Can Physical Exercise Help Treat Dyslexia?

Katie Belford knows too well the challenges of dealing with dyslexia, a learning disability that affects more than 40 million American children and adults.

Both of her sons, 12-year-old Michael and 9-year-old Adam, live with the condition. Dyslexics are often highly intelligent but they lack the decoding skills necessary for reading, writing and reading comprehension.

"It's crushing," Belford said. "And you cry for so many years. And then you go, well, there's got to be something we can do. I mean, Michael's self-esteem was just really down when he was little. It was tough."

Her husband, Mark Belford, said Michael's problems become evident when he was in the first grade. "He was disruptive in the class," he said, "and the main reason was because he wasn't getting it. It just was not connecting."

Michael recalled how frustrating that could be. "I just didn't know what to do and had trouble working in a lot of things in school," he said.

Seeking Alternatives

Multimillionaire businessman Wynford Dore had a similar experience with his daughter, who lived with dyslexia for years without much help from treatments.

"It got to the point that she was becoming depressed and suicidal," he said.

Determined to find a solution, Dore channeled his pain and frustration into a five-year search for answers. "This is not bad parenting," he said. "It's not bad teaching. There's a physiological problem."

The result is a controversial program with five new Dore Achievement Centers across the United States. At the heart of the Dore Method — which claims to have helped more than 16,000 people in the United Kingdom and Australia — is the theory that children like Michael and Adam have an underactive cerebellum. Located at the base of the brain, the cerebellum contains 50 percent of the brain's nerve cells. According to Dore, the centers' individually designed exercise routines stimulate this area and lead to improvements in learning.

Research conducted by prominent neurologists across the United States seems to support Dore's claims, but there are many skeptics.

"Is there evidence that the cerebellum is actively involved in helping children learn to read or in becoming better readers? I'm not aware of any evidence," said Yale University professor Sally Shaywitz, the author of Overcoming Dyslexia and one of the leading experts in the treatment of learning disorders.

Shaywitz warned that, compared to other proven approaches, the Dore program offers insufficient science to support its success. "The notion that physical exercises can be used to address reading problems has been with us a long time, for decades," she said. "This current version needs to be subject to our new high standard of scrutiny to be examined, as other programs have."

Dore maintained that the treatment works. "Our clients often say he or she's got no more symptoms. They're cured," he said. "Well, if the clients want to say that, that's fine. We don't actually say that. But we are pursuing the cure."

Seeing Progress

Michael and Adam have been in the program for 13 months, which has cost their parents $4,000. They do exercises such as standing on a wobble board, tossing a bean bag and bouncing on a ball for 10 minutes, twice a day.

Their grades have improved, most notably in reading, science and math, subjects that often are challenging for dyslexic children.

"Their self-esteem seems better," their mother said. "They seem like they're grabbing, catching, learning better."

Their father said the improvement is worth the money. "The investment might sound significant to other people, but it seems like pennies to me when you think about the long-term effects of not correcting this situation," he said. "To me, this is a drop in the bucket for what it's going to do."

For more information on the Dore Centers, go to www.dorecenters.com

ABC News' Sandra Aiken and Ann Pleshette Murhpy produced this Good Morning America story.>

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