Parents often tell me they wasted precious time and money on controversial reading/spelling/dyslexia therapies that didn’t work.
The time wasted is even more of a worry than the money. The more a child falls behind, the more she or he becomes likely to never be able to catch up.
I’ve written a few blog posts about various controversial therapies, but not a summary one that might be easily found by an anxious, googling parent. So here goes.
A comprehensive reference on the topic of choosing interventions, including a section on reading/spelling interventions, is Pam Snow and Caroline Bowen’s book “Making Sense of Interventions for Children With Developmental Disorders”.
Most readers of this blog will already know about the MUSEC Briefings, which summarised the research on a large number of special needs interventions, many of them controversial. These are no longer being produced or updated, but similar briefings are now being produced as Nomanis Notes.
Another useful source of information about controversial therapies is a 2015 NZ article called Behavioural Interventions to Remediate Learning Disorders, which reviews Arrowsmith, Brain Gym, Cellfield, Cogmed, Davis, Dore, Fast ForWord, Lexia, Lumosity, Slingerland, Tomatis and several other programs.
The 2007 Santiago Declaration by prominent neuroscientists pointed out that “Neuroscientific research, at this stage in its development, does not offer scientific guidelines for policy, practice, or parenting.” Which is polite scientist speak for “neuro and brain-based interventions are mostly bunkum”. You can read more about this here, here and here.
A number of controversial therapies are investigated in a 2014 paper: Effectiveness of Treatment Approaches for Children and Adolescents with Reading Disabilities: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. As the abstract states, “The results revealed that phonics instruction is not only the most frequently investigated treatment approach, but also the only approach whose efficacy on reading and spelling performance in children and adolescents with reading disabilities is statistically confirmed.”
The latest magazine of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Opthamologists (RANZCO) includes an excellent article on the role of the Opthamologist in dyslexia, which I recommend to anyone considering visual therapies. Starting on p55, it points out that:
- “The so-called abnormal eye movements observed in dyslexic children are the result, not the cause, of reading difficulty.
- “Eye exercises have been shown to improve convergence insufficiency, help develop fine stereoscopic skills and improve visual field recordings after brain damage. There is no clear scientific evidence published in mainstream literature to support the use of eye exercises in other conditions including learning disabilities and dyslexia.
- “There is no evidence that children participating in vision therapy are more responsive to education instruction than children who do not participate.
- “The efficacy of Irlen tinted lenses is based on anecdotal evidence. Controlled trials have shown no difference in outcomes in children given tinted lenses.
- “Therapies including the Lawson anti-suppression device, syntonics, applied kinesiology, megavitamins and mega oils, the use of trace elements and psychostimulants have all been claimed to improve the reading of dyslexics. The Lawson anti-suppression device, as used in the Alison Lawson clinics, offers a quick fix at stimulating the visual cortex. This treatment is based on a false premise that the visual cortex is responsible for reading. There are no controlled trials to support the claims of efficacy of any of the fringe therapies. Their claim to success is based on anecdotal evidence.
- “Eye professionals should not be considered the expert in reading education. A variety of trained specialists are available for children in need of help and there is an enormous body of literature regarding reading and learning from the educational perspective. Effective intervention remediates the underlying problem in phonemic awareness.”
This article refers to another key US article, reaffirmed in 2014, on learning disabilities, dyslexia and vision from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Section on Ophthalmology, Council on Children with Disabilities, American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, and American Association of Certified Orthoptists.
These are the US’s big guns in vision, and they say, “Diagnostic and treatment approaches that lack scientific evidence of efficacy, including eye exercises, behavioral vision therapy, or special tinted filters or lenses, are not endorsed and should not be recommended”.
In the unlikely event that you’re still not convinced re vision therapy, try this article: Opthalmic abnormalities and reading impairment.
The Dyslexia Help website also includes a useful page called Controversial Therapies for Dyslexia. Highly recommended.
Finally, intervention should not be based on a child’s “learning style”, because Learning Styles are bunkum.
Instead of controversial interventions, parents and teachers should seek interventions consistent with the Learning Difficulties Australia Position Statement on Approaches to Learning to Read. The AUSPELD online parent guide also provides clear, helpful guidance on choosing a program in which you can have confidence.
Finally, our amazing local human-encyclopaedia-on-learning-difficulties, Kerry Hempenstall, has a blog on the niftily-named National Institute for Direct Instruction (NIFDI) website full of useful information. I often google “Kerry Hempenstall” plus (a) key word(s) and find perzackly what I need to know.
If you’ve wasted money and time on a bogus intervention and are wondering whether you can sue for malpractice, I understand that purveyors of bogus care which delayed effective care have been successfully prosecuted elsewhere, but I don’t have details (yet). Food for thought. Note that if the provider is a member of a registered health profession, you can complain to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.
Last updated 18/1/2021