Academics hail success of dyslexia treatment
James Meikle, health correspondent
The Guardian, Tuesday 5 November 2002 09.32 GMT
A revolutionary exercise programme for children and adults with dyslexia and similar learning difficulties was hailed as a major breakthrough last night, as academics said the therapy was working.
David Reynolds of Exeter University, and Rod Nicolson of Sheffield University, who monitored the progress of 35 children in the West Midlands, said those who had undergone the treatment showed "significantly greater improvements" than others in dexterity, reading and verbal fluency.
Government advisers will now be under pressure to examine the apparent benefits of the treatment which advocates say does not interfere with attempts to improve reading skills in the classroom.
Ten thousand children and adults are on or have completed programmes which effectively try to improve the working of the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls motor functions, such as eye, leg and arm movements.
Expensive equipment measuring the balance of the internal ear canals and key coordination abilities helps determine individualised exercise programmes that can be very simple, such as getting up, moving round a chair and sitting down again, throwing and catching bean bags or standing on one leg while trying to tie knots in a piece of string.
Local authorities are already interested in the programme, which could not only bring a stepchange in treatment of dyslexia, if it lives up to the claims being made for it, but also make a huge difference to Sats results in schools.
"There is something to it," said Professor Reynolds, former head of the government's numeracy task force. "We still have to determine its exact strength. It appears to be another lever parents and schools can utilise to improve performance. It is no different in principle to parents buying private tuition. The danger is if it is only made available to those who can afford to buy it."
He added: "You have had a private sector submitting its treatment to a scientific evaluation of a kind very few, if any, dyslexia treatments have submitted themselves to."
Professor Reynolds has been a non-executive director of the company producing the treatment programme that can cost as much as £1,500, but he has only been paid expenses, and his academic reputation might help overcome scepticism there has been over the value of the treatment.
Wynford Dore, the businessman behind the Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Attention Treatment Centres, has poured in millions, earned from his development of fire protection coatings for steel structures. His daughter Susie, now 30, was among the test cases for the programme which staff have developed over three years.
The original centre at Kenilworth, Warwickshire, has been followed by seven others in Britain in recent months, as well as new operations in Sydney and in Fort Worth, Texas.
Mr Dore says the results suggested that after treatment children showed a three-fold improvement in reading tests, a five-fold improvement in comprehension and a 17-fold improvement in Sats writing.
Mr Dore said: "I am sure this is a dream and someone is going to pinch me and wake me up. This has tremendous implications, particularly if you look at the correlation between crime and people with learning difficulties and unemployment and those with learning difficulties."
Children at Balsall Common primary school, Solihull, who were originally on the control group, which did not do the exercises at home, are now getting the treatment. Its head Trevor Davies said pupils' confidence and achievement had shot up. "We are trying to draw lessons which could benefit learning for all pupils, with physical activities to improve balance and coordination, and help with academic and physical progress."