I was working in Seattle running a program, a cognitive program, and there was a center there that had your program that was actually, I guess it was licensed to them. And they gave me your book and it was the first book that you've written. So I read that book and it was just confirming everything that I had been looking into and researching further, and I was like, oh my gosh, this is all here. It's very clear. It's great to share with families. And so then I had reached out to you at one point and we sort of kept that relationship going. And now with online accessibility, you've been able to work with some of my families from as far away as Saudi Arabia. So it's been great.


    [00:06:29.160] - Jill Stowell

    Yeah, well, it's been a really fun connection for us too. And one of the things that you and I instantly connected on was that if we really want to make real and permanent changes for kids or adults, we have to address the root of the problem. So when you think about that, what does getting to the root look like and what does it not look like?


    [00:07:01.170] - Alexandra Dunnison

    It's a really good question and also helping parents understand that too, because often they think that they found the root. Right? So for me, I'm always looking at where is it that development didn't go as it was intended to go. And that's really where the root is. You have to go back. We often use the analogy of a tree. You have branches, you have leaves, then you have branches, then you have a tree trunk, and then you have the root. So if you're fertilizing the leaves, you might get some results, but not really if the problem is in the root. Right? So you really have to investigate. It's a big investigative process to determine with lots of assessments and questions and seeing where is it actually that the problem lies and that is really the root.


    [00:07:52.350] - Jill Stowell

    And so, working with therapists all around the world, do you find that that is a common approach in the industry?


    [00:08:04.590] - Alexandra Dunnison

    Not at all. Yeah, I always say neuroscience and education, never the twin shall meet. Right. So it's unfortunate that, again, people who are in the industry, education are generally very good. People care about it's, not for lack of caring, it's just that it's knowledge base. Right. Educators are not taught about the brain and how to really look at what's going on, where the root causes are. So they're looking at very traditional methods. And sometimes if someone has a very mild problem, those methods are adequate, but most of the time they are not.


    [00:08:47.790] - Jill Stowell

    Right. And that is really one of the things that is so important to me. And with this new book, Take the Stone out of the Shoe, that's part of it, that I just want to get the message out there that these things can be changed, but we have to get to the root. And so really exploring what the root is and how that connects with the science. Since we are talking about Take the Stone Out of the Shoe today, I wanted to read a little excerpt and get your thoughts as it relates to your experience.


    [00:09:27.070] - Jill Stowell

    So this is from chapter 17: What does it take to permanently correct a learning challenge? In her adult life, Jessica became a doctorate level reading professor at a prestigious university. As a nine year old, she was a non reader. The root of the problem was weak auditory processing that kept her brain from discriminating the differences in sounds and learning and using phonics for reading and spelling. The traditional approach at school and in tutoring provided Jessica with phonics instruction and lots of reading practice. But it didn't work. Not because of poor teaching, but because her brain couldn't access the information it needed to benefit from the instruction.


    [00:10:19.630] - Jill Stowell

    If we want to permanently change or correct a learning challenge, we must identify and develop the underlying foundational learning or processing skills that are the real reason the student is struggling. The brain is a learning machine. So once the pathways are open and the brain is getting the information it needs, it will learn. So does that resonate with.


    [00:10:51.750] - Alexandra Dunnison

    In line with what I'm working with, yes. So many people don't understand why it is that those methods aren't working. But it's like if your auditory system is not able to discriminate the sound, then they don't hear. I would say it's like being on a telephone and they say F as in Frank, not S as in Sam. Right. But it's like that distortion, if their world is that distortion isn't how many times you say SF? And they're hearing SF because their auditory system isn't functioning properly. And that's where you have to work on the auditory system, not on keeping saying F because they still are going to hear S. Right.


    [00:11:33.450] - Jill Stowell

    And that's a great example. So you were one of the first readers of Take the Stone Out of the Shoe. Thank you for that. What did you gain from it? Were there any AHA moments or deeper understanding? That came through.


