For dyslexic children, what begins as an educational problem can quickly descend into an emotional problem. School reading or writing assignments may serve as triggers for intensely negative emotions of fear, stress, and anxiety, which in turn lead to memory and attention disruptions, which lead to physiological manifestations of that unease—and in some cases, catastrophic thoughts. By considering these cascading effects, we can understand why depression and, sadly, suicide rates for dyslexic children are higher than for the general population.
This sort of cycle is well-known in psychology, with the “anxiety cascade” being taught over many decades, even in basic psychology courses. The diagram included in this article adapts that cycle to specifically address the pattern observed in dyslexic children.
Because of this “Vortex of Dyslexia,” early intervention for children is critical. Dyslexia is in many ways an invisible struggle. If dyslexic children are not properly evaluated and treated what may seem to outsiders as “simple” reading and writing difficulties can grow into far more significant psychological or physiological problems.
Unfortunately, many of the parents we hear from have learned this painful lesson firsthand. Many of them reach out to Lexercise months or years after they first detected signs of dyslexia in their child. Typically, these parents hoped and expected that their child’s public school would address the problem, but it didn’t–even after years of waiting. By then, children have often transitioned from enjoying school to dreading it, from being confident in their abilities to fearing they’re “dumb.” Attention and motivation problems often begin, as well.
That’s why we strongly advise parents whose child has failed the Lexercise Screener to get a professional evaluation done immediately—whether it’s with us or a local provider. Not only is therapy more effective the earlier in life it occurs, but the cost of delaying can be enormous.
Professional Education for Language-Literacy Interventionists
Therapy for dyslexia has come a long way from the days of Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham. In the decades since the initial formulation of the Orton-Gillingham (O-G) approach, research has reached a consensus about the most effective way to teach reading and writing to students with language-processing differences. The initial O-G approach was focused primarily on letter-sound associations (phonics) but in a highly systematic, sequential and cumulative (aka structured) manner and with the understanding of the primary importance of speech sound processing.
The modern application of structured language intervention, informed by over a decade of neuroscience and brain imaging research, focuses on three aspects of word processing: speech sounds (phonology), spelling patterns (orthography), and meaning elements (morphology). While there is mounting scientific support for this “triple word form” model of the way the human brain has adapted its language centers for learning to read and write, there are very few professionals who can truly call themselves experts in the application of this approach to intervention with struggling readers and writers. In order to close this gap, language experts need access to professional education courses that share the latest methodologies and approaches to intervention.
Become a Certified Expert in Structured Language Therapy
Lexercise is pleased to announce that we are now offering a certification in Structured Language Therapy! This certification will demonstrate your knowledge of language structure and your understanding of research-backed intervention principles to clients, colleagues, and employers. Professionals who pass the Lexercise Qualification Exam with a score of 80% or higher will receive a certification symbol for their website, as well as a certificate that can be printed and displayed in an office. The examination takes about an hour to complete and costs $50.
Or, if you are feeling a little rusty in the area of language structure and would like to brush up this, as well as improve your understanding of research-backed interventions, we would welcome you to take our two course sequence:
- Course 1: The Structure of Written English - Course 2: Structured Language-Literacy Intervention
If you pass the final exam in Course 2 with a score of at least 80% you will receive the Lexercise certification in structured language therapy, and we will provide you with course completion certificates, the certification symbol for your website, as well as the printable certificate in Structured Language Therapy.
Practitioners of structured language intervention and their students have a lot to look forward to! The National Institutes of Health BRAIN project (or Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) is just getting underway. As science continues to reveal details of the brain’s circuitry for language and literacy and correlate it with behavioral data, we will be better and better able to align instruction to research and customize it for diverse learners. Join us! Start working toward your Certification in Structured Language Therapy here!
The Journey to This Point
When Chad and I started Lexercise 6 years ago, we assumed that the professionals who considered themselves experts in structured language intervention (aka O-G) shared a common vocabulary and understanding about the basic building blocks of language structure. With this assumption in mind we launched the Lexercise online games to allow these professionals to provide their clients with intensive, linguistically structured practice.
