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How Does Orton-Gillingham Treat Dyslexia

If you have been exploring ways to help your child with dyslexia or other reading difficulties, you have probably heard the term “Orton-Gillingham.” So what is the Orton-Gillingham approach and how is it used in the treatment of dyslexia? Is it really the best approach? Is it up to date? We thought we’d provide a little background on Dr. Samuel T. Orton and Anna Gillingham and the development and evolution of their vital and highly successful approach to making struggling students into fluent and confident readers.

The History of the Orton-Gillingham Approach

During the 1920s and 1930s, Dr. Samuel T. Orton, a neurologist, described what he called strephosymbolia, or twisted symbols (Orton, 1925, 1937). Orton was puzzled by students who had great trouble reading despite having adequate intelligence. The study of brain-behavior relationships was still in its infancy, and the objective testing of intelligence (IQ) was also new. Modern brain imaging had not been invented.

Orton used the tools he had, including what he knew about brain function from his work with brain-damaged adults. He noticed that his struggling readers often had “static reversals and letter confusions.” But he found that the main problem was in “the process of synthesizing the word as a spoken unit from its component sounds” (Orton, 1937 cited in Hallahan & Mercer, 2001). Though nearly a century has passed since Dr. Orton made his observations, his findings are still central to our understanding of dyslexia: children with dyslexia do not automatically or intuitively recognize speech sounds and make the connection between the spoken word and the printed word.

To help such students overcome their reading struggles, Dr. Orton endorsed teaching phonics with multisensory inputs (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic).

Anna Gillingham, an educator with degrees from Swarthmore, Radcliffe, and Columbia Teachers College, had worked with “very high IQ children” (Swarthmore Bulletin, 2019). She met Dr. Orton in New York City in 1929 and over the next five years, she developed detailed methods for teaching reading using Orton’s ideas. In 1936, with her co-author, Bessie Stillman, she published what came to be known as the Orton-Gillingham manual: Remedial Work for Reading, Spelling, and Penmanship.

An Orton-Gillingham Dyslexia Approach Timeline

The history of the Orton-Gillingham approach is linked with the history of the professional association named for Dr. Orton: The Orton Society.

  • 1982 – The original name, The Orton Society, was changed to the Orton Dyslexia Society to reflect the growing acceptance of the term “dyslexia” to describe the type of students Orton and Gillingham had worked with. 
  • 1997 – The Orton Dyslexia Society was re-named the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) to reflect a growing international consensus about how people learn to read. Leaders in the United States from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development  (NICHD) and the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) were part of this consensus. 

    • An important part of this growing consensus was a framework called The Simple View of Reading. The Simple View was first proposed in 