I’ve summerised the key points that the Channel 4 Dispatches program The Dyslexia Myth was trying to make. I will responded to those points in another post.
The Times Educational Supplement
It is perhaps a result of the struggle during the seventies and eighties to get dyslexia recognised that dyslexia has turned into a dogma that people are afraid to question. Julian Elliott’s ‘Another Voice’ article was a much needed and refreshing take on the issue. Unfortunately I fear his point will be lost as he and Channel 4 hype the controversy in search of ratings. His central tenant that a diagnosis of dyslexia tells us nothing about the problems a child or adult faces is true. All the diagnosis tells us is that the child has problems learning skills that other children pick up with ease.
Common perception about dyslexia is that it is one problem with one cause and one solution. Dyslexia is more akin to symptom than an illness. It is the educational equivalent of a high temperature, it tells you something is wrong but its causes vary from the minor to the severe. We need to look beyond the symptoms and at the underlying issues. Significant evidence suggest that subtle hearing problems, visual problems, stress and memory and retained primitive reflexes all play their part. None of this research represents a clear body of evidence but its tell us that we need to look beyond simple diagnosis and variations on traditional teaching methods.
Parts of the dyslexia ‘industry’ have discovered this and are successfully treating children and adults. Best known of these is DDAT / Dore Centres but there are others and they are changing peoples’ lives with their treatments. The science behind these companies can be criticised as can the commercial over-enthusiasm they promote their claims but the simple fact is that for some people, these treatments work and this fact should not be ignored.
See also: The Dyslexia Myth
Update: More on the Dyslexia Myth
That what we see effects what we hear is clearly demonstrated in the McGurk effect (Hear My Voice, Read My Lips) and other experiments (see Integrated Senses). Dr. Deborah Zelinsky’s Mind-Eye Connection is a doctor of optometry and runs a treatment centre in Northfield, Illinois, USA that goes ‘beyond traditional vision care‘. There are no details of how the treatment works though Dr Zelinsky has two books available from the website but I can’t find them listed on Amazon. There is also a good list of links to vision related resources.
A piece on Scottish rugby player Kenny Logan in The Hearld highlights his charity work for Dyslexia Scotland. In it he talks about his dyslexia and how the DDAT treatment programme changed his life. The article also shows how dyslexia can limit your life and how liberating it is to be free of it. Talking about mobile phones he said: "I have no problems with texting now. But I couldn’t have contemplated it even two years ago."
Though Myomancy.com focuses non-language / education based methods of dealing with dyslexia its worth remembering that there are more traditional approaches that work. One of these is the Orton-Gillingham Multisensory Method. It is a phonics based program taught one-to-one in a manner that suits how most dyslexic people learn, i.e. multi-sensory with a slow, steady step-by-step approach. There is a more in-depth write up of here. This comes from an informative web site called Bright Solution for Dyslexia.
The Orton-Gillingham approach is used or has been adapted by a number of individual teachers and centres around the country. One of the biggest is Lindamood-Bell who have centres all over the US and one in the UK.
Many thanks Liz and her blog I Speak of Dreams which, amongst other things, deals with dyslexia and other education issues.
The Marin Independent Journal (Marin County, CA) has run an good, balanced article on Brightstar. Interestingly, Dr Sam Savage, who’s statistics are quoted in the Brightstar US website and were highlighted here a couple of days ago (Brightstar USA) appears to have been a user and now a supporter of Brightstar. Whether he has been paid by Brightstar for his statistical analysis is still not revealed.
Brightstar in the US appears to run entirely separately to the UK based firm. One notable difference is the statisical evidence the two sites provide.
Both sites have statistics credited to Dr Sam Savage of Standford University. Its not clear what connection Dr Savage has with Brightstar or if the statistical analysis is published in full anywhere. However only the US site mentions the Nottingham University Study and in doing so presents statistics that, whilst not being wrong, they certainly show the program in the best possible light.
Most importantly Brightstar US have details of an ‘ independent audit of BrightStar’s results data’ by PriceWaterhouseCoopers [PDF]. This appears to the type of audit a potential investor may request. It is not a scientific study and lacks many important details, such as the number of children the report covers, and doesn’t compare results to a equivalent placebo treatment. That said the result are impressive with an average increase of about 11 months in ability. The question this raises is does the child continue to improve and catch up with its age group? If they do, then it suggests that Brightstar deals with the fundamentals of dyslexia. However if the child only improves by 11 months and then stays consistently behind non-dyslexics then the results of the program can be put down to the reading tuition the treatment includes.
Brightstar‘s study on their treatment with dyslexia was covered on Myomancy.com a few days ago. Digging into the background and the scientific basis of Brightstar’s system has reveled a complicated chain of connections.
