SALLY GULSON, MOTHER: Everybody always said that you know Harry was an angel, he looks like an angel, and he is incredibly loving. On the other hand he would walk out of school looking like an angel, and get in the car and say, "I told you to be here at 3.00 o'clock, and it's five past 3.00."
And it's like, whoa, Jeckle and Hyde. So you get the anger and the shouting and then all of a sudden you get the tears. It was one extreme to another.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Up on Sydney's affluent North Shore a problem child becomes an angel.
According to his mother Sally, Harry Gulson has transformed from a reclusive, temperamental, academic struggler to a level-headed, outgoing achiever.
And all thanks to a simple though expensive exercise program.
SALLY GULSON, MOTHER: Without question the Dore Program has been phenomenal.
MATTHEW CARNEY (to Sally Gulson): Do you believe it's a miracle cure?
SALLY GULSON, MOTHER: I think what it's achieved for us and for Harry is a miracle.
MATTHEW CARNEY: The Gulson's experience is one of a number of anecdotal success stories offered up by the Dore Program - a self-styled breakthrough therapy for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
WYNFORD DORE, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, DORE (speaking at meeting): Whatever organisation, whether it's Starbucks, as you expand you've got to make sure that the real essence, and we've got very, very special essence here, we cannot afford any diultion of that essence.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Dore owes its name and its evangelical energy to this man, Wynford Dore, a wealthy industrialist with no previous professional background in childhood development.
He presides over a global enterprise claiming a drug free solution for ADHD, Dyslexia and other conditions. In Australia he's found his most lucrative market.
WYNFORD DORE (speaking at meeting): ... And we're now at 19 centres in Australia, we need another 10 in the next year just to satisfy the need that exists …
MATTHEW CARNEY: But where's the cold, hard scientific evidence for Dore's extraordinary claims?
WYNFORD DORE, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, DORE: There is an attitude in Australia, kind of pioneering, straightforward, let's get on with the job. If the Dore Program works then how do I get it?
In other cultures they will look much harder for I want this research and that research and that proof and that evidence. The typical Australian is: does it work mate? Let's do it then.
PROFESSOR MAGGIE SNOWLING, DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY, YORK UNIVERSITY: The trouble is many of these parents are quite desperate and they're very, very vulnerable and it's because of the parents that I feel so strongly that this kind of science shouldn't be allowed to back, you know, the claims of private industry really.
PROFESSOR DOROTHY BISHOP, DEVELOPMENTAL NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, OXFORD UNIVERSITY: Well there are people that will give you a testimonial saying staring into crystal improves their mental state. I mean, people are very willing to believe that things have done them good. I mean, that's our human failing.
CHILDREN (singing): There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza. There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza a hole. So fix it dear Henry ...
MATTHEW CARNEY: Tonight on "Four Corners": hype and hyperactivity - Dore's audacious quest to command attention-deficit.
There's bean-bags, mind-games, other people's ideas and an uncomfortable marriage of questionable science and slick marketing.
(On screen text: "The Behaviour Business, Reporter: Matthew Carney")
DEBBIE SMITH, MOTHER (to Robert Smith): One times two. (Silence) One lot of two.
ROBERT SMITH (to Debbie Smith): One? Two.
DEBBIE SMITH, MOTHER (to Robert Smith): Two lots of two.
ROBERT SMITH, SON (to Debbie Smith): Four.
DEBBIE SMITH, MOTHER (to Robert Smith) Three lots of two.
ROBERT SMITH, SON (to Debbie Smith): Three?
DEBBIE SMITH, MOTHER (to Robert Smith): Three lots of two is the same as two lots of three.
ROBERT SMITH, SON (to Debbie Smith, mother): Six?
DEBBIE SMITH, MOTHER (to Robert Smith, son): Good.
DEBBIE SMITH, MOTHER: I think after several years of having, you're seeing your son with so many problems, of course you're going to do whatever you can. If you can afford it and there's a good chance it'll work, you'll take that opportunity.
DEBBIE SMITH, MOTHER (to Robert Smith, son): Right, so now we're going to do it the other way around. One times three.
ROBERT SMITH, SON (to Debbie Smith, mother): Umm. Eight. Nine.
DEBBIE SMITH, MOTHER (to Robert Smith, son): One lot of three.
ROBERT SMITH, SON (to Debbie Smith, mother): Oh, three.
DEBBIE SMITH, MOTHER (to Robert Smith, son): Three.
DEBBIE SMITH, MOTHER: He's not coping at all with maths, with memory things, sequencing. So we, I want to try and fix that up if I can now.
KERRY KELLY, MOTHER: When Blake was at primary school a lot of the parents didn't speak to me or associate with me. I use to overhear things when we would be picking the children up about, you know, stay away from Blake Kelly, things like that.
