Exercise caution

Even professionals can find it hard to tell the difference between approaches backed up by strong evidence and approaches more likely to waste time and money (Big words! Hard maths! Scientific reticence!), so this is truly a minefield for parents.

The 2017 book “Making Sense of Interventions for Children with Developmental Disorders” by Pamela Snow and Caroline Bowen helps navigate this minefield, and IMHO should be in every public, school and clinic library.

The Macquarie University Special Education Centre (MUSEC) Briefings were another excellent source of information for those wishing to discern credible from less-credible interventions. MUSEC was restructured out of existence in 2018, but not before its staff gave me written permission to create an archive of the Briefings here, provided they were unaltered and the authors and source were acknowledged. Some are also available at MultiLit, and at Nomanis, which will continue to produce single-page briefings on current educational topics.

Another great source of information about a range of interventions is a 2015 article by NZ researchers David Moreau and Karen Waldie called “Behavioural Interventions to Remediate Learning Disorders”. It includes information about Arrowsmith, Brain Gym, Cellfield, Cogmed, coloured overlays & lenses, Davis, Dore, Fast ForWord, Lexia, Lumosity, Orton-Gillingham, Slingerland, Steps and Tomatis.

A 2014 meta-analysis by Katharina Galuschka, Elena Ise, Kathrin Krick and Gerd Schulte-Korne titled “Effectiveness of Treatment Approaches for Children and Adolescents with Reading Disabilities: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials” investigated approaches targeting fluency, phonemic awareness, reading comprehension, and phonics, plus auditory training, medical treatments, coloured overlay/lens approaches, sunflower therapy and specific motor sequences.

According to the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Opthamologists (RANZCO), “There is no evidence to suggest that eye exercises, behavioural vision therapy, or special tinted filters or lenses improve the long-term educational performance of people affected by dyslexia or other learning disabilities”. You can read their position statement here.

Many approaches are marketed as “neuroscientific”. The 2007 Santiago Declaration by prominent neuroscientists states that “Neuroscientific research, at this stage in its development, does not offer scientific guidelines for policy, practice, or parenting.” You can read more about this here, here and here.

A 2015 evaluation of Reading Recovery by the Centre for Educational Statistics and Evaluation can be found here. The 2013 article “Reading Recovery and the failure of the NZ national literacy strategy” can be found here.

Articles which can help you think through whether an approach is backed up by good evidence can be found here (by Dorothy Bishop) and here (by Robert Shepherd).

Finally, Learning Styles were an educational fad and do not exist, so should never be used as the basis of intervention. Professor Daniel Willingham comprehensively debunks Learning Styles in print here, and on video here.