In the year that followed we learned that our assumption was naive. Professionals who had achieved certification in various structured language “programs” differed dramatically in how they defined even the most basic units of language structure (e.g., phoneme, grapheme, syllable, vowel, consonant, blend, digraph, morpheme), as well as in their ability to identify these essential units and in their understanding of how to teach these concepts. Using the Lexercise game software requires a professional who can confidently parse most words into their sub-lexical elements and who can use scientific inquiry methods to investigate word structure. We realized that there were not enough professionals who were prepared to do this, and all our efforts were on the verge of failure.
For Lexercise to survive we realized that we would need to establish consistency by employing our own therapists and requiring them to demonstrate their mastery of the terminology and the structured language procedures supported by an overwhelming body of research. And that is just what we did.
We recruited highly motivated clinical educators with a track record of commitment to the science of literacy to work with us. At the same time, we created a rigorous set of structured language courses with qualification exams designed to focus on the knowledge and skills that research has identified as important for language interventionists. We were guided in this task by the International Dyslexia Association’s Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading. After a period of assessment and improvement we began offering these courses as professional development opportunities. We also offered the Lexercise Qualification Exam to professionals as a way of demonstrating and documenting their knowledge and expertise. As such this certification demonstrates what you actually know, not just what you have attended.
For parents of struggling readers and writers, the following story sounds familiar. A mother watches her child struggle to read, write, or spell. She knows her son is smart—he can take things apart and put them together again and his listening comprehension is excellent—yet he has difficulties in school. She senses there is a more fundamental problem and wants to have him tested for dyslexia. Her first thought is to contact her child’s school for help. But she’s soon discouraged. She learns that getting her child tested may take months (if it ever happens), and the person who would administer the testing lacks advanced language-processing and dyslexia expertise, training, and education. She then turns to local options outside of the school. Is there some facility nearby staffed with experts who can evaluate her son for dyslexia? She quickly encounters a number of challenges with that approach:
- There may be no professional in her city or town who can administer a complete, diagnostic language-processing evaluation (unless she happens to live next door to a major research university). Does she have to settle for a lower-quality, limited evaluation for her child just because of where she lives?
- If she can find a seemingly good option, it often means multiple hours of travel in the car that already feels like a second home.
- Most brick-and-mortar locations are only open 9am – 5pm, so scheduling time for an evaluation may mean a day out of work and/or pulling her child out of school.
- When she asks about how she will be involved in the evaluation process she is told that she will need to fill out some paperwork and then wait in the reception room. She would like to observe her daughter’s evaluation to better understand what her daughter is struggling with but is told that is not allowed.
- She learns that many of the clinics insist on performing a lot of testing that doesn’t seem relevant (psychological, emotional, etc.), which means her daughter would have to endure 4+ hours of tedious testing. Her daughter is already feeling defeated, and she is worried that this extensive testing will only make that worse.
- She learns that all the private evaluation options cost thousands of dollars. She wants what is best for her child, but thousands of dollars seems like a lot and she wonders how much of the information will actually be helpful. She worries that she’ll spend thousands of dollars just to be told what she already knows, with a broad disorder classification like “reading and writing disorder” or, even worse, a catchall categorization like “learning disability”.
The Online Alternative If the school can’t help and the private evaluation options are problematic, what else can she do to help her daughter? We at Lexercise (unsurprisingly) think an online evaluation is the easiest, most effective, and most affordable way to have a child tested for dyslexia. Why?
- Access to the most highly skilled and experienced clinicians. Our teletherapy model allows parents to access a highly skilled and experienced clinician, regardless of where they live. Directed by a leader in the field with decades of experience both in private practice and in academia, Lexercise has recruited dedicated and highly skilled clinicians, all of whom must pass the Lexercise Qualification Examination to document their expertise. The application of research-backed practices is a Lexercise core value.