I just knew that there was goodness in Blake. I knew there was a really good kid inside there that we would only see glimpses of and I wanted to try and find something that would let that real boy come to his full potential.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Sixteen can be a tough age, for Blake Kelly particularly so. His ability to read and write is frustratingly poor and behaviour has been a big problem.
Robert Smith is 11, a very different child in many ways and yet also struggling with words and numbers and learning.
The unifier for Robert and Blake: both have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, ADHD, and both have been prescribed the stimulant Ritalin.
KERRY KELLY, MOTHER: I did try alternative practices with kinesiology, chiropractic massage, I did food and diet from a young age, but nothing seemed to help, to make a difference. So medication, even though I wasn't happy about it, things were falling apart at home. We were in a corner, so I had to do it.
MATTHEW CARNEY: On top of any worries about medicating their children the unifying concern for parents is defined in a simple question: How will their children make their way in the world with an impeded education?
WYNFORD DORE, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, DORE: In actual fact, almost invariably, the cause of poor literacy is physiological.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Enter Welsh-born entrepreneur Wynford Dore. He made his millions selling industrial paint. Now he claims to be rewiring young brains.
WYNFORD DORE, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, DORE: You've got to repair the hole in the bucket before you try and fill the bucket and what we do is we create the physiological ability to acquire knowledge, acquire skills, so that it can be retained in the brain and used whenever needed.
DEBBIE SMITH, MOTHER: If it worked I'd be delighted. Even if it just worked a little bit because Robert - every child deserves success and Robert does. And if he could enjoy learning, if he could understand any concept with maths then that would be great.
GLYNIS HOWARD, MEDICAL SERVICES MANAGER, DORE (to Robert Smith, fitting him into straps for use with equipment): ... Make sure those are nice and tight for you. Okay. All right. I just want you to pop up there facing mum. That's the way. Okay ...
GLYNIS HOWARD, MEDICAL SERVICES MANAGER, DORE: The research has shown that those people suffering from learning difficulties have difficulty maintaining their balance. Their sway increases if you close their eyes.
GLYNIS HOWARD, MEDICAL SERVICES MANAGER, DORE (to Robert Smith): All right. So I just want you to pick a spot out the front there and look straight ahead for me. Okay?
MATTHEW CARNEY: Since 2002 more than 10,000 Australians have enrolled in the Dore Program. It's not cheap. Robert Smith's course will cost over $5000.
GLYNIS HOWARD, MEDICAL SERVICES MANAGER, DORE (to Robert Smith): Nothing's going to move. Just keep looking straight ahead. Ready, set, here we go.
MATTHEW CARNEY: For that, Robert will face an introductory questionnaire designed to test his suitability for the program. Then he'll be tested on an elaborate, computerised balance machine.
GLYNIS HOWARD, MEDICAL SERVICES MANAGER, DORE (to Robert Smith): Well done, great. All right. That one's done.
GLYNIS HOWARD, MEDICAL SERVICES MANAGER, DORE (referring to graph reading on machine): And there you can see we've got only two little lines there, two little red lines which of course are in the undeveloped range. There's one missing in the middle. He actually had a fall that time so it was really difficult for him to maintain his balance just using the balance mechanism.
MATTHEW CARNEY: He'll undergo another test involving sensors, moving lights and a computer program which plots the path of his eyes.
GLYNIS HOWARD, MEDICAL SERVICES MANAGER, DORE (to Robert Smith): You're doing such a good job here. Just relax and let your eyes follow the light. It's going to get faster now. You're keeping so still, that's fantastic. Getting the best result.
GLYNIS HOWARD, MEDICAL SERVICES MANAGER, DORE (referring to graph reading on machine): This is where we get these jerky sort of squared-off movements where his eyes are actually jerking like a cicadic movement rather than a smooth pursuit.
MATTHEW CARNEY (to Glynis Howard): So he's losing control of his eyes.
GLYNIS HOWARD, MEDICAL SERVICES MANAGER, DORE: Yeah exactly, yeah. So it's almost as though he's got to think about moving his eyes quickly which is very time consuming for his brain. And the area that controls it is the cerebellum. The cerebellum does a lot of work there.
WYNFORD DORE, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, DORE: We all have strengths and we have weaknesses: our ability to listen, our ability to speak, speak in public, or speak privately, our ability to read all varies and we now understand why because there's the bit of the brain called the cerebellum is the bit that indexes knowledge. It makes it easy or not easy for us to acquire different types of skill.
MATTHEW CARNEY: The cerebellum is the star of the Dore show.
The program is based entirely on a premise that this little-understood part of the brain is responsible for a range of conditions from ADHD to Dyslexia and Dyspraxia (or clumsiness) through to Asperger's Syndrome.
