Seven years it was launched, the much talked about DORE program to combat learning disabilities like dyslexia and the ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), has come in for withering criticism at the hands of a noted British professor of psychology.
In the October edition of Australia's Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, Dorothy Bishop claims published research supporting the program is "seriously flawed'' without proper assessment tools or control groups.
Research cited in support of the program shows a five-fold improvement in comprehension, a three-fold improvement in reading and a 17-fold improvement in writing.
She also stressed there was a lack of evidence that motor co-ordination training could influence higher-level brain skills.
"It's important that family practitioners and pediatricians are aware claims for this costly treatment are misleading.''
Bishop is one of the leading researchers in language disorders of genetic origin world-wide. She has researched the nature and origins of communication disorders in children, spanning many different disorders, including autism, Asperger syndrome, dyslexia, dysphasia, and other genetic syndromes. Her recent work has made breakthroughs in the investigation of genetic and environmental causes of language-related disorders.
Attack from a person of such standing on a programme that was conceived in her own home ground should evoke considerable attention worldwide.
Only last year it came under some unflattering light when five board members of a scientific journal that published a highly favourable study of the programme . They included some of Britain's most eminent scientists in learning difficulties.
They were concerned over the rigour of the study and the close links of those behind it with Wynford Dore, a businessman who made a fortune from fire- resistant paint before moving into dyslexia treatment.
The author of the study in the journal Dyslexia was paid £30,000 for carrying out the research by Dore, who has also sponsored PhD students taught by the co-author.
Uta Frith, professor of cognitive development at University College London and one of those who resigned, said: "People stand to make a lot of money on the basis of research that appears in journals so it is important the studies are scientific in their approach. I don't feel this was the case."
The treatment has been used by nearly 20,000 children at a cost of up to £1,700 each and has been featured on television shows such as Tonight with Trevor McDonald and Richard and Judy. Both programmes were reprimanded by the Independent Television Commission, which found the claims outlined were "not sustainable".
Dore's is one of a number of unusual approaches to dyslexia — which may affect about 6 million people in Britain — ranging from eating fish oil to flashing lights.
The condition has been particularly prone to unusual ideas for therapy because of the uncertainty surrounding its causes and the best way to treat it. Of those affected, about 2.4 million suffer a severe form of the condition.
Wynford Dore devoted himself to finding a cure for the condition and set up a charitable foundation to promote the treatment after his daughter Susie, now 34, attempted suicide three times because she was so depressed at being dyslexic.
Dore's technique was inspired by the work of Harold Levinson, an American psychiatrist. It is based on the theory that the cause of dyslexia is a fault in the cerebellum, an area of the brain controlling balance and muscle movement.
Supporters also refer to some studies that indicate a link between an underdeveloped cerebellum and learning difficulties, raising hope that drills specifically stimulating that part of the brain can reduce learning and attention problems.
The techniques are unproven and not widely accepted by the mainstream medical community but have attracted parents in many parts of the world anxious to help their children and increasingly worried about the side effects of drugs used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
It's a rewiring of the brain," said DORE's David Pfeil in the US. ''It's dealing directly with the source of the difficulties. If someone has a stone in their shoe, they don't take an Advil."
The rising number of children labeled with the disorder has stirred criticism of overdiagnosis and children being medicated unnecessarily and has fueled demand for alternative approaches.
Adrienne Albani, a resident of Dedham, Massachusetts, for instance, found the program a year ago after various drug treatments left his son, a seventh-grader, lethargic and with a diminished appetite. Within six months, his focus had sharply improved, and his writing and reading improved in kind. He no longer blurted answers in class and was able to do his homework without distraction.
''I was skeptical because it's not a proven treatment," she said. ''But it's helped him so much."
Dore medical services manager in Australia Glynis Howard said: ``We are not advocating we are trying to cure these conditions. We are saying we have a major impact on symptoms.''
Apart from Britain, Australia and US, the programme now boasts of centres in such countries as New Zealand, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Africa.