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Follow-up of an exercise-based treatment for children with reading difficulties.

This study reports the results of a long-term follow-up of an exercise-based approach to dyslexia-related disorders (Reynolds, Nicolson, & Hambly, Dyslexia, 2003; 9(1): 48-71). In the initial study, children at risk of dyslexia were identified in 3 years of a junior school. One half then undertook a 6 month, home-based exercise programme. Evaluation after 6 months indicated that the exercise group improved significantly more than the controls on a range of cognitive and motor skills. Critics had suggested that the improvement might be attributable to artifactual issues including Hawthorne effects; an initial literacy imbalance between the groups; and inclusion of non-dyslexic participants. The present study evaluated the issue of whether the gains were maintained over the following 18 months, and whether they were in some sense artifactual as postulated by critics of the original study. Comparison of (age-adjusted) initial and follow-up performance indicated significant gains in motor skill, speech/language fluency, phonology, and working memory. Both dyslexic and non-dyslexic low achieving children benefited. There was also a highly significant reduction in the incidence of symptoms of inattention. Interestingly there were no significant changes in speeded tests of reading and spelling, but there was a significant improvement in (age-adjusted) reading (NFER). It is concluded that the gains were indeed long-lasting, and that the alternative hypotheses based on potential artifacts were untenable, and that the exercise treatment therefore achieved its applied purpose. Further research is needed to determine the underlying reasons for the benefits. Possible (and potentially synergistic) explanations include: improved cerebellar function (neural level); improved learning ability and/or attentional ability (cognitive level); improved self-esteem and self-efficacy (affective level); and improved parental/familial support (social level).

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