The cerebellum, the so-called "little brain" sits beneath and to the rear of the two cerebral hemispheres. It's thought to play a part in coordination, but Dore trumpets a far more significant role - casting the cerebellum as a kind of super-marshalling centre for information and movement where complex skills are rendered automatic. And if the cerebellum isn't firing as it should be, it's claimed, there are consequences for learning and behaviour.
DR ROY RUTHERFORD, GLOBAL MEDICAL DIRECTOR, DORE: We know that traditionally the cerebellum was thought of as being just a motor learning part of the brain, but now we know that it's much more than that.
DR ROY RUTHERFORD, GLOBAL MEDICAL DIRECTOR, DORE (speaking at meeting): We could probably put a nice document together and send it with Dore literature to GPs ...
MATTHEW CARNEY: One time family doctor Roy Rutherford is now Dore's Global Medical Director.
DR ROY RUTHERFORD, GLOBAL MEDICAL DIRECTOR, DORE: If you look at the research, if you look at dyslexia research, you look at ADHD research, research in things like dyspraxia or developmental coordination, Asperger's, the cerebellum is the thing that's the common denominator. It's the it's the thing you say, hang on, you know, if you look at this research the cerebellum seems to appear everywhere. You know, surely that must be a major explanatory theory for all these conditions.
MATTHEW CARNEY: The Dore pitch is that the cerebellum can be rebuilt. Just like a muscle - exercise it and it will respond and grow. It's claimed learning and behavioural difficulties will disappear and a struggling, inattentive, misbehaving child will be transformed.
WYNFORD DORE, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, DORE: From those neurological tests we can prescribe the precise exercises that will stimulate the exact part of the cerebellum and kick start it so that the neural pathways develop which means that that particular type of skill starts to become automatic for the first time. When that happens all sorts of things trigger into action.
BLAKE KELLY : It's to do with the cerebellum, it's the small brain. Everyone focusses on the big brain, like the big lobe, but it's the small brain that most of people, like for ADH people, they need developed. Like as for me I can't read or spell and, yeah, so it's going to make neurone pathways going to the brain and the spine, like that, and yeah hopefully function properly.
MATTHEW CARNEY: And so in homes across the country, scenes like this play out morning and night.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Parents leading their children through a series of simple exercises they're told target specific cerebellar flaws.
In the mental gym-kit: hand-held bean bags, eye charts, balance boards and a volley of questions to exercise the mind.
SALLY GULSON, MOTHER (to Harry Gulson, son): Harry, what did we do when we went to Roar and Snore?
HARRY GULSON, SON: We get to see the animals at night and when we wake up we get to see certain animals like chimpanzees ...
DEBBIE SMITH, MOTHER: We're looking at a year and a half of spending maybe 15 to 20 minutes a day doing these activities, every day, plus the time setting up the activity, packing it away, getting Robert in the mood. So it is a lot of work. But I think all parents who've got children with special needs will do that.
KERRY KELLY, MOTHER: I suppose I get really hopeful. I get, you know, and then when we get into it I just keep thinking, I stay positive I suppose because I really want it to work for him, so you just have to give it a go I suppose and just hope for the best, that's all I can do. If I don't go and try it I'll never know.
(Excerpt from radio program):
RADIO PRESENTER: Wynford Dore, the creator, is here to take your calls. 131873
WYNFORD DORE, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, DORE: Hi Kylie.
CALLER: Hello, how are you?
WYNFORD DORE, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, DORE: Cracking ... This is a massive, massive and exciting and positive breakthrough. We actually use neurological measures to identify the development of the cerebellum and some equipment originally developed by NASA we use and we developed more for this application.
(End of excerpt)
MATTHEW CARNEY: Listen to the program's namesake and there is no surer thing. Dore believes he's cracked the code and insists the program works.
WYNFORD DORE, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, DORE: This effects almost every family in Australia.
(End of excerpt)
MATTHEW CARNEY: The story of how he hit on the cure is company legend and gets an airing at every opportunity: a father's quest to solve his daughter's dyslexia.
WYNFORD DORE, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, DORE: I had a tremendous issue with my own daughter. The poor girl had worked hard, had fantastic teachers but still couldn't read, still couldn't concentrate and I had to come up with a solution. Susie was very, very depressed.
(End of excerpt)
MATTHEW CARNEY: The problem for families digging deep into their pockets is the deep chasm between scientific fact and marketing hype.
WYNFORD DORE, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, DORE: There's a lot of science and a lot of research on this so the folk who say there's no science behind it just haven't done their study.
(End of excerpt)
MATTHEW CARNEY (to Professor Max Coltheart): So the claim that they can help a diverse range of conditions: ADHD, Asperger's, dyspraxia, dyslexia, does it make sense to you by saying it's just the cerebellum?
