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Mind-Opening Exercises


Having learning differences is a challenge that can be overcome only by acknowledging your differences and finding ways to work through them, around them, and with them. People ask me what I do to compensate for my differences. I'm going to share some of those things with you here. I want to caution you, though, to understand that what works for me might not work for you or your child. Please don't force your child to do what I do. Talk to them, expose them to some of the things that work for me, and facilitate their own search for tools and techniques that work for them.

Each of us has unique challenges and unique gifts. As a child I discovered an aptitude for electrical work. People praised me and that gave me the strength and confidence to grow and find other things I was good at. Few things are more important than encouraging children with learning differences. Help your child find what they are good at and help them get better at it. Self-esteem is very important for children with learning differences, and for all of us.

A lot has been made of the fact that I get up at 3 am to do mental exercises and prepare for my day. Growing children need their sleep. Please don't wake them up in the wee hours of the morning. It is my experience that many children will find it helpful to spend 5 or 10 or minutes in the morning doing some of these things to prepare for their day.

  • Flash cards. I practice simple math on a software program almost every morning. Reviewing simple math flash cards also works. I practice elementary school addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. This helps me warm up my mind in the morning and keeps my memory sharp.
  • Concentration. I focus on the letters C and F on a computer screen for a few minutes every morning. I rotate them sideways and upside down and change the background or the size. I have trouble focusing visually and paying attention even to important things during the day and I find it helps to begin the day with some concentration exercises.
  • Trigger words. There is a long list of simple words that I have trouble with, largely because they are more difficult to visualize than nouns and verbs. The list includes words like was, were, can, could, that, and make, as well as many others. Studying this list every morning gives me a leg up as I head out to do business with people who don't have such issues. You might want to start your own list of trigger words as most people with learning differences have problems with different words and letters.

Meditation, breathing, and massage. I spend at least 15 minutes a day in quiet meditative time. Sometimes I get a massage, sometimes I listen to a motivational tape or classical music. Sometimes I learn something from a tape or hear something that becomes my thought for the day. A lot of the time, though, the primary benefit of this is simply to give me a peaceful, quiet center from which to draw strength throughout the day.

  • Eye contact. It is very important for me to maintain eye contact with people as I speak with them. If I lose eye contact, I lose concentration. Often when meeting with someone, I will ask him or her for eye contact. People I meet with regularly know to maintain eye contact with me. When on the phone, I usually look into a mirror to keep my attention focused on the conversation.
  • Avoid confrontation. It is important to stay in control throughout the day and avoid high-stress situations. When someone confronts me, I try to turn the situation around by asking them what outcome they want. Just asking that question in a pleasant way often diffuses the anger that they brought into the situation. I try not to attack people personally and to remember that everyone is entitled to an opinion. I try to always acknowledge their position and let them know that I "got it".
  • Find a positive outlet for anger. People with learning differences work very hard to do what many take for granted. The pressure and the daily challenges frequently cause frustration. Learning to manage anger is important. I've discovered that channeling my anger into harmless physical expression is very helpful. Among my favorite activities are:
    • Long walks, and walks where I talk to myself or someone else
    • Hitting golf balls
    • Walking on a treadmill
    • Taking a time-out just to have some fun. Sometimes I put on a red clown nose and look at myself in the mirror.
    • Other people practice martial arts or go to a batting cage and whack baseballs.

Reading can be difficult for people with learning differences. Fortunately there are many tools on the market today that can make reading easier. In addition to high-tech gadgets, I use some old-fashioned tricks that are available to anyone.

  • I have a device not much bigger than a pen that I can point at a word on a page and it gives me the definition and the pronunciation instantly.
  • Electronic reading devices, which are available at many bookstores, allow you to download articles or entire books from the Internet. When you click on a word, the definition appears.
  • When reading a book, I always skip ahead to the last chapter immediately after reading the first chapter. This gives me the context I need to increase comprehension.
  • When watching television, turn on the captions on the bottom of the screen.
  • While books on tape might not help people learn reading skills, they can give you a love of books and learning and be an important tool if they don't replace reading.

One of the reasons that statistics are so often called "dry" is that conventional charts, tables, and lists are easily accessible only to linear readers. The majority of people, though, learn better from images than from text and have to puzzle and parse their way through most listings of statistics.

The challenge is to incorporate more of the language of commercial advertising and graphic design into the discourse of meetings, training, memos, and discussion.

While working for a bank in Greece some years ago, I was faced with just that challenge. A financial crisis gripped the country leading to a run on banks. I needed to let our customers know we were solvent and in excellent financial condition. Rather than simply tell people they had nothing to worry about, I put stacks of cash by the teller window. People got the message and there was never a run on our bank.

Making presentations and giving speeches is a big part of my job. One of the hardest things I do is to get up in front of a room and speak. Nonetheless, it is important and it can be very rewarding. I've learned some tricks over the years that make it a lot easier for me.

When making a presentation, I usually:

  • Do at least one rehearsal, more if possible.
  • Use a TelePrompTer if one is available.
  • Have a coach in the audience who maintains eye contact with me and gives me positive reinforcement by nodding their head at key moments.
  • Format the text in a way that compensates for my impairment. To see how I do that, click here.
  • Avoid eating beforehand.
  • Go to a private, quiet room before the presentation, so I can focus myself, breathe, and relax.
  • Record someone else reading the speech and use that to help me practice the presentation.
  • Practice musical scales before speaking.


  1. Text is written in ALL CAPS, size 14 Font in Times Roman.
  2. Do not use contractions. Completely spell out all words.
  3. Place periods in acronyms. Example: use U.S. not US use V.I.P. not VIP
  4. Insert two returns between graphs that have a different train of thought or concept.
  5. Insert two question marks in front of a question followed by a space and one at the end.
    Example: ?? Do you want to attend the conference?
  6. Underline the following words:
    • Proper names. Each name should be followed with brackets in italics that provide the phonetic pronunciation << >>
    • Hardest Trigger Words
      Was went would
      Were have had
      Can has into
      Could your should
      Did not make
      Made than that
      Their which
    • Key words of the main thoughts. Use this very sparingly. Less is best.

7. Only underline the specific word. Do not underline the spaces in between.

Copyright 2001, Donald A. Winkler. All rights reserved. The material contained within this Web site
may not be reproduced or disseminated without prior written consent from Donald A. Winkler.