Behind the headlines: Are exercises a ‘cure' for dyslexia?

Exercises that stimulate the cerebellum can cure dyslexia, say researchers. By Emma Baines

What is the story?  

A revolutionary drug-free treatment for dyslexia has been hailed as a wonder cure by the national press.  

They reported that a ‘brain gym’ technique, which uses eye, balance and co-ordination exercises to stimulate the part of the mind responsible for learning, can completely eradicate learning difficulties.  

More than 80 per cent of children with dyslexia who tried the technique were completely cured, the papers said.  

The technique could also be used to treat children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other learning problems, it was reported.  

What is the research?  

The media reports are based on follow-up data from a study designed to measure the long-term effects of the Dore Programme on children with learning difficulties.  

The Dore Programme, developed by Coventry-based businessman Wynford Dore, is advertised as a ‘permanent solution’ for attention deficit disorder, ADHD, dyslexia, and behavioural and other learning difficulties.  

It is offered at 11 treatment centres in the UK. It costs £400 for an assessment and a year’s course is around £1,500.  

The theory is that many learning difficulties are caused by delayed development of the cerebellum, which is involved in learning and the development of motor skills, so the treatment involves six months to a year of daily exercises, designed to stimulate the cerebellum.  

The programme aims to combat ‘cerebellar developmental delay’ and remove the physiological cause of many learning problems.  

The current study includes data from 29 children aged seven to 11 who had low scores on a dyslexia screening test, which measures literacy skills, phonological awareness, verbal memory, motor skill, balance and memory retrieval fluency.  

Of these, six had an external diagnosis of dyslexia, two had a diagnosis of dyspraxia and one had ADHD.  

The children were divided into two groups. One group was treated with Dore exercises, the other group was not.  

The children given the treatment did five to 10 minutes of exercises daily for six months. These included using a balance board, throwing and catching bean bags, spinning exercises and a range of motor co-ordination exercises.  

Researchers reported that the reading age of children treated with the Dore method improved dramatically after treatment.  

They also reported that the benefits were maintained more than 12 months after the treatment ended.  

What does the researcher say?  

Lead researcher on the study, Professor David Reynolds from the school of education and lifelong learning at the University of Exeter, said: ‘Before treatment the children were learning at a rate of seven months improvement in a year, whereas they should have been getting 12 months’ worth.  

‘In the year of treatment they showed 20 months’ improvement, and now they are learning at a rate of 12 months in a year.’  

He said that the most important observation from the most recent data is that the treatment effect persists more than a year after treatment.  

‘Nobody has ever seen a treatment effect hold for this length of time after treatment.’  

Dr Reynolds said this was because traditional treatments for dyslexia, such as phonics-based reading approaches, did not address the root cause of the problem.  

‘The reason this treatment is so effective is that it deals with the underlying cause of dyslexia — an inadequate, underdeveloped cerebell,’ he said.  

Professor Reynolds added that the negative criticism the research had received from other dyslexia experts was astounding: ‘I am appalled by the reception. We expected this paper to have a better hearing than the previous one, but it seems we are as controversial as ever.  

‘My advice to anyone wondering if this treatment could help their child would be to go for the assessment. The problem may not be a cerebellar one. But if it is, then I would recommend giving the Dore method a shot.’  

What do other experts say?  

Professor Margaret Snowling, of the department of psychology at the University of York, completely disagree.  

‘There is no evidence this helps reading — it is not a cure and GPs should tell parents to stay clear,’ she said. 

In a joint statement with Dr John Rack, head of assessment and evaluation at Dyslexia Action, and Dr Simon Gibbs, a senior educational psychologist in North Yorkshire, Professor Snowling said that the paper demonstrated little of direct relevance to dyslexia, and appeared to contain serious methodological, statistical and conceptual flaws.  

‘We have grave concerns that the paper will be greeted in less well informed circles as evidence that dyslexia can be “cured” when the evidence presented indicates very little improvement in the functional literacy of the dyslexic children in the study,’ it said. 

A spokeswoman for dyslexia charity the British Dyslexia Association said parents of children who had been through the programme were often disappointed their child’s reading had not improved more.  

‘It can improve some aspects of dyslexia, but not all,’ she said. ‘GPs should advise their patients to treat all programmes that claim to cure dyslexia with great caution. There is no cure.’  

Parents worried about their child’s reading ability should have them assessed by an educational psychologist, she added.   

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