PROFESSOR MAX COLTHEART, MACQUARIE CENTRE FOR COGNITIVE SCIENCE: No. That would suggest, I mean it's not even true that there's only cause of dyslexia, there is many different types of dyslexias with different causes let alone Asperger's and dyspraxia and ADHD. They'll have a whole host of causes too. It's inconceivable that all those four conditions have a single cause.
MATTHEW CARNEY (to Professor Max Coltheart): It's just not possible?
PROFESSOR MAX COLTHEART, MACQUARIE CENTRE FOR COGNITIVE SCIENCE: No.
PROFESSOR DOROTHY BISHOP, DEVELOPMENTAL NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, OXFORD UNIVERSITY: The children do get better at threading beads, but I don't think most parents who put their children on the Dore Program do so so that they can get better at threading beads. They want their child to get better at reading and spelling and whatever else they're having problems with.
MATTHEW CARNEY: There are parents emerge who emerge happy with the Dore treatment and their testimonials are used as a key part of the company's marketing strategy, alongside claims of an 80 to 90 per cent success rate.
(Excerpt from Dore promotional video):
MOTHER 1: If I had to describe Dore in one word it would be "life-changing".
MOTHER 2: Life-changing.
MOTHER 3: The changes that we've seen in our child are absolutely incredible.
(End of excerpt)
MATTHEW CARNEY: But among eminent medical specialists working in the fields of paediatrics, ADHD and dyslexia there's grave concern not just about the extravagance of Dore's claims but also what they characterise as clear scientific sleight of hand.
As we'll see, the key research underpinning Dore's program has now backfired, but first - the scientific outrage that's scandalised the dyslexia community in the UK.
(Excerpt from Dore promotional video):
WYNFORD DORE, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, DORE: The Dyslexia Associations have had a very tough job for many years ...
They have become increasingly thrilled recently that the solid nature of our research is now proving that we are able to permanently take away the underlying cause of the symptoms of dyslexia and attention deficit.
This for them is the thrill, the results that they've been waiting for, for many, many years.
(End of excerpt)
PROFESSOR MAGGIE SNOWLING, DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY, YORK UNIVERSITY: I think Internationally most people in the field of dyslexia have come out against it.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Professor Maggie Snowling is one in a chorus of experts outraged by the publication of key research Dore relies on in "Dyslexia", Britain's specialist medical review journal.
PROFESSOR MAGGIE SNOWLING, DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY, YORK UNIVERSITY: I know because I have evaluated the papers. I believe them to be scientifically flawed and I believe that parents are being charged large sums of money to opt into a treatment which I think there's no scientific evidence for, so I have a moral obligation actually to convey this to the world at large and I'm doing that as an individual academic.
DR JOHN RACK, "DYSLEXIA ACTION" UK: I as a parent would not spend my money on this program because there is no evidence behind it, to support it.
DR JOHN RACK, "DYSLEXIA ACTION" UK (to child): What I wanted to do was to get you just to do this one with sounds because you've been saying the sounds ...
MATTHEW CARNEY: Dr John Rack is with the UK's respected advocacy group Dyslexia Action and until recently he was also on the publishing board overseeing "Dyslexia" magazine.
DR JOHN RACK, "DYSLEXIA ACTION" UK: It's very hard to see how someone could learn from this something that would be useful in helping them understand what you do for kids with dyslexia, dyspraxia or ADHD.
MATTHEW CARNEY: It's morning exercise time at the Balsall Common School not far from Wynford Dore's UK home. This was the setting for the research Dore trumpets as hard scientific evidence for its claims.
Two academics, Rod Nicolson and David Reynolds, attempted to assess the effectiveness of the program using 35 children split into two groups.
The focus was on cerebellar function and its impact on literacy. Using before and after scores on what's called the Dyslexia Screening Test the researchers concluded:
"There was ... significant transfer to some of the cognitive skills, underlying literacy ... Most important, there was transfer to the reading process itself ...
" ... the results do suggest that the exercise treatment was effective, not only ... in improving cerebellar function but also in the more controversial role of improving cognitive skills and literacy performance."
(Excerpt from Dore promotional video):
WYNFORD DORE, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, DORE: So you can imagine the thrill when finally the professors came to us and said, we've analysed these huge amount of research data that's been prepared on results of the Dore Program is getting. You can now justifiably use the word "cure" to describe what you're doing to the underlying root cause of the symptoms of dyslexia and what causes Attention Deficit Syndrome. I mean, what a wonderful moment.
(End of excerpt)
MATTHEW CARNEY: When "Dyslexia" published the paper effectively giving Dore scientific credence, there was outrage.