- Easier and more convenient. Traveling to our evaluation is as easy as a walk to your kitchen table or desk. And because our practice spans multiple time zones and because our clinicians can work from anywhere, we offer much more flexibility with scheduling to find a time convenient for parents (i.e., we’re not limited to the 9am – 5pm of brick-and-mortar locations).
- More affordable. Our offices are virtual, which helps us control overhead costs. That means we can invest in world-class people and pass the rest of the savings on to you.
Addressing Common Concerns with Online Evaluations
Q: Will an online evaluation be as accurate? A: Yes. Accumulating research—such as that reported through the American Telemedicine Association—attests to the effectiveness and accuracy of online evaluations. In fact, online evaluations present unique advantages over traditional in-person evaluations. For example, we find children are often more engaged and attentive in online interactions than in an office. There is something captivating to children about interacting with a person on the other side of the country through the computer.
Q: Will an online evaluation be recognized by schools or the government? A: If the Lexercise evaluation indicates a disability diagnosis, yes, it will qualify your child under the federal law, The Americans with Disabilities Act. This means that our evaluation can be used at any school to get a 504 Plan for academic accommodations.
Q: Are Lexercise clinicians fully qualified with the appropriate certifications to evaluate or diagnose dyslexia? A: Yes. Our clinical educators have master’s degrees in special education from accredited universities and are Teach for America alums. In addition, our clinical educators have continuing education above and beyond their master’s degrees in the Orton-Gillingham Approach. They have the specialized knowledge needed to evaluate language-processing difficulties like dyslexia and dysgraphia.
Q: Is Lexercise a reputable company? A: Absolutely. However, don’t just take our word for it, see what past customers have said about us.
One of the best ways to help children who are struggling to read, write, or spell is to help educate the adult clinicians, educators, and teachers who serve them.
We’ve known for some time that a teacher’s knowledge is a critical ingredient in his or her overall effectiveness. Check out any of the thousands of links exploring research on that topic here.
Specific to literacy, dyslexia, and other language-processing disorders, the latest research paints a similar picture: the relationship between clinician or teacher knowledge and student outcomes is strong.
While a professional’s knowledge about the structure of English is important, it also matters what professionals know and understand about how the brain processes language and reading and how to leverage that understanding to adjust treatment/education that meets the needs of each individual. If professionals don’t understand how dyslexia differs from other language-processing disorders, they likely will be unable to differentiate treatment and will be susceptible to marketing that over-sells the effectiveness of “one-size-fits-all” commercial programs for struggling readers and writers.
For those interested in digging deeper into the literature on this subject, here are four of the academic studies supporting these points:
- McCutchen, D., Abbott, R. D., & Green, L. B. (2002).Beginning literacy: Links among teacher knowledge, teacher practice, and student learning. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 35, 69–86.
- Cunningham, A.E., Perry, K.E., Stanovich, K.E., & Stanovich, P.J. (2004). Disciplinary knowledge of K-3 teachers and their knowledge calibration in the domain of early language. Annals of Dyslexia, 54 (1), 139-167.
- Moats, L. C. and Foorman, B. F. (2003). Measuring teachers’ content knowledge of language and reading. Annals of Dyslexia, 53, 23-45.
- Mathes, P. G., Denton, C. A., Fletcher, J. M., Anthony, J. L., Francis, D. J., & Schatschneider, C. (2005). The effects of theoretically different instruction and student characteristics on the skills of struggling readers. Reading Research Quarterly, 40, 148–182.
Because professional knowledge is so important, we’ve created two online professional education courses covering: 1) the structure of written English and 2) the use of structured language intervention (aka, multi-component, Orton-Gillingham treatment). Our goal of this two-course sequence is to enable professionals to individualize treatment based on the student’s language processing patterns rather than just pushing the student through a boxed program that is unlikely to help. Interested professionals can learn more about these online professional education courses here.
