Overcoming learning difficulties

According to the Australian Government 1 in 6 children in schools are affected by learning difficulties (Parliamentary Paper Number 116, September 2003).

There is no single symptom that indicates that a person has a learning difficulty. Experts look for a noticeable difference between how well a child does in school versus how well he or she could do, given his or her intelligence or ability.

Many people with learning difficulties have features of Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), as well as Dyspraxia (a child who had difficulties using cutlery, speaking clearly, doing up buttons, riding a bike or handwriting may be described as Dyspraxic). They may have problems with short term and sequential memory, and organisational skills. Poor self-esteem, frustration and mood disturbances are also common. Less common symptoms include poor social and perceptual skills.

Lisa Atley had a feeling that something wasn't quite right with her eldest son Joshua, but it wasn't until Year 4 that the difficulties he was facing became more apparent. Joshua seemed to have difficulty in remembering things. He couldn't stay focused on the projects he was set. Homework went missing. His self-esteem was zero and reading had become a real chore.

As a parent of a child with a learning difficulty, Lisa faced much frustration in trying to find answers. "Every Doctor, Pediatrician and Psychologist that we spoke to had different views on what we should do," Lisa says. "Most said the school would deal with the situation. We were told that we needed to keep an eye on Joshua as he grew up, as many children with learning difficulties faced teenage depression due to a lack of academic skills and knowing that they are different."

Joshua had great support from his teachers, was granted an aide for 1 hour a day and a modified curriculum was put into place. However Lisa was still concerned about the long-term effects these learning difficulties could have. She consulted a child psychologist and her fears increased when she was told Joshua would not grow out of it and there was a high risk of teenage depression.

By chance Lisa heard about The Dore Group, and her subsequent research into the treatment made her believe there was hope.

"What impressed me was that most children on the Dore Program had gained self-confidence, Lisa says, I knew this alone would be a great bonus to Josh. And it was all done by following a drug-free exercise program designed to stimulate the cerebellum."

The cerebellum is a highly complex part of the brain. Although it is only one tenth of the overall brain in size, it contains over half of all of the brain's neurons and more than 40 million nerve fibres.

It is the information-processing part of the brain - the part which makes learning automatic. Put simply, the cerebellum sorts the information coming in and sends it to the cortex (the thinking part of the brain). It processes and integrates the sensory information essential for learning.

For many years the cerebellum was considered essential to the control of movement only. Recent research however has demonstrated that an under-developed cerebellum is actually a contributing factor to learning difficulties.

Thus when the cerebellum is not functioning properly, it can lead to reading difficulties, poor spelling and handwriting, as well as concentration and attention problems, which can be associated with disruptive and antisocial behaviour.

Lisa took Josh to the Dore Group, where he underwent extensive diagnostic assessments, basic neurological and medical examinations to determine if his cerebellum was functioning correctly.

"I was heartbroken to hear my son tell the Doctor he felt different to other children, that he didn't understand why, and that he just wanted to be normal like everyone else," said Lisa.

The individualised program prescribed for Joshua involved doing simple co-ordination exercises such as jumping, balancing on a wobble board and throwing beanbags from one hand to the other. Initially both Joshua and Lisa wondered how this would help. However, the concept of movement and learning is not new. The connection has been recognised in educational and scientific communities for many years.

Within 3 months of commencing the exercise program Joshua's teachers started to notice an enhanced ability to learn and concentrate. His self-confidence, reading ability and memory improved. He began receiving A's for his comprehension skills and now follows the normal school curriculum.

Joshua graduated from primary school in 2003, winning awards for Best Effort and Most Improved.

A quote from Joshua's primary school teacher will live with the family forever; "The light has been turned on in Joshua's eyes. He carries a spark that was not there before! It's as simple as that".

Joshua's younger brother Sam has also successfully completed the Dore program.

Unfortunately the Dore Group no longer operates in Australia.  It does however continue to operate in the UK and US.  For further information go to: www.dore.co.uk