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Thursday, 1 February, 2001, 16:28 GMT
Exercises 'aid dyslexic pupils'
children hopping
Movements and exercise may hold the key to dyslexia
Children with dyslexia could be helped by the introduction of special movements and exercises into school sports lessons, research suggests.

Special routines, designed to tap into reflexes from birth, lead to better co-ordination which in turn can improve reading and writing skills, according to psychologist Martin McPhillips.

pupil's hand writing
Dyslexics typically have wider organisational difficulties
As part of his research, Mr McPhillips examined the movements made by a foetus in its mother's womb and noted that primary reflexes - like the palmar reflex, where a baby will grasp at an object placed on its hand - assisted the foetus's development.

But, after birth, the psychologist found that the baby gradually began to adopt an upright position and its "secondary" reflexes took over, letting the toddler walk about.

Mr McPhillips discovered that many of the dyslexic children he tested had strong primary reflexes, which hindered their ability to do activities such as holding a pencil or following words on a page.

He has now devised a series of movements and exercises which are designed to mimic these reflexes and thereby "switch them off" and promote co-ordination.

Academic impact

The techniques have so far proved highly successful and Mr McPhillips hopes to see such activity incorporated within physical education lessons in schools.

Martin McPhillips said the programme was indebted to previous work that has been done on dyslexia and on movement and exercise.

But he says that so far as he is aware the sequence his team devised is the first to have shown an academic impact in a formal trial.

"In Ireland there are now a number of schools doing the programme, because it's very cost-effective - you can work with groups of children.

"And there are possible benefits for children who are not dyslexic but are not functioning as well as they might do.

Adults also benefit

"That's something we are looking at at the moment. It might just be at a level to stop a child achieving their full potential.

"So it will bring up the whole class performance."

Nor is it only children who can benefit, although with adults the impact is likely to take longer because their neurological system is more "fixed", Mr McPhillips said.

"It's not just a reading and writing problem, it affects all of a person's organisation and it affects their self-esteem and confidence as well.

"So regaining some of that may be more important than the reading and writing."

Mr McPhillips carried out his research with the Dyslexia Project, a joint venture between Queen's University and the Royal Maternity Hospital, Belfast.

A charitable foundation, Primary Movement, has been set up - with a website - to handle queries about the exercise scheme.

His work is reported in the February edition of The Psychologist, journal of the British Psychological Society.

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