Row over claims of dyslexia cure

8th February 2002 at 00:00
Trevor McDonald TV show may have given desperate parents false hope, experts warn. Julie Henry reports.

Academics are challenging heavily-publicised claims of a new "cure" for dyslexia that costs more than a thousand pounds.

The controversy has been fuelled by the revelation of a financial link between the professor researching the treatment and Wynford Dore, the millionaire businessman providing it.

Professor David Reynolds, of Exeter University, is on the board of one of Mr Dore's companies and was paid pound;38,000 last year, according to the company's annual report.

The Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Attention Disorder Treatment Centre was established in Warwickshire two years ago by Mr Dore, whose daughter tried to commit suicide because of her condition. He claims his methods could see dyslexia eradicated within 10 years.

The centre was featured last month on the prime-time ITV programme, Tonight with Trevor McDonald. After the broadcast, there were 275,000 calls to Mr Dore's centre. However, there are fears that the claims may give desperate parents false hope.

The Adult Dyslexia Organisation said the concept of a cure was misleading. "Our concern is that desperate individuals may rush to spend money they can ill afford, when other conventional and far less costly approaches could be more effective."

Mr Dore says that the cause of dyslexia lies in the impaired workings of the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls co-ordination. His treatment, which costs up to pound;1,585 per child, aims to stimulate the cerebellum with exercises such as throwing a bean bag from one hand to the other and standing on a wobbly board.

Press releases publicising the centre's work said the techniques were designed by NASA to aid astronauts who suffered from temporary dyslexia. NASA denies this.

Research is being carried out for the centre by Professor Reynolds, a former chair of the numeracy task force and a government adviser. His early findings of two studies involving 75 children suggest those undergoing treatment make substantial improvements in reading and writing.

Other studies have established connections between the development of children's movement skills and reading and writing. But the value of the results the centre has so far made public has been questioned. Academics have also attacked the way the findings have been used to support claims of an "amazing" scientific breakthrough.

Martyn Hammersley, professor of educational and social research at the Open University, said that the centre had made "dramatic factual claims" about the effects of the treatment on its website, on the basis of preliminary results from Professor Reynolds's study.

Professor Hammersley said that although Professor Reynolds does acknowledge the need for an experimental trial, "evidence from the initial retrospective studies is being used to make very bold, and premature, claims".

The British Dyslexia Association and the Dyslexia Institute say the centre's exercise regime may be an important addition to existing treatments but needs to be rigorously tested in proper trials.

Professor Reynolds's research has not yet appeared in any academic journal that could review its findings and conclusions.

The professor said the findings of his early studies were hedged with many qualifications.

But he insisted there were children in the study for whom the word "cure" was entirely appropriate. "I would not have been so positive if our findings had not been so encouraging."

Professor Reynolds, who was awarded a CBE in the New Year honours, is a non-executive board member of Mr Dore's multi-million-pound business, Goal plc, which sells national curriculum tests over the Internet.

The professor insists his work is independent and said he is renowned for speaking the truth. Mr Dore said there was absolutely no connection between Goal, a public company, and the dyslexia centre, which he was funding personally.

Mr Dore said several solid, scientific research studies would be made public in the next few months supporting his approach. He also denies making over-the-top claims about the treatment's efffectiveness.

"Our research confirms what we have seen anecdotally. I have avoided making over-exaggerated claims. If you look at the academic and physiological results ... (the centre) has done a lot of good to a lot of people."

A spokesman for Tonight with Trevor McDonald said: "We stand by our programme."

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