We find that the Lexercise approach to dyslexia intervention tends to resonate strongly with doctors, as we use more of a medical model than a “school model” for our evaluations. The school model for evaluation is not designed to diagnose dyslexia or the root causes of child difficulty; rather, it is designed only to qualify the child for the limited, tax-supported public school special education services. In contrast, at Lexercise we use the National Institute of Health’s model and make a formal diagnosis when indicated.
Because few pediatricians are experts in dyslexia or language processing, we recommend that parents print and bring several resources to the doctor’s office if or when they wish to speak to their pediatrician about evaluating their child for a possible language processing problem:
- Joint Technical Report on Learning Disabilities that was compiled by the American Academy of Pediatrics & the American Academy of Pediatric Ophthalmology
- A summary of that article
- This Lexercise forums article comparing a language processing evaluation to the school’s psycho-educational evaluation
- Another Lexercise forums article on Selecting a Treatment Approach
- Your child’s Lexercise Dyslexia Screener Report. (At this link you can screen your child, ages 6 and older, and print a report to take to your child’s doctor.)
Additionally, most doctors are familiar with telepractice services in medicine and the American Telemedicine Association’s guidelines. At Lexercise, we use those same guidelines.
Lastly, for doctors with questions about Lexercise or our approach, we have two pediatricians on our Advisory Board (Dr. William Young, pediatric ophthalmologist and Dr. Adrienne Classen, pediatrician). They often speak with pediatricians eager to learn more about Lexercise.
For parents or pediatricians with questions, feel free to call us at 1-888-603-1788 or email me at AskSandie@lexercise.com.
Our last article analyzed the many reasons why public schools struggle to adequately identify and support dyslexic students. Since publishing, we’ve heard valuable feedback from parents describing their own particular “horror stories” with trying to secure treatment and accommodations for their children by navigating public school bureaucracy. Professor Ruth Colker, one of the country’s leading constitutional law and disability scholars, helped us construct the graphic below. This graphic illustrates the slow, bureaucratic (and often unsuccessful) process required to classify a child to receive a public school’s tax-supported special education services and/or accommodations.
By comparison, our online language processing evaluation can be scheduled and completed in a matter of weeks, and it typically results in not only a diagnosis that can be used for school accommodations, but also a clear understanding for parents of the cause(s) of their child’s difficulties and an outline of what research-backed treatments are likely to help. Click here to learn more about that process.
You can contact me at AskSandie@lexercise.com or 1-888-603-1788.
Many school teachers and administrators wish they could provide more help for struggling readers and writers, but they lack resources and training to do so. Few parents understand what they are getting themselves into if they try to navigate the school system as an academic lifeline for their struggling student. It is time-consuming, complex, frustrating, and worst of all it’s often entirely fruitless.
Luckily, the process of getting young struggling readers the help they need outside of school is efficient and straightforward. Lexercise gets kids the help they need in four easy steps and in only a few weeks:
If your child struggles with reading, writing, or spelling, the critical first step is to schedule a professional evaluation. No matter where you live, your child can be tested and treated individually, face-to-face, and online by the clinical educators at Lexercise. Learn more here, or contact me directly at AskSandie@Lexercise.com or 1-888-603-1788.
Many parents expect public schools to provide their dyslexic children with timely evaluation and therapy, and these parents often delay getting their kids the help they need until the school acts. Unfortunately, this “wait and hope” approach is rarely effective and has a costly impact on children:
- Navigating the public school bureaucracy to secure special attention often takes months or years. Meanwhile, children are falling further behind during the critical early-education period.
- Most schools are understaffed and ill-equipped to administer a complete language processing evaluation.
- Even if you are able to get your child designated for special education, he or she will typically be taught in a group of children with widely ranging learning challenges, making targeted and specific treatment for dyslexia unlikely.
