Charlotte and the DDAT Programme for Dyslexia - Jackie Bonella

Three years ago this spring, I saw ‘Tonight with Trevor McDonald’ which featured a revolutionary ‘cure’ for dyslexia. There is actually no ‘cure’ for dyslexia, which can be seen as a gift as the brain works in a special way. But the programme can dramatically improve the ability of the dyslexic in reading and writing and fitting in with an ordinary lifestyle, especially at school.

The programme was designed by the DDAT Centre, now called the Dore Foundation, which planned its national expansion around the publicity generated by the TV programme. After watching the show, I duly called the number, and was advised that they had received over a million calls – no surprise there!

My daughter, Charlotte, had her first visit to the DDAT centre in Fulham (our nearest) in June at the age of 9. She underwent tests on a ‘balance machine’ (a bit like a computerised wobble board) had eye-tracking tests and saw a doctor. We were advised that she would probably be on the programme for 12 to 18 months.

The programme involves two separate exercises twice a day in a particular format. The exercises are colour coded and need to be performed in the required order on specific days. The colour codes correspond to eye exercises, balance exercises and motor control exercises, and the number and type are tailored according to each patient’s needs. Each exercise takes no more than 5 to 10 minutes.

The lazy cerebellum
The idea of the exercises is to train the cerebellum to work. The way I understand it is that the dyslexic does all their thinking with the intelligent part of the brain. The cerebellum, that should be responsible for automatic and repetitive actions is very lazy and doesn’t do this work. The programme trains or teaches the cerebellum to work, so that it, rather than the thinking brain, performs many of the tasks that a non-dyslexic takes for granted. Thus most normal actions and movement become virtually automatic, so much easier and less tiring.

Unlearning the coping mechanisms
We were warned that once we started the exercises they would undo many of the ‘coping’ mechanisms that Charlotte had developed in her nine years. Despite the warning, I was unprepared for the speed at which this happened. Fortunately we were almost into the summer holidays so that we could cope with the frustration at home. Charlotte reverted to being like a child in her terrible twos, but in a nine-year- old body. She had terrible tantrums of frustration and would throw herself on the ground with all her limbs flailing in every direction.
Whilst undergoing the exercise programme, I was surprised by many of the things that Charlotte found difficult. Without
challenging a child to perform a particular action, you assume that they can do it just like you can. This was clearly not the case and my understanding of the dyslexic’s frustration increased tremendously.

Surprisingly difficult exercises
One particular exercise, which we were required to do many times during the programme, involved standing on the spot and turning clockwise 10 times, then sitting down for a minute, then turning in the opposite direction 10 times. Whilst everyone is different, Charlotte had huge difficulty with this exercise. At the first attempt she managed only three rotations before dissolving in tears and becoming hysterical because she couldn’t do it!
I was surprised that, when required to kick forwards, as in kicking a football, Charlotte was unable to swing her leg in a straight line. She needed specific tuition to master an action that we take for granted. The same was true of punching her arm forwards from the shoulder.

We persevered with the programme, doing all the exercises daily and revisiting the DDAT centre every eight to nine weeks, when Charlotte was re-measured on the balance and eye-tracking machines. We also reported on progress at each visit so that the next part of the programme could be tailored to suit us. The only gaps we had were when Charlotte spent more than a certain number of hours a day in her boat (which involves balance) or when skiing.

Before we started the programme Charlotte was a fast swimmer, a quick runner and generally sporty and very fit, but she complained that the simple things, like walking up a hill, however slight the slope, making her tired. She found reading very difficult, slow and laborious, despite having an IQ of 122, and couldn’t sit still for very long. Getting her homework done at the end of a tiring day at school was a nightmare.

As we progressed through the programme various things became easier. The physical things first. One day Charlotte said to me that ‘walking is easy’ and I said ‘of course it is’ because I had never found it hard. I realised that for a dyslexic who even finds putting one foot in front of the other difficult, getting through the day must be exhausting. I realised that her cerebellum was starting to take on some of the normal repetitive actions (like walking) so that her thinking brain was freed up from doing these repetitive tasks.

Soon after this, swimming became easier; Charlotte could now swim fast by clicking in her thinking brain, but also for a long time without getting tired because the cerebellum was also working. The same became true of running.

Gradually other small things became much, much easier, including, one day, copying from a list. Previously she had to start at the top of the list and work down to her place every time she looked up. Suddenly she could look up and go straight back to the place she had just left! This made school work a lot easier.

About 12-15 months into the programme, we appeared to reach a plateau. However, we persevered and suddenly there was a dramatic change. I have no idea why. One day Charlotte started using a pogo stick in the garden. The child who couldn’t balance could now pogo around the garden for 100 jumps before falling off.

Before this threshold was passed, each time we had visited the centre, Charlotte fell over on the balance machine. (For this reason, everyone wears a harness, so that they don’t hurt themselves.) Now she doesn’t fall over at all, and her balance has continued to improve until she is well into the realms of normal balance, while the variation range for each exercise on the machine is very small.

At the start of the programme Charlotte had used her muscles and ankles to balance, not her ears or eyes. This difference had been very noticeable whilst skiing with poor visibility in a snow storm. I was severely affected and had trouble seeing the bumps etc whilst it made no difference to Charlotte at all.

Once the balance was ‘fixed’ we moved on to continue to improve her eye tracking. At the outset her tracking once tired was extremely poor and explained why reading was so difficult. However continuing with the programme improved this tremendously.

The results for Charlotte
We were eventually on the programme for two years. At a cost of just over £2000 in total. Compared to the support teaching that was making no difference at all and still cost £250 per term I consider it money well spent.

Charlotte is now a different child. She has good balance, plays netball, hockey and rounders to a good standard for the school. She swims and runs very well. Since she completed the programme we have put her onto Efalex, essential fatty acid supplements, which strengthen the nerve pathways in the brain now it has effectively been rewired. This helps to improve memory and concentration.

My daughter is now a very pleasant child to live with. She is no longer so frustrated by life. She comes home from school and sits down and gets on with her homework without much fuss. She still has the special ‘qualities’ that being dyslexic has given her (she is quite ambitious and has good auditory skills) but she can now fit into what the rest of us consider a ‘normal’ environment. She can read well, although this will NEVER be her favourite pastime and keeps up at school. Indeed, the more her brain works at school, the more she will continue to improve. It is like starting at base level once more. Best of all is the improvement in her self-esteem. This has gone from almost negative and self-destructing, with an unwillingness to try anything for fear of failure, to being positive, willing, helpful and believing in herself.

I would thoroughly recommend the DDAT centre. They claim to deal with many forms of dyslexia, dyspraxia and attention deficit disorder. If your child has food allergies or intolerances then the chances of suffering from one of these is also higher. The centre is used to dealing with these disorders and doesn’t expect the kids to sit still for too long.

The DDAT team are also continually refining and improving their system and programme, based on the feedback of their ‘patients’. For us it has been a great success and there are no regrets in having spent two years improving Charlotte’s quality of life, which in turn has improved life for the rest of her family.

To find out more about the DDAT centres call 0870 880 6060 or check out


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