This book [by Tricia Cook] performs one important task above all: it opens the conversation, and without a conversation, knowledge stagnates.

Combining empirical science with holistic wisdom is always going to be a delicate balancing act, but Tricia Cook manages it better than most, pathfinding through the Scilla of one and the Charybdis of the other in such a way that the reader truly appreciates what “holistic” can actually mean. What Cook manages to do is provide enough “science” for the Enlightenment Mind, while steadfastly refusing to limit her view of “the human being” to a view of “the human body”. Her message is simple: if you want to understand learning, you need to understand that the pseudo-rationalist disconnect between “the mind” and “the body” is a false dichotomy — but also that any supposed disconnect between “naturalism” and “non-naturalism” in terms of the human being is equally fallacious. Where learning is concerned, the whole person is important, and cookie-cutting people up into the bits that matter and the bits that don’t is a dangerous game to play.

And so with learning differences. Where there are differences, the subtext is plain — you can’t accept differences if you only accept some differences, and you can’t work with difference if you steadfastly refuse to look at the entirety of what it is to be human. Perspectives of naturalism open into perspectives of non-naturalism. Perspectives of physicalism open into perspectives of soul. Perspectives of the spaces within the human body open into perspectives of a more interconnected time. It makes no sense, in Cook’s ontology, to look at the whole brain if you’re not going to look at the whole person. You can’t locate dyslexia, ADHD, and autism simply in one bit of the body (usually assumed to be somewhere inside a small part of the grey bit at the top); and similarly, Cook argues, you can’t locate dyslexia, ADHD, and autism, if you neglect those aspects of personhood that the empirical sciences have traditionally swept to one side. A truly holistic approach to learning differences, we are urged to consider, involves a truly holistic approach to learning, and this involves a truly holistic approach to being.

Yet the question nags: where a rational (and admittedly well-researched) approach to holistic intervention is being invited, why must we stop at the limited type of holistic intervention being argued for here? Are chakras, etheric bodies, and soul-talk the only dissections we can make of the holistic being? — because if not, it would be an ironic twist indeed were the reader to allow herself to be convinced of the importance of holistic understanding on the one hand, yet be sold just one angle of that holistic approach, on the other. Indeed, there’s a strange tension running throughout the whole work, which plays out not only in the unresolved question of how many other ways there might be of looking at the person-learning relationship; but which scratches away every time we read that, for instance, ‘people with dyslexia also have a high coexistence of ADHD’. If the person is holistic, do we truly want to insist that her conditions are separate? (only those conditions that are separate can coexist, for if they weren’t separate, coexistence would sound nonsensical)

But these are technical, and perhaps philosophical criticisms. Cook’s central argument itself is coherent. It’s researched. It’s intelligent. Even for those of us with a healthy (though by no means dismissive) scepticism of chakras, it’s compelling to the point of persuasive. Quite frankly, in other words, it’s astonishing. Cook’s stand-out achievement is to take what is undoubtedly a deep knowledge of learning differences (such as dyslexia) and combine it both sensitively and learnedly with a deep knowledge of (in her own words) ‘alternative perspectives’ and epigenetics to create a fascinating and resourceful work whose conclusions are, when all is said and done, difficult to dispute. And it’s the perspective itself which is perhaps the most noteworthy thing here — for it’s the surprise of the perspective that opens up the possibility of a broader and deeper discourse on neurodiversity than had previously been had. And in the end, truth always has more space to flex its muscles whenever the conversation is expanded.

Review Written By: Martin Bloomfield, York, England, United Kingdom, Dyslexia Bytes

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