Learning Ally recently published a terrific list of ten things parents of children with dyslexia wish others knew, which inspired me to come up with a list of my own: “10 Dyslexia Facts Literacy Therapists Wish Everyone Knew.”
1. People with dyslexia are born with dyslexia.
- Evidence suggests that people with dyslexia are born with neurological differences that show up when they begin to learn to read.
- Because it begins so early, its symptoms can be recognized and treatment can begin at the same time as literacy instruction.
2. The symptoms aren’t always what you think they are.
“I never saw her reverse b and d!”
“He loves listening to books and would sit and read along when he was young!”
Sometimes parents and teachers don’t recognize dyslexia because it doesn’t look like they expect it to. While some people with dyslexia really struggle with reversals of letters and numbers, not all do. Other signs your child might have dyslexia include:
- Substitutes words in sentences for other words that make sense
- Memorizes words but cannot sound them out
- Does well on spelling tests but struggles with the same words a week later
3. Even if a teacher says your child is reading on grade level, she still may have dyslexia.
Teachers use all kinds of assessments to determine a child’s grade level. Some of these tests have a stronger research base than others, and some miss identifying symptoms of dyslexia altogether because of the way they define “on grade level.”
Teaching kids with dyslexia to read sounds like it should be your school’s job. But time and time again we hear about the struggles parents have getting appropriate literacy services from school. While parents should advocate for improvements in the system, the wait time for that type of improvement can be precious years of your child’s life.
5. The school’s testing for learning disability is not the same as a dyslexia evaluation.
Even if you beat the odds and are able to get an evaluation from the school, it still may not help!
Schools typically administer two types of testing: (1) a broad achievement battery and (2) an intellectual battery. The problem is children with dyslexia who are also very bright may score in the “average” range on both of these assessments, so their dyslexia goes undetected.
What we are looking for with dyslexia, especially in lower elementary grades, is not just whether a child is able to read words on the page, but what strategies he or she is using. Kids who memorize words may appear to be average readers, but when the demands of reading increase (typically in upper elementary or middle school) the holes in their foundations cause them serious problems. Those kids need help too, even though they may not qualify for school services according to their assessment.
6. Accommodations are not the same thing as instruction.
Once you have a dyslexia diagnosis, your child may be eligible for a 504 plan. This plan is designed to improve your child’s access to the general education curriculum and may include accommodations such as extended time on tests or having test items read aloud. While such accommodations might improve your child’s grades, they are not a replacement for intervention! Accommodations will not teach your child to read or spell.
Have you ever read about how much easier it is to learn a second language when you are young? The same is true for reading!
If your school is resistant to providing the services your child needs, don’t wait for them to get on board. You may have to pay for the services now, but the cost of waiting may be far higher.
- First, the financial cost increases when children get older because it may take them longer to master the skills.
- More importantly, there is a deep emotional cost on your child of not learning to read at a young age. Ongoing struggles in school may lead your child to conclude that he or she is dumb, that school and reading are for other people and that there is no point in trying. This accounts for the increased rate of depression and anxiety in people with dyslexia.
8. The program is less important than the person delivering it.
Parents often ask, “What is a good curriculum for children with dyslexia?”—either so they can (a) purchase it and teach it themselves or (b) demand that their school purchase it.
Using research-based instruction materials is vital, but it is not enough. Each dyslexic has a different combination of literacy and emotional issues that need individual, expert attention. That means that even if a curriculum is delivered exactly as prescribed, this one-size-fits-all approach cannot meet the needs of all children.
9. The way a program is delivered is as important as the program itself.
Even if your school has purchased a high quality, Orton-Gillingham based, structured literacy program and trained teachers to deliver it, your child may not get his or her needs met. The following aspects of a treatment program are particularly critical and underserved:
- One-on-one attention: Schools rarely deliver instruction in very small groups or one-to-one, which research shows is how it’s most effective.
- Repetition: Students need repeated “at bats” to practice these skills, as well as immediate, specific error correction.
- Individualized pacing: Effective dyslexia intervention moves at a pace that is individualized for each student, and that is hard to do in a group setting. Schools often feel pressure to close the gap as swiftly as possible and thus move at a pace that is too fast for some children.
- Motivation: Intervention delivered during the school day often comes at the expense of another subject. When a child has to miss a subject she enjoys and is motivated by to attend reading intervention, the intervention is naturally resented and thus less effective.
Every time I deliver a diagnosis, I want to accompany it with a pep talk and a hug! By the time most kids are identified, both they and their parents have been through the ringer. I wish I could say it’s all smooth sailing from there, but for too many it’s just the start of the battle. Still, people with dyslexia are succeeding all the time in just about any and every profession you can think of. They are doctors, lawyers, politicians, artists, entrepreneurs, innovators. All of the brilliance and potential you see in your child is exactly what our world needs, and there is no good reason to allow dyslexia to take that away. Your child has talents and strengths that run deeper than dyslexia, and there is light at the end of the tunnel. You can make it!
If you’d like more information about child’s reading difficulties, I’d recommend taking this free online dyslexia test our team built to help parents quickly identify if their child may be at risk for dyslexia.
Images courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net: Clare Bloomfield, Criminalatt, Stoonn, Stockimages
Guest Post by Hal Malchow, President of the International Dyslexia Association
Across America, parents of children with learning differences struggle to get “appropriate education” in their public schools. The law provides children with dyslexia the right to an IEP. But few schools have teachers qualified to teach reading in the right way.
The problem with reading instruction is not limited to children with dyslexia and other learning disorders. There is a mountain of research showing that the approach to reading that was developed to help children with dyslexia learn to read works best for all children as well. And because our schools are teaching reading in the wrong way, only 34% of third graders are reading at a proficient level and reading scores on the SAT have fallen to a 40 year low.