Brightstar is a subsidiary of Epoch Innovations and on Epoch’s web site, Jose Kullok is listed as "VP Intellectual Property. Jose is a founder of the company, co-inventor of the BrightStar technology and has over 15 years experience in research & development. He was a vice president of research & development at Auto Balance, an Israeli-based startup in the medical field. He was also Chief Executive Officer at Non-Cognitive Technologies LTD, a company focused on biofeedback systems, heart rate variability, and autonomic nervous system measurement. Before this, Jose was a research and development manager at MediTech Inc., in Las Vegas, Nevada, and SKS Bio-Equipment LTD, in Jerusalem. Jose has a background in theoretical biology and physics."
SKS Bio-Equipment Ltd does not appear to have a web site but they were connected to a scientific review performed by S & J Kullok: Interactions between non-symmetric mechanical vector forces in the body and the autonomic nervous system: basic requirements for any mechanical technique to engender long-term improvements in autonomic function as well as in the functional efficiency of the respiratory, cardiovascular, and brain systems.
Saul Kullok and Jose Kullok are named on several a patents:
11th March 2004 – Apparatus, method and computer program product to facilitate ordinary visual perception via an early perceptual-motor extraction of relational information from a light stimuli array to trigger an overall visual-sensory motor integration in a subject.
S & J Kullok and Epoch Innovations Ltd are jointly mentioned in: 15th April 2004 – Apparatus, method and computer program product to produce or direct movements in synergic timed correlation with physiological activity . This appears to be the assignment of the 11th November 2003 patent application to Epoch Innovations.
The Kullok’s also presented a paper at the Sixth British Dyslexia Association International Conference entitled A combination of computerised photic stimuli technology and special needs teachings: A new and efficient method to ameliorate deficits associated with dyslexia. This paper was presented in connection with Epoch Labs of whom I cannot find any information. The web address points to a test page and its WhoIs details provide nothing useful. However the WhoIs details for Epoch Innovations web site points to Epoch Labs USA Inc. So its reasonable to assume Epoch Labs and Epoch Innovations are one and the same. Dr Stefan Bondorowicz, the third author listed on the paper, is Brightstar UK’s Director of Science.
According to an internal Stanford University publication [pdf] Epoch Labs sponsored Associate Professor John D.E. Gabrieli to "measure the efficacy of a program to remediate reading problems among dyslexic youth". Unfortunately I haven’t been able to track down the results from this work.
The patent applications are heavy going but it seems the studies and Brightstar are proposing a link between the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), visual processing and the cerebellum. The ANS has two parts, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The sympathetic deals with our response to stress and is responsible for the fight-or-flight (F-or-F) mechanism. The parasympathetic system is the reverse of this. It returns the body to the normal state afterwards.
One of the roles of the ANS is the control of heart rate and blood pressure. Brightstar appear to be supporting the view that for some reason dyslexic children become stressed thus triggering the F-or-F mechanism. When people are stressed, the sympathetic ANS diverts energy away from long-term survival needs such as digestion to short-term needs like increased energy. It is not natural for anyone to be under long-term stress so a child who finds education stressful is likely to have some form of developmental problems and Brightstar are suggesting that in dyslexics this manifests itself in under-developed cerebellum and a magnocellular deficit.
The Brightstar approach is to train, using visuals and biofeedback, the recipient to be less stressed. The biofeedback takes the form of a heart-rate monitor which makes sense as the ANS controls the heart-rate. Once the stress reaction is removed, the child is free from the handicap that has been holding them back.
Biofeedback of R-wave-to-pulse interval normalizes blood pressure – Indicates that blood pressure can be changed through biofeedback.
Jose & Saul Kullok are thanked in the acknowledgment section a study on ADHD
Many thanks to Robert who provide much of the information for this article.
Montague Diagnostics have been running a trail of their technology on dyslexics. A couple of months in and they have released an update on their progress which seems to be notable. Though until the trial is completed and the results analysed such anacdotal evidence needs to be treated with a pinch of salt.
From Montague Diagnostics:
A trial was established to assess the performance of Virtual Scanning in the treatment of Dyslexia. Circa 25 participants are taking place in the trial which will run from February until November.
Within the first month, a parent who is a medical professional (dentist) with interest in complementary health reported the very clear and distinct improvement to her daughter’s behaviour.
Further improvements have been reported after the first month by another mother who has two children in the trial. The elder son is reported to have much improved sleeping patterns (dropping off to sleep quickly in contrast to taking several hours previously, improved quality of sleep, less interrupted sleep/waking during the night) whilst the younger son’s behaviour has become less dramatic/more calm.
Another parent, a complementary health practitioner, of a young man in his early 20’s reports: ‘his short term memory has improved, he is more out-going in his personality, he no longer moves his lips when he reads, he is more communicative and initiates more conversations, he is more physically coordinated in his movements, his verbal responses are quicker and more confident’. This practitioner has indicated his willingness to become a Virtual Scanning practitioner.
A male university student of 19 years reports after the first module of treatment ‘phenomenally improved concentration’. His mother, a SENCO at an independent school, is delighted with the progress.