Katherine Nicholls thought she was just clumsy. Then she discoverd that her condition had a name - dyspraxia - and a simple, if controversial, treatment

For as long as I can remember I've known something was wrong with me. Growing up, I found simple childhood tasks impossible: I took a long time to learn to dress myself, I can't ride a bike and I took years to learn to tie my shoelaces. I was so bad at sports that when I moved school aged 14, I pretended they hadn't played sport at my previous school to explain my uselessness. And I'd never been able to balance on one leg - until now.

Then, last year, I read an article about dyspraxia - severe developmental co- ordination disorder. Dyspraxia is so little-known it wasn't even listed in my dictionary, but it instantly dawned on me this was what I had - I demonstrated all of the symptoms listed in the article.

This made me feel a bit better. It didn't make me any less dyspraxic, and I assumed that there was nothing I could do about it. Then, a few months ago, I heard about Wynford Dore, a 57-year-old multimillionaire from Coventry who has just written a book in which he claims to have found a cure for dyslexia, dyspraxia and attention deficit disorder (ADHD).

Dore has no medical training, but he is founder of the Dore programme, a revolutionary treatment which was initially aimed at dyslexia but which is also applied to dyspraxia and ADHD. It is exercise-based and drug-free, and essentially provides a "work-out" for the brain. It was first tried out in 1999, and to date 25,000 people have completed the programme; a further 10,000 people are currently receiving treatment. The programme, claims Dore, has an 85 per cent success rate.

Dyspraxia was not in his mind when he devised it. He only wanted to find a cure for his daughter, Susie (now 34), whose battle with severe dyslexia had driven her to attempt suicide three times. Dore still remembers seeing his daughter in hospital. "I felt like a failure," he says. "I felt total helplessness at not being able to do something. It doesn't matter how much you love someone. If they decide life isn't worth living you cannot help but feel you failed them."

Using his programme, Susie has now overcome her dyslexia. But it is clear that her father still feels tremendous guilt about not having given her the care she needed sooner. Hence his commitment to developing and publicising his treatment.

"I do it because I still live with the guilt of not understanding Susie," he confesses. "The guilt I feel because I thought she was choosing to be disorganised. I blamed her for the way she was and that was cruel. There are five million people with learning difficulties in this country who are misunderstood. And the reason I've written this book is so they won't be misunderstood any more."

Having tried conventional treatments for Susie, without success, Dore sold his business and poured his millions into finding a solution. Study of the medical literature convinced him (in contrast to the prevailing orthodoxy) that the root cause of dyslexia was physiological, not educational. Specifically, he began to believe that dyslexia - and dyspraxia - are caused by an underdeveloped cerebellum: the part of the brain at the base of the skull that processes information and governs balance and co-ordination, enabling people to carry out functions automatically.

Dore says he arrived at this theory after reading books on learning difficulties and the cerebellum, notably one by Professor Harold Levinson - a New York psychiatrist - and another by Professor Jeremy Schmahmann - a professor at Harvard medical school. Papers written by Professor Rod Nicholson, an educational psychologist at the University of Sheffield and chair of the international dyslexia conference in 2001, also convinced Dore that he was on the right track; while more recently research at the University of London and University of Oxford has also suggested a link between the density of the cerebellum, balance and learning capability.

Dore's theory is essentially that the cerebellum acts as a "librarian" for the brain, cross-referencing information and "indexing" skills. In people with dyslexia and dyspraxia, his theory goes, processes such as catching a ball or reading do not become automatic, and the brain's processing capacity or working memory therefore fills up more quickly. This results in a restricted ability to cope with multiple tasks.

Patients on the Dore programme have to perform repetitive physical exercises designed to stimulate the cerebellum and promote the development of neural pathways that connect it to other parts of the brain. This improves the cerebellum's effectiveness and results in more skills becoming automatic, thus freeing up the brain's capacity to process information.

For the past seven years, Dore has been hiring researchers from across the globe, including Professor Levinson. He flew in equipment from Nasa (astronauts suffer a temporary dyslexia in space) and began doing tests in his garage. He has also funded university research programmes, and tested 25,000 people. The test results have been remarkable. The programme's first research project, in Balsall Common School, Coventry, reported a success rate of 100 per cent, with the subjects' comprehension and reading ability improving by 300 and 500 per cent. The progress was measured using optional SATS results - independent tests provided by the Department of Education - which the children sat after completing the programme.