    [00:11:53.610] - Alexandra Dunnison

    Well for me because we're so much on the same page. It was just more like, I agree with that, and I agree with that. For me, it was no AHA moments, just because we're so much on the same page, but definitely it was more just good information because it's going out to parents and, as you say, parents and educators, and this is the population that we really want to be able to reach.


    [00:12:15.450] - Jill Stowell

    Right. And I really did write it with parents and teachers in mind.


    [00:12:23.350] - Alexandra Dunnison

    Right. And for them, hopefully there'll be lots of AHA moments. Right, right. That's the whole point. Wake up.


    [00:12:33.990] - Jill Stowell

    But we certainly do share it with other professionals. Are there any parts that you feel like would be encouraging or that you would encourage professionals to read or be aware of?


    [00:12:48.090] - Alexandra Dunnison

    I think that there is one chapter, I wouldn't say just read this section of chapter one because I think you're going to be missing a lot. I think that eventually people should make their way through the whole thing because you're doing it in terms of covering it all in different parts and you're sort of revisiting at times. But I'm just looking at my notes that I had here: Five reasons why your child's attention problem may not be ADHD. And that one is the one we've talked about quite a lot, because ADHD is something that's diagnosed so much that pretty much everybody that comes to me tells me, oh, and my child has ADHD. But they don't really need to say that to me because I know that someone will have given that person that diagnosis. But the question is, why is everyone getting this diagnosis? If it's an attention problem, what is the cause of it? Giving it a label. It's not something you can give. It's not like an illness, it's not cancer. So it's not like we can take cells and look at them and say, oh, you have this cancer and we can do this therapy for it.


    [00:13:58.640] - Alexandra Dunnison

    It's not that it's a symptoms checklist, right. So we're not looking at something that we can actually see on our microscope. So how do we know what ADHD is really is? We have to look at what is attention deficit disorder, so what is causing that inattention? And you talk about all the different things that could actually be causing a person to have difficulty paying attention and that is a really big topic for me trying to help my family understand because they get very attached to those labels. And of course, oftentimes the first suggestion is to put a child or an adult on medication, right. Even though you may get some results, is that actually getting to back to your root cause? Right?


    [00:14:49.530] - Jill Stowell

    And there are so many different things that if you're struggling to get the information visually or auditory, auditorily, well, now your attention has been impacted by that. You're right, medication is not going to solve all of those problems as it isn't really addressing the root. And what about parents? Was there a particular chapter or part of the book that you felt would be important for them to read?


    [00:15:27.370] - Alexandra Dunnison

    That's another one again where I would be careful to say, oh, just read this and then you'll be fine. Because I really think that they really need to read all of it to get all the pieces. But there's another section on boredom which is not a technical section. There's parts where you sort of talk about why does your child appear bored or why do they look like they may not be paying attention. And then other parts where you really go into what are the actual programs and methods that we're using to help us, which is later and very important. So I wouldn't want them to miss those kinds of things. But often people will say, well, they would do it, but they're just bored. And I know that boredom really is because someone is struggling. When they use the term boredom, 90% of the time it's just because something is too hard for them. They will say, oh, it's just boring. And the parents will often buy into that because the child may be very bright and they may think, well, they're very interested in these other things, so these other things just are boring to them and they will actually feed that narrative and we'll prevent them from actually helping the child to figure out what actually is going on and see if we can solve the problem.


    [00:16:42.160] - Alexandra Dunnison

    So now they can actually do all those things without having so much struggle and feeling that they need to label it boring or something else.


    [00:16:52.090] - Jill Stowell

    Yeah, that's so true. Well, Alexandra, thank you so much for joining me today to talk a little bit about Take the stone out of the Shoe. It was really great seeing you and talking with you, and if you would like to get in touch with Alexandra, we're going to post up her contact information so you can do that. She has truly a unique and incredibly needed service. So be sure to take a look. We have a special promotional price on Amazon right now, so I want to encourage all of you to go to Amazon and get a copy. And I would love it if you would leave a review and tell me what part you liked best. Enjoy.