PROFESSOR MAGGIE SNOWLING, DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY, YORK UNIVERSITY: It absolutely would have been essential that they did the trial with a group of children who, you know, fell within agreed guidelines for the diagnosis of dyslexia.
MATTHEW CARNEY (to Professor Maggie Snowling): And they didn't?
PROFESSOR MAGGIE SNOWLING, DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY, YORK UNIVERSITY: They didn't do that, no.
DR JOHN RACK, "DYSLEXIA ACTION" UK: A study where you just throw something at a school and see if there's a generalised effect on confidence or indeed other measures of behaviour, doesn't allow you to know whether what you did caused a specific effect over and above just the general so-called placebo and Hawthorne effects that you get from doing anything, basically.
PROFESSOR MAGGIE SNOWLING, DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY, YORK UNIVERSITY: This paper should never have been published. It has thrown the reputation of the journal into a very poor light. The Editor should be, you know, stood to trial really.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Critics complained of a small, poorly cast trial group and the lack of a properly constituted control group to measure against those doing the Dore exercises. And astonishingly, of the 35 children studied, only six had a formal diagnosis of dyslexia and just one child had ADHD.
PROFESSOR DOROTHY BISHOP, DEVELOPMENTAL NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, OXFORD UNIVERSITY: You can, you know, measure children's shoe size before and after the Dore treatment and it would've gone up but, you know, it's not that he's making your feet bigger.
PROFESSOR DOROTHY BISHOP, DEVELOPMENTAL NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, OXFORD UNIVERSITY (to child, while fitting her with special cap): And now we've got this cap properly on you, we're just making sure that the contact is really good for each of these electrode sites which is just acting as a sensor. We're not putting electricity into your head. We're just measuring what's coming out ...
MATTHEW CARNEY: Few have studied the parts of the brain involved in learning difficulties more closely than Dorothy Bishop. The Oxford Professor gives the Balsall Common study to her junior students as a lesson in how not to conduct a research project.
PROFESSOR DOROTHY BISHOP, DEVELOPMENTAL NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, OXFORD UNIVERSITY (to child, while fitting her with special cap): I'm just going to put these head-phones on you. That's lovely ...
MATTHEW CARNEY: The Oxford Professor gives the Balsall Common study to her junior students as a lesson in how not to conduct a research project.
PROFESSOR DOROTHY BISHOP, DEVELOPMENTAL NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, OXFORD UNIVERSITY: It's pretty obvious to most people who have a basic grounding in how to evaluate an intervention that there's a huge amount wrong. There's wrong with how the children were first selected; there's problems with the measures that were selected; there's problems with the design of the study in terms of the absence of controls on some of the key measures; there's problems with the statistics that they did; and there's massive problems with the interpretation that they came out with.
MATTHEW CARNEY: When "Dyslexia" published a follow-up on the Balsall Common kids claiming lasting results, there was mayhem. Six members of the journal's editorial board resigned in protest. Dr John Rack was one of them.
DR JOHN RACK, "DYSLEXIA ACTION" UK: I wanted to make it absolutely clear that my presence on the board in no way reflected an endorsement of the contents of this journal because, I just made it entirely clear, I really do think that this is evidence that does not meet the customary standards, and really should not have been published. So, you know, given that point of view it's inconsistent to remain on the board. I think others have the same view.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Dore's dexterity with this widely criticised research is remarkably deft. After all, what purported to be a dyslexia study has somehow managed wider implications: a cure for a range of troubling conditions including ADHD.
(Excerpt from Dore promotional video):
WYNFORD DORE, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, DORE: The results we get are permanent and that's why the professors themselves are starting to use the word cure about what we are doing.
MATTHEW CARNEY (to Professor Rod Nicolson): So it's not a cure- all?
PROFESSOR ROD NICOLSON, DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY, SHEFFIELD UNIVERSITY: I wouldn't have thought so. There are very few cure-alls.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Professor Rod Nicolson, much touted by Dore and one of the authors of the Balsall Common study, is distancing himself from any claims of a cure.
PROFESSOR ROD NICOLSON, DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY, SHEFFIELD UNIVERSITY: The Dore publicity people and also the critics were using words which are not in the article and so that, and therefore there is a sense an equal and opposite reaction from both parties.
MATTHEW CARNEY (to Professor Rod Nicolson): So what do you mean they were using words? Like what?
PROFESSOR ROD NICOLSON, DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY, SHEFFIELD UNIVERSITY: Well words like "cure" for instance, would be, was not mentioned in the article.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Professor Nicolson has been in the firing line ever since the publication of the first study and its follow-up. Now that's sure to intensify with this latest revelation.
Under pressure from critics to release raw data: a stunning admission. According to the key measurement used by the professors the Dore exercises had no effect on literacy.