Those coming to the programme with a previous diagnosis have mostly been dyslexics, with dyspraxics and ADHD sufferers in a small minority. Dore's own screenings suggest a big overlap between the conditions: more than 90 per cent of those screened within his programme have shown symptoms of dyslexia, 83.7 per cent symptoms of dyspraxia and 83.3 per cent symptoms of ADHD. If you accept his core theory, this overlap is not surprising. Indeed, projects in the pipeline include seeing if the programme can be used to help Alzheimer's, depression and anorexia.

Dore says that, when his exercises are performed every day, his programme has never failed - every client has made "very substantial progress". But the British Dyslexia Association (BDA) and Dyslexia Action are both critical of his claims of a cure. Carol Youngs, policy director of the BDA, says: "We would argue dyslexia can't be cured. You can alleviate the symptoms for a while - it might vanish for 10 years - but then it might come back. Coping strategies may suppress it, but dyslexia is with you all your life."

The BDA argues that more solid research is needed. Yet Dore claims that his programme is itself the biggest research study on dyslexia in the world. "We've been getting absurd statements from one body saying, 'We couldn't support anything that doesn't have a 100 per cent success record'," he says. "Nothing has a 100 per cent success record - not even aspirins. Most research organisations are very happy to do studies for decades. But kids going to school in September need help in September. I don't want generations to be lost."

Dore's new book details the research and theories behind his programme. He says: "I wanted to write it so that people would realise it is possible to be free from dyslexia. The simple fact is people come on our programme with dyslexia, they leave without it and there is no regression. In fact, people continue to improve."

For me, there was a simpler question at issue: could the Dore programme help my dyspraxia? Well, yes, actually, it has.

Six weeks ago, I spent three hours at the centre's headquarters in Kenilworth having my writing, eye-tracking ability, balance and co-ordination assessed. I also took spelling, reading, writing, maths and memory tests. At the end of the assessment, I was given a print-out showing my results - which confirmed that I had dyspraxia - together with a personalised exercise booklet and a bag containing items such as a wobble board and gym ball.

The programme begins with simple exercises which become harder. My first involved following a moving playing card with my eyes. Six weeks in, I am required to balance on one leg catching a beanbag. There are 30 different exercises per six-week session, involving balance, eye movement and hand-and-leg movement. They have to be performed in a specific order, with two exercises twice a day, each taking five to 10 minutes. Patients are reassessed every six weeks until the programme's completion, typically between 12 to 18 months.

I have already seen marked improvements. Previously, when running, I would look ridiculous - my legs would stick out, my head would face the ground, I would be slow. Now I can run fast, my legs are in the correct position and I look straight ahead. I have become better at table tennis and catching balls. Driving has also become easier. And my recent re-assessment showed huge improvements, too. My balance has moved from a poor score of 51 to a normal score of 79. My eye-tracking score has also improved. Dore says I can't expect to be cured for another 10 months, but it is an impressive start.

It has also been an expensive one. At £1,900 per client the programme isn't cheap, and one criticism levelled at Dore is that he is out to make profit. He angrily disputes this allegation. "I was born in a council house - I want this for everyone," he says. "I have worked very hard to make it affordable. The sad thing is that the Government has made very little attempt to understand what we are doing. But I know that if Tony Blair saw dyslexia in his own family - he'd supply it for free. That's my goal - the programme available free on the NHS. And to know people everywhere are achieving their full potential."

'Dyslexia - The Miracle Cure', by Wynford Dore, £17.99, is published by John Blake Publishing. To find out more about the programme call 08708 806 060 or visit www.dore.co.uk

The Dore programme

* Before starting the programme, clients undertake a series of assessments, including reading, writing, maths, co-ordination and memory tests to see if they are dyslexic, dyspraxic or suffer from ADHD.

* Clients are then given a personalised exercise booklet containing six weeks' worth of exercises.

* Every six weeks, clients return to the centre for co-ordination assessments and are given a new set of exercises to do.

* Two exercises are performed daily, each taking between five and 10 minutes.

* For the first six weeks, a client would be expected to walk with a beanbag on their head and throw and catch a beanbag.

* The client must mark each exercise easy or hard. Easy exercises must be performed three times before moving on to the next exercise. Hard exercises must be performed five times.

* The exercises begin easy and get progressively harder.

* In the next stage, clients may be told to stand on one leg with their eyes closed, or stand on one leg throwing and catching a beanbag or while clapping their hands.

* After three to four months, clients must perform exercises such as balancing on a wobble board with their eyes closed, while performing mental tasks such as naming lists of fruit and vegetables.

* Clients are typically on the programme for 12 to 18 months.

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