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  • Writer's pictureLiz Bertran

Disorientation and how it relates to Reading, Writing, ADHD & Math

Ride along with me for a moment in this person's impressions of physical disorientation: “Our first stop was the Fun House (Playland at the Beach, San Francisco, CA) which was weird and exciting. Disorientation was the theme of this joint and it didn’t take long to get into the swing of things. First you passed through a hall of mirrors which warped your image dramatically… Next you passed through an enormous rotating tube to get to the other side, but nobody got through it without falling over a few times. The next challenge was to walk across this wooden bridge with sections which folded up and down making it impossible to remain standing. Finally, you passed through large rotating drums which spit you out into an enormous wooden space…”1 Although this experience focuses on physical disorientation, let me tell you about another kind of disorientation that effects reading, writing, math, etc.

Up until 11 years ago, I never gave the word “disorientation” a second thought; but then I became a facilitator for the Davis Dyslexia Association International and I started on a path to gain a firm understanding of disorientation and how it relates to those who have difficulties with reading, writing, spelling, attention, and math. To gain an understanding of the word “disorientation,” we must first understand it's opposite: “orientation.” According to Ron Davis (Founder of Davis Dyslexia Association, Intl.), orientation means: “Knowing where you are in relation to your environment.”2 To get a better handle of the word: disorientation, Ron explains disorientation as: “the natural function of a normal brain. It occurs when we are overwhelmed by stimuli or thought. It also occurs when the brain receives conflicting information from the different senses and attempts to correlate the information.”3 When it comes to flat, picture-less symbols (numbers and letters), the brain of the dyslexic is unable to untangle what they are seeing with their physical eyes. Instead of their vision being the problem, their brain spins things around to make sense of the symbols in front of them. This is disorientation.

By contemplating about some everyday illustrations of what physical disorientation means, we can begin to grasp the reality of what the struggling child or adult can experience with reading, writing, math. Put yourself in the place of the person experiencing the following:

  • While pulling into a parking spot, a car in the next space over is pulling out in the opposite direction.

  • Spinning faster and faster and then suddenly stopping.

  • Theme parks or fair rides. Though some people love the adrenaline feeling from this, others can’t stand it. As a small child, I had my first taste of being disoriented when I visited Playland at the Beach as described by John H. Myers in the opening paragraph. This experience will stay with me forever.

  • An experience of vertigo from an ear imbalance or rocky boat trip.

I invite you to contemplate some of these tangible signs of how the feeling of disorientation affects those who struggle with dyslexia, ADHD, dyscalculia:

  1. Speaking to someone and then not being certain of what you were saying.

  2. When your parents/teachers/bosses give you detailed instructions and you can’t remember any of it.

  3. Always being late and having no sense of the passage of time.

  4. Having mental confusion when you’re in a group discussion and you don’t know how to get back on track with the topic.

  5. Needing to read things repeatedly to have understanding.

  6. Skipping/adding numbers, words, or lines when reading.

  7. When reading out loud, you stop or speed up.

  8. Incessant tapping of a foot or rocking back and forth.

  9. Clumsiness

  10. Illegible handwriting.

  11. When writing, you change the size of letters or mix upper and lower case inappropriately.

  12. Having creative ideas; but you can’t get them down on paper.

  13. When letters and/or numbers float around on the page.

  14. Headaches and/or nausea.

  15. Confusion over letters (e.g., b/d/p/q) – known as “mirror generalization.”

  16. Because thinking in pictures is how those with dyslexia, dyscalculia and ADHD operate, they are disoriented by symbols (letters, words, numbers). While listening to the spoken word or reading, the brains of these amazing picture-thinking people are subconsciously receiving pictures that flash through their minds thousands of times faster than those who are word-thinkers. When they are forced into the flat, non-dimensional world of symbols (words/numbers), they are triggered into being disoriented. By gaining even a slight understanding of what disorientation is and how it feels, we can begin the process of knowing why some people struggle with reading, writing, math, and attention; and therefore, get them the help they need. Instead of labeling them as not trying hard enough, lazy, or undisciplined, we need to reflect on what is occurring in their brains and look to showing them how to flip the “off-switch” to being disoriented. The Davis Program gives them tools to turn off this disorientation. Once they have been given the tools to be oriented for reading, writing, math, and attention, they can begin the process of mastering written words, symbols, and numbers.

If you or your child struggle with what’s been described above, please consider a program that deals with the root cause (disorientation) rather than a quick medication fix; or trying to put a band-aid on the problem by endless repetition and memorization. It doesn’t work! Ron Davis further clarifies the concept of disorientation as: “the loss of one’s position or direction in relation to other things; a state of mind in which mental perceptions do not agree with the true facts and conditions in the environment; in some people, this is an automatic response to confusion.”4 Consider the Davis Dyslexia Correction® Program (for ages 9-90), the Davis® Attention Mastery (ADHD) Program (ages 9-90), the Davis® Math Mastery Program (ages 9-90), or the Davis® Reading Program for Young Learners (ages 5-7) to make a life-long change for you, your children, or your grandchildren.


1. Myers, John H., Miller Avenue Musings – Tales from Mill Valley during the 1950s and 60’s,

2. Davis, Ronald D., (1994) The Gift of Dyslexia, (14).

3. Davis, Ronald D., (1994) The Gift/Dyslexia, (15).

4. Davis, Ronald D., (1994) The Gift of Dyslexia (249).

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