Every week scores of confused parents call us to discuss how to help their children who are struggling readers and writers. Many of them wonder, “It seems like my child’s school should help him overcome his reading and writing problems. Can’t I just ask them to test him?”
While this seems like an entirely reasonable approach, it just does not work very well in the real world of today’s public schools. In short, your child’s public school is very unlikely to provide the testing or treatment that your bright, dyslexic child needs—no matter how long you wait.
Why Schools Act Slowly—Or Not At All
- Public school teachers, principals and staff are well-intentioned, but the system is broken. Most schools don’t have the resources to diagnose and treat dyslexics. Waiting for the school to test and treat your dyslexic child is a “race to the bottom” and an enormous disservice to your language-challenged child.
- If a teacher notices that your child is having difficulty, the teacher might just say that kids develop at different rates and yours will “catch up.”
- The school might tell you that your child will be tested in the 3rd grade, so you should just wait until then.
The Risk of Delaying Evaluation and Treatment for your Child
- By the time your child is far enough behind to qualify for a public school evaluation, you have a bigger problem on your hands. What was a manageable academic challenge for your 1st grader can turn into a significant emotional and social problem by the 3rd grade. You are likely to hear your child say things like, “I’m never going to get this,” “All my friends read better than I do,” “I hate this,” “School is not for me,” “I’m stupid.”
- Children with dyslexia do not “catch up” without specialized and explicit instruction. Such children don’t “just need a little extra practice” or a tutor; they need a specific type of teaching designed for the unique learning patterns of the dyslexic brain. (This is known as the Orton-Gillingham method.)
- Smart dyslexic students often treat every word as a sight word and memorize it, instead of using the word’s structure to decode and understand it. School reading assessments are unlikely to pick this up. Later, when these bright dyslexics are in middle and high school with dramatically increased reading and note taking demands, this memorization strategy will fail them.
- While you are hoping for dyslexia help from the school, your child is losing ground—falling behind with reading and writing skills that are fundamental to all learning. As the American Federation of Teachers explains in “Waiting Rarely Works: Late Bloomers Usually Just Wilt,” among children who do not get help outside of school “there is nearly a 90 percent chance that a poor reader in first grade will remain a poor reader.”
Common Limitations of School Evaluations
- The instruments schools and school psychologists most often use to determine eligibility for special education seldom if ever give a diagnosis. Yet, only with a clear diagnosis can you create a roadmap to academic success for your dyslexic student.
- The psychoeducational evaluation that schools provide looks at IQ and academic achievement to determine if there is a gap between the two. That gap is defined as a “learning disability.” This evaluation will not tell you what’s wrong nor will it suggest what treatment will work best for your child’s individual problem.
- Intelligent students with dyslexia often test like typically developing readers in the early grades. They can get to third or fourth grade, still testing in the broad average range on psychoeducational measures, yet struggling mightily with basic language processing skills necessary for upper-level literacy. They may never qualify for public school services because their psychoeducational testing scores don’t show the arbitrary “gap.”
Common Limitations of School Intervention and Therapy
- Your child may be offered special education. Special education typically takes place in a group that is made up of children with conditions as different as dyslexia and brain injury, all taught with the same methods, regardless of the cause of their difficulty.
- Group teaching (including special education) is less effective than individual therapy since both explanation and practice must be adapted to each child’s level.
The Proactive Alternative to the “Wait & Hope” Approach
- Your dyslexic child needs a professional evaluation including three things: diagnosis (naming the problem), intervention planning (developing an individualized approach to treatment that is appropriate to your child’s skills and needs) and documentation (establishing your child’s eligibility for special services). Professionals who are qualified to diagnose dyslexia include specially trained psychologists, speech-language pathologists and clinical educators. Unfortunately the goal of public school psychoeducational testing procedures is eligibility for tax-funded services, not diagnosis or treatment planning.
- It is rewarding to see how dyslexic children thrive and excel once they are properly diagnosed and offered effective treatment. The child who “hated” reading is now reading beyond her grade level; the child who refused to do homework is now eager to write reports. Have a look at what parents say about their child’s experience.
