Dyslexia

Treatment Getting Raves In Britain

You may not know it, but chances are someone close to you has dyslexia.

As many one in 10 of us has some form of dyslexia, a debilitating condition in which letters are scrambled, words are blurred, and reading is difficult, if not impossible.

Finding an effective treatment has proven elusive. But a surprising new treatment based on series of simple exercises to stimulate a part of the brain has been getting raves in Britain.

Now, it's coming to America, and it's raising hopes and questions. Does it really work? Over a period of nine months, Correspondent Christiane Amanpour followed two people with severe dyslexia.


Martin Long has managed to carve out a successful career in advertising even though he is severely dyslexic. Martin says that when he reads, it's like having to learn each word as if he had never seen it before.

Chloe Roberts, 9, has the same problem. Her dyslexia was diagnosed when she was 7, but dyslexia often goes unrecognized, and those who have it are treated as if they were stupid or disruptive in class.

In fact, Martin is still haunted by what happened to him at school: "I had one horrific teacher. She would physically drag me into the next class and say, 'Look what this stupid boy has done.'"

At 11, Martin was prescribed Valium by his doctor: "The desperateness of dyslexia is horrific when no one understands what you're saying. It's not … you're not an idiot."

What is it like? What do you see? How do you feel?

"When the teacher is describing something to class, you understand it, but immediately afterwards you forget it, and then you have to go and ask her," says Chloe. "Sometimes she gets a bit cross."


60 Minutes II started filming Chloe and Martin last December, and followed them for the next nine months as they began what is a controversial new treatment.

The treatment involves simple exercises that are supposed to help overcome dyslexia. Chloe has been told to throw a beanbag from side to side as part of a set of exercises tailored especially for her. She also has to count with her arms outstretched, and she has to balance on a wobble board.

"I didn't know why I had to do it at first, but I still don't actually know why I have to do, like, throwing a beanbag and things," says Chloe.

Everyone on this program has to do the exercises for 10 minutes every morning and night. Martin has been prescribed a similar routine. The theory behind his treatment is that repetition is supposed to activate dormant neural pathways in a part of the brain called the cerebellum.

The cerebellum is at the base of the brain. For a long time, its only purpose was thought to be controlling the body's motor functions. But recent research has led some scientists to believe that it may play an important role in reading and short-term memory.

The team behind the exercise treatment believes that dyslexics have cerebellums that are not fully developed, and say that their exercises will correct that problem.

It's a controversial theory that's being pioneered by a British businessman named Wynford Dore. He's a multi-millionaire who made his fortune not in the medical profession, but by developing fire-retardant paint.

"I was never a paint expert, but we created the best fire protection paint in the world. I'm not an educationalist, but I have got some wonderful educationalists and wonderful medical researchers working with me," says Dore.

"All I am is someone who believes that there is a solution and will do everything in my power to find that solution to this massive problem."


Wynford Dore was motivated by his own personal tragedy. His daughter, Suzie, who got married this summer, has dyslexia. And he blames it for her repeated attempts to commit suicide.

Dore decided to find a cure on his own. Four years ago, he started pouring his own money into research, and his team of scientists came to some conclusions about how to fix a dyslexic brain. The result: exercise regimens and clinics that Dore started opening across Britain.

He believes these exercises are the key to unlocking dyslexia: "Exercises are the key to developing the cerebellum in the way it should have been developed, which in turn means that the symptoms of dyslexia subside or go away."

Today, Dore sells his exercise regime for around $3,000 dollars per patient. He calls the treatment revolutionary, but exercises to treat dyslexia are not new. In fact, one American researcher introduced similar balance training exercises more than 30 years ago.

What makes his exercises different from those that have already existed?

"The exercise programs that have been around for many years have been in the right area, but they weren't to know what was going to come out in the science in the last few years," says Dore.

"Things have moved on, and we've taken advantage of that and come up with a program that is revolutionary, in the extent of the results we're getting."


What's different is that Dore's clinics track the progress in the cerebellum part way into the treatment of the two people 60 Minutes II chose to follow. And the results were decidedly mixed.

Two months into the exercise program, Martin Long said he didn't see much improvement at all: "It sounds really strange, but I seem to be more dyslexic. I seem to be having trouble with my words, getting spellings wrong more frequent, but I don't know if that's because I'm able to recognize it more."

A few months later, 60 Minutes II met up with Chloe Roberts, who was having a checkup at one of Dore's clinics. She said she was doing better: "My school work is easier, reading and remembering things."

That may not sound very scientific, but stories like that lead Dore to claim a high success rate among his 12,000 or so patients in Britain. And now, he's started opening clinics in Australia and the United States.

Is there such a thing as a cure?

"The term cure is normally used when something has proven that after 5 years, there's no sign of regression," says Dore. "We're 3 and ¼ years into this; there is no sign of regression -- so in a couple of years time, I predict that we will be saying this is the cure."

It's a bold claim that not everyone believes, particularly in the dyslexia establishment. So Dore set out to get some proof. Last year, he funded a study at this elementary school in Warwickshire, England. It lasted six months and involved 35 children with varying degrees of dyslexia. It's the only such study that's ever been carried out.

The results were published in the academic journal "Dyslexia." The study claimed that the children's reading fluency had shown a "highly significant improvement" and concluded that the "results do suggest that the exercise treatment was effective in improving … literacy performance."


But the study was roundly criticized by the dyslexia establishment.

Shirley Cramer, the head of Britain's Dyslexia Institute, said the study was too small and its methods flawed.

"It's clear that some of the claims are just overblown -- that's really the guts of it. I think that there may be something in it, but the claims that are made for it are rather, perhaps, exaggerated … The claims of curing dyslexia, it's the claims so revolutionary that I think really don't stack up," says Cramer.

"I think it deserves further investigation, and I think it will have a place in the intervention that there are for dyslexics."

Up to now, Britain's Dyslexia Institute, like all traditional establishments, has been trying to fight dyslexia through intensive teaching called a multi-sensory approach.

A child looks at a word, listens to how it sounds, repeats that word and then writes it down.

But Cramer believes at best the effects of dyslexia can only be alleviated, not cured, and Dore's claim of a cure worries her: "Now if somebody tells you there's going to be a miracle cure, well, of course, as any parent would, you're going to run for that. But what you really need to know is well, yes, it might help my child, but it isn't the whole story."


After nine months of treatment, 60 Minutes II checked in again with Chloe and Martin. There's no science to how we chose them, we simply picked them at random from Dore's program.

Chloe told us she's enjoying herself more, and even though her parents told us they don't think she's been cured, they're happy that she's reading and writing better -- and that she's much more confident.

"I wasn't improving at all before I did the exercises, and now I am," says Chloe, who thinks the approach is working.

Martin told us things have gotten better for him, too, and he's seen positive results: "I'm not there yet, but I can see I can get there."