The International Dyslexia Association is preparing a major campaign to change how reading is taught in America. We have published standards showing what research demonstrates to be best practices in reading instruction. We are accrediting universities that prepare their graduates to teach reading in the right way. Now we are building a certification exam that will provide qualified teachers with credentials recognizing their ability to bring best practices into the classroom.
But the biggest part of our campaign lies ahead of us. One problem is that our approach to reading instruction goes by many names. So IDA, after surveying professionals, teachers and parents, has adopted “Structured Literacy” to describe the family of reading instruction that goes by many names (Orton-Gillingham, Multi-Sensory, Explicit Phonics and others). We are working to build a coalition that includes not just organizations like Lexercise that serve people who learn differently but organizations working for evidence-based reading instruction that will benefit all beginning readers.
In 2015 we will begin a marketing campaign to show educators the benefits of Structured Literacy. By bringing Structured Literacy into American classrooms, we will not only provide “appropriate education” for children with dyslexia. We will help all student gain better reading skills and greater academic success.
One of the primary reasons we remediate children faster than alternative therapy approaches is because we facilitate a strong partnership between the parent and clinician. Since we will only work with your child for a number of months, during therapy we need to teach you how to further support your child’s development throughout his/her academic career. To further support parents like you, we have just launched a new feature for our online therapy: Parent Resources.
Each time your child advances to a new level within the Lexercise curriculum, your teletherapist can send you a set of individualized materials that will help you work with your child between sessions so that s/he makes faster progress. These materials consist of word cards, sight words, vocabulary development, practice sentences and much more. These parent resources are customized to the level your child is working on and for his/her specific therapy needs.
By making these resources available to parents we hope to get even faster remediation times than the 3 to 5 months we are currently averaging for dyslexic children.
Guest Post by Asha Jaleel, Lexercise Teletherapy Partner
Note: this blog article is the first in a series about educational therapy and educational therapists and their role in helping struggling learners achieve academic success.
Do these statements describe your child?
- says he/she is not smart
- has low self-confidence about school work
- is discouraged about his/her academic progress
- hates school and/or resists going to school
- is unusually tired after school
- requires much longer than peers to complete homework and school work
- continues to struggle despite special help and tutoring
If this sound familiar your child might benefit from working with an educational therapist.
Educational therapy is dramatically different from traditional tutoring.
- Tutors typically use the same or very similar education methods as are used in classroom learning. In contrast, educational therapists use methods that are individualized and unique to the specific learner.
- Tutors typically focus on current class work, homework and tests while educational therapists address the causes of academic struggles.
- Tutors typically re-teach or review material that has been taught in the classroom whereas educational therapists focus on teaching clear and efficient ways of thinking and remembering that enable efficient learning for all academic subjects (e.g., reading, writing, mathematics).
- One educational therapist suggested an analogy to a struggling swimmer: Educational therapy teaches a person to swim while tutoring just works on keeping them afloat.
Educational therapists are trained to work with issues like:
- dyslexia and other reading disorders
- dysgraphia and other writing disorders
- dyscalculia and other math disorders
- attention deficit /hyperactivity disorders (ADHD)
- working memory problems
- auditory and visual processing problems
- executive functioning (e.g., organization and time management) problems
Educational therapists use the power of a personal relationship to encourage student motivation and to set-up a relaxing, safe and rewarding learning atmosphere.
Katrina de Hirsch, an early education therapy pioneer, said that the aim of educational therapy is to develop a “treatment alliance” with the student, fostering the student’s understanding of their learning patterns and teaching them how to manage them.
The next articles in this series will present some examples of how educational therapy has helped children and review some recent research on the effectiveness of educational therapy for specific types of difficulties.
- Association Educational Therapists Organization (2013). http: www.aetonline.org
- de Hirsch, K. (1973). Early language development and minimal brain dysfunction. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 205, 158–163.
- NILD About Educational Therapy. Retrieved from www.nild.net
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Guest Post by Ruth Bevan and Jennifer Olachea, Lexercise Teletherapy Partners
As summer is winding down some families are already starting to dread homework. Children with language processing differences like dyslexia are typically stressed by school and by homework that they don’t have the skills to complete. But educational therapy can actually help in this situation. Of course, over time, therapy will build skills that will make homework easier, but also the therapist can suggest immediate strategies for managing school and homework tasks. Perhaps most importantly, an educational therapist can give the child and parent tools for dealing with the stress that often derails academic tasks and degrades the memory and learning that the homework is meant to support.
A colleague recently reported that she had seen one of our students and asked him how his Lexercise therapy was going. She said that she was struck by the huge, ear-to-ear smile that came over his face. We love to hear this kind of feedback! This is what educational therapy is all about– helping a child and his parents approach learning in a happy and joyful way. Having the opportunity to work with children anywhere in the world through Lexercise teletherapy makes our world a very happy place. The Lexercise Teletherapy Platform allows us to meet regularly with students and their parents, forming a trusting, stress-free working relationship that supports memory and learning.
It allows us to send customized practice like online games and offline, table-top activities. This model saves time and money over other therapeutic options and produces excellent reading, spelling and writing gains. Seeing your child smile when they are asked about homework? That’s priceless!
Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Jennifer Olachea, B.A. and Lexercise Teletherapy Partner, also contributed to this article.
Certified Teacher, ACSI
Read for Life Therapist
Reading Masters Candidate
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 literacy 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 Literacy Therapy
Lexercise is pleased to announce that we are now offering a certification in Structured Literacy 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 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 literacy therapy, and we will provide you with course completion certificates, the certification symbol for your website, as well as the printable certificate in Structured Literacy Therapy.
Practitioners of structured literacy 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 Literacy 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 literacy 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 literacy “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 literacy 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 literacy 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 literacy 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.