If you do decide to pursue the school route, please see Part 2 of this article which provides a visual for this process.
If you are concerned about your child’s reading, writing or spelling, the most important first step is a professional evaluation. No matter where you live, your child can be tested and treated individually, online, face-to-face, by the clinical educators at Lexercise. To find out more, contact me directly at AskSandie@Lexercise.com or 1-888-603-1788.
Children aren’t the only ones being tested at Lexercise. Before we can even talk about testing or treating dyslexia, we have to know that the professional has the knowledge and skills needed to provide effective evaluation and treatment.
Yes, Lexercise tests its prospective clinical partners to be sure they do.
We do this because research has repeatedly shown a correlation between clients’ therapy progress and clinician knowledge. Professionals who want to use Lexercise as part of their practice begin by taking our Qualification Exam. This exam is based, in part, on the International Dyslexia Association’s Knowledge and Practice Standards. We’ll invite the clinician to join Lexercise if their score is at least 80%. If the clinician doesn’t score at least 80% we’ll provide study resources and coaching, and they can re-test. Professionals who have not had previous professional training in a structured language approach (aka Orton-Gillingham) may want to begin by taking our two online courses. Instead of taking the Qualification Exam, course takers can demonstrate competence by passing the two end-of-course exams.
We hope that that clinicians find our qualification process collaborative, friendly and empowering. We certainly need more qualified professionals, and we want to do all we can to enable clinicians to develop and to demonstrate their competence.
Lexercise teletherapy partners are clinical educators or speech-language pathologists who are experts in structured language (a.k.a. Orton-Gillingham) therapy. They use the Lexercise teletherapy platform so they can work with clients wherever they live. If you are interested in becoming a Teletherapy Partner, click here or contact us with questions!
If you are looking for therapy for your child, one of these teletherapy therapists would be a good choice. You will need an evaluation first, so give us a call at 888-603-1788 and we’ll explain how to get started.
Requiring a child to repeat a grade continues to be one of the major ways that public schools deal with struggling readers. This practice continues, in part, due to the way that “standards-based education” and “high-stakes” end-of-grade testing is implemented. However, most research does not support the effectiveness of grade retention for struggling readers and/or writers.
Both research and common sense suggest that simply having a child repeat a grade will rarely address the problems that the child is experiencing in the first place.
In fact, research shows retained students often suffer long-term harm, both academically and emotionally (source). Although some research suggests retained students show short-term gains in achievement, this is usually followed by a fade in progress, as well as negative attitudes toward school (source). For example, research has shown that, on average, retained students’ reading achievement is worse than fellow low-performing peers who are promoted. These deficiencies persist to the 11th and 12th grades and probably beyond. Further, research suggests that retained students are more likely to drop out of high school.
Grade retention has also been related to an erosion in students’ self-esteem and mental and emotional health.
While it can be frustrating to see your child struggling in school, and while retention may seem like the easy answer, we urge parents to think carefully before agreeing to it. There is a huge literature on this subject and wide agreement that grade retention alone will not improve a child’s reading skills. Grade retention might be especially problematic for children who struggle only with reading and writing but not in other areas, like math and science. For a child with such uneven achievement patterns a better approach might be to allow the child to advance to the next grade and continue to advance in areas of strength while providing a therapeutic program for reading spelling and writing skills.
Here are links to a few recent articles on this topic:
1) The Perceptions of Primary Grade Teachers and Elementary Principals about the Effectiveness of Grade-Level Retention
2) Beyond Grade Retention and Social Promotion
3) Does Grade Retention Make A Difference
If your child struggles with reading, writing or spelling, the most important first step is a professional evaluation. No matter where you live, your child can be tested and treated individually, face-to-face, online, by the clinical educators at Lexercise. Learn more here, or contact me directly at AskSandie@Lexercise.com or 1-888-603-1788.