"... the DST literacy measures (one minute reading, nonsense passage reading, spelling and writing) showed no evidence of improvement ..."
PROFESSOR ROD NICOLSON, DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY, SHEFFIELD UNIVERSITY: In terms of literacy skills I think the improvements were less clear than the Dore Program would hope.
PROFESSOR MAX COLTHEART, MACQUARIE CENTRE FOR COGNITIVE SCIENCE: They say that in their recent work published in 2007, or about to be published, the Dyslexia Screening Test scores show no evidence of improvement as a consequence of the Dore Program.
MATTHEW CARNEY (to Professor Max Coltheart): But that's phenomenal. I mean they have built the this whole program, that it can help children to read and write, to improve their literacy.
PROFESSOR MAX COLTHEART, MACQUARIE CENTRE FOR COGNITIVE SCIENCE: I think it's correct to say that Dore has built that whole program on the basis of their data. They are the scientists who are doing this research, but the person who's claiming really strongly that the Dore Program improves the reading of dyslexic children is of course the Dore organisation itself.
MATTHEW CARNEY (to Wynford Dore): I guess the issue is that, and particularly in Australia, you're marketing the whole program on the success of these independent studies. Now if your own scientists are saying from the DST scores there's no improvement, I mean isn't that misleading?
WYNFORD DORE, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, DORE: What we are doing with this program is we're letting the results of it be obvious. We even, you know, what most people who now come to our program because they've heard of what has happened to others. They're not reading the detail of tiny research.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Wynford Dore's response to the no improvement revelation is to accentuate the positive, citing results in another test known as SATS - Britain's national measurement of academic performance at school.
From these figures, Dore makes extraordinary claims about improved literacy.
WYNFORD DORE, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, DORE: In any research there are lots of measures taken. There is, the major measure on reading was done using the SAT, or SATs. That major measure showed very significant changes.
MATTHEW CARNEY: But the critics of the studies say the SATS results have no scientific value.
PROFESSOR DOROTHY BISHOP, DEVELOPMENTAL NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, OXFORD UNIVERSITY: I don't find it at all believable that they've demonstrated any sort of gain on those tests using the sort of methods that they've used. In fact it's a bit of a sort of statistical voodoo that they've done on the data to try and get out these amazing growth claims and they do some weird subtractions and divisions to come out with these numbers, but they're not believable.
DR JOHN RACK, "DYSLEXIA ACTION" UK: They really are meaningless. SATs just do not meet the the criteria that you would have for measuring the effectiveness of an intervention program. So I would say, you know, uninterpretable is accurate. I don't think there is evidence, my statement here, pretty clearly is there is no evidence that the Dore Program has any positive and direct specific effects on literacy skills. Simple as that.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Rod Nicolson sees his research as a promising starting point but he concedes a lot more has to be done before Dore can claim scientific proof.
PROFESSOR ROD NICOLSON, DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY, SHEFFIELD UNIVERSITY: The next stage is and if we actually make the cerebellum work better in terms of the motor skill, this will lead to generalised benefits in terms of mental coordination and that's the basis, of course that's the major claim of the the Dore treatment clinics and there it's necessary to acquire as much evidence as one can.
It's not fully established by any means yet. The preliminary evidence we've seen is promising but that's true for several treatments.
MATTHEW CARNEY: In Australia parents and others chasing guidance on Dore might have been surprised that key referral and counselling groups haven't appeared to spotlight the major scientific reservations about Dore.
As in the UK, Dore summoned lawyers to deal with criticism.
DR PAUL WHITING, PRESIDENT EMERITUS SPELD NSW : Suing people who are critical of you is not a great way to answer the criticis. You're just attacking the messenger but you don't change the message by that approach.
MATTHEW CARNEY: When SPELD (the Specific Learning Difficulties Association in New South Wales) posted a critique of the Dore Program and drew attention to the scientific uproar about its research, a threatening legal letter arrived accusing this largely voluntary service of publishing material which:
" ... may amount to misleading and deceptive conduct ..."
PROFESSOR MAX COLTHEART, MACQUARIE CENTRE FOR COGNITIVE SCIENCE: The information we've put up there about the Dore Program was that this had been criticised by the British Dyslexic Association and the International Dyslexic Association in America, hoping that would mean parents would think twice about spending all this money on a treatment that had been publicly criticised by International Organisations.
DR PAUL WHITING, PRESIDENT EMERITUS SPELD NSW : Well our reaction was that we were dealing with an organisation that had a lot of money and we didn't have any money and therefore we weren't going to take them on.
RICHARD BURNS, FATHER: I being a truck driver have the radio on all day, constantly on the radio station I listen to the Dore Program, the Dore Program, this sounds interesting.
(Excerpt from radio advertisement):
FEMALE VOICE: Hey, you know the Dore Program, the drug free treatment for learning and behavioural difficulties like ADD, ADHD and dyslexia?
MALE VOICE: Yeah.
FEMALE VOICE: It now comes with a guarantee.
MALE VOICE: Guarantee?
FEMALE VOICE: Yeah, the medical experts at Dore have six years of proven research behind them and if they don't deliver fantastic results we get our money back.
MALE VOICE: Great! Well lets get James on the Dore Program now!
FEMALE VOICE: Call 1300 ...
(End of excerpt)
MATTHEW CARNEY: For Richard Burns and his wife Patty there were few warning signs. The Dore Program leapt out as a solution for their son William's ADHD.
RICHARD BURNS, FATHER: That's all that went through our mind. Everything else is blanketed out. You think you want a normal child.
PATTY BURNS, MOTHER: You will find the money.
RICHARD BURNS, FATHER: Yes
PATTY BURNS, MOTHER: You will find everything to get him on to that program.
RICHARD BURNS, FATHER (to William Burns, son, fixing bike): All right, what are we going to do, take the front wheel off?
WILLIAM BURNS, SON (to father): Can I do it?
RICHARD BURNS, FATHER (to William Burns, son, fixing bike): Yeah, come down mate.
MATTHEW CARNEY: This single income Melbourne family eventually signed up for the program and Dore's in-house finance plan.
RICHARD BURNS, FATHER: It's a lot of money. It's the honeymoon we never had.
MATTHEW CARNEY: This, though, would not be one of the scores of happy, smiling testimonials that pepper Dore's marketing effort.
RICHARD BURNS, FATHER: About a month into it he started getting very angry and we remembered back at the start of it they said, because of the past forming towards the brain you may get slight fits of anger or rage. It will last for about a week.
We thought right, that's happening, that's what they said. We expected it. It went on for over a month. He was getting worse and worse. The school noticed.
We went back to the Dore's Program and explained it. They said just keep going through the program, which we did and after a period of about six months we just said no. He is getting worse. At school he was fighting with his friends. I mean he cherishes his friends. Now he's turning against them. This is not right, so we stopped it immediately.
MATTHEW CARNEY: And stopping it before time was a problem when the Burns went looking for a refund. Dore's money back guarantee hinges on staying the Dore course. The Burns managed to get half their money back along with all their son's problems.
RICHARD BURNS, FATHER: My concern is if you cannot control his anger, his rage, his communication skills at an earlier age, what will his future be? Will he be able to hold a job down? Will he end up in jail? Will he have no friends? Will he end up a bum walking the streets?
For $5000 if it works, it is not a problem. Unfortunately for us it didn't work and we have to, it's taken six to 12 months to realise this and we're pretty much back to square one.
(Excerpt from "Donahue" show, 1980):
PHIL DONAHUE, PRESENTER: You know what you've got here, what you've done here has been, let me just make this point, very well received by the scientific community ...
(End of excerpt)
MATTHEW CARNEY: The Dore Program claims to be revolutionary, a breakthrough, but Dr. Harold Levinson for one says it's not new.
DR HAROLD LEVINSON, PSYCHIATRIST AND NEUROLOGIST : How could a paint salesman develop any scientific method that takes decades to perfect?
WYNFORD DORE, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, DORE: Before Dore, Harold Levinson was the world's most emphatic advocate of an association between the cerebellum, the inner ear and dyslexia and ADHD. It was and remains a contentious theory.
Nevertheless the New York neurologist and psychiatrist published extensively and developed therapies along the way. This was his baby before Wynford Dore came knocking seeking help for his dyslexic daughter Susie.
DR HAROLD LEVINSON, PSYCHIATRIST AND NEUROLOGIST : Allegedly he read my book, "Smart but Feeling Dumb" in Hong Kong while he was selling paint there and he recognised that his daughter Susie was described by me perfectly and so he said he came for Susie's benefit and she allegedly did very, very well and that was the beginning of our relationship.
MATTHEW CARNEY: In his book "The Miracle Cure" Wynford Dore writes:
" ... the change that took place in Suzie was more dramatic than any of us had seen before … So began the challenge of my life. I wanted to help develop further and spread what Dr Levinson was doing."
For a while that involved Levinson himself. Dore developed a business plan for a chain of centres based on Levinson's theories. But the pair fell out. The reasons are disputed. The doctor returned home but Dore pressed on regardless.
WYNFORD DORE, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, DORE: We started our own research using exercises which was completely different to anything he'd ever done. But yes, I give him absolute credit for being the first guy that started to tell me the cerebellum is where you should be looking.
DR HAROLD LEVINSON, PSYCHIATRIST AND NEUROLOGIST : He is dealing with a wealthy or desperate population and charging them as much as he can get. That doesn't look to me like it has an altruistic background.
(Excerpt from Learning Breakthrough Program promotional video):
(On screen text: "Day 1 Activity 1")
MALE: We're standing on the board with our feet equal distance from centre and with the toes lined up. We're going to throw the bean-bag up in the air and catch it with both hands ..."
(End of excerpt)
MATTHEW CARNEY: This is the Learning Breakthrough Program, developed in the 60s by Dr Frank Belgau - balance boards, bean-bags - all the familiar hardware.
There's no doubt Dore drew heavily from this and the work of Levinson to frame the company's program, but no-one goes close to making the sorts of claims made by Dore and certainly no-one goes close to the cost. Belgau's program is less than a 10th of the price.
There is good evidence that exercise based programs can improve coordination, posture and concentration but as we've seen that doesn't necessarily translate to better reading and writing or improvements in ADHD.
That's something Maureen Hawke knows well. For 30 years in Brisbane's back-blocks she's been using exercises to help children with learning difficulties.
MATTHEW CARNEY (to Maureen Hawke): Would you ever claim cure with just movement?
MAUREEN HAWKE, DIRECTOR, LEARNING CONNECTIONS: No, no.
MATTHEW CARNEY (to Maureen Hawke): Why not?
MAUREEN HAWKE, DIRECTOR, LEARNING CONNECTIONS: Because I believe it's bigger than that. It's not just about movement. Children who have a learning problem frequently have some difficulty across a range of areas. It may be visual, auditory, motor and many of them also have a a coexisting problem with nutrition.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Maureen Hawke sees movement as just one part of the treatment puzzle. It might help some children and for others, intensive reading instruction might work, for the causes of learning difficulties are many and complex.
WYNFORD DORE, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, DORE (speaking at meeting): When do you think realistically we're going to start producing sports specific versions of this, say rugby, golf, tennis, soccer?
MALE (to Wynford Dore): We'll be able to start doing sports specific ones easily by the end of the year.
WYNFORD DORE, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, DORE (speaking at meeting): Really?
MALE (to Wynford Dore): Yeah.
WYNFORD DORE, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, DORE (speaking at meeting): That's great.
MATTHEW CARNEY: For Dore, science appears no substitute for anecdotal success. What went before and what else is on the market is effectively irrelevant. For children with learning difficulties, the arrival of the Dore Program is Year Zero.
WYNFORD DORE, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, DORE: I happen to believe that cure is a word that's debated too much and therefore because this is not a disease perhaps we shouldn't be using it. We should be talking about giving them the skills that they would love to have to have a normal life.
PROFESSOR MAX COLTHEART, MACQUARIE CENTRE FOR COGNITIVE SCIENCE: It is curious because in some fields, particularly in very medical fields, you wouldn't be allowed to do this. First of all you couldn't put the product on the market unless it had already been independently evaluated, it happens a lot with medical treatments.
And secondly if you do put the product on the market and make claims about it which you can't back up, then there have been companies wound up for that reasons so if that's really the case it's not clear to me why this shouldn't happen with children with reading problems. Why are there different criteria applied for those products than for other kinds of products?
MATTHEW CARNEY: For Harry Gulson's parents and many others there's no doubt that Dore works.
SALLY GULSON, MOTHER: I'm not a scientist, but my gut feeling was that it felt right, and as a mother I think you have to act on that intuition. It makes to me common sense. And there are, I think there's lots of things in the medical profession that to scientists are common sense but they can't prove it one way or another scientifically.
MATTHEW CARNEY: For as long as science is unable to prove or debunk Dore, clients like Robert Smith and Blake Kelly and thousands of others are little more than human guinea pigs.
But it's a measure of the desperation of parents and their hopes for their children that it's a costly roll of the dice they're prepared to take.
KERRY KELLY, MOTHER: I believe once he can read, so much comes from reading so if he can, you know, get that concept happening he'll have to, you know, be able to read again but they'll be given the ability to do so. Yeah, it will be wonderful for him especially and a relief for me.
MATTHEW CARNEY (to Kerry Kelly): And if it doesn't, doesn't have any effect?
KERRY KELLY, MOTHER: Oh I'll be terribly disappointed, but if I didn't try it I wouldn't know and I'd probably be more worried about how disappointed Blake will be, but I've talked to him about that and that we have to give it a go because, you know, it could work for us and hopefully it will.
DEBBIE SMITH, MOTHER: If it worked I'd be delighted, even if it just worked a little bit because every child deserves success and Robert does. And if he could enjoy learning, if he could understand any concept with maths then that would be great.
MATTHEW CARNEY (to Debbie Smith): And that obviously would be worth anything.
DEBBIE SMITH, MOTHER: Everything.
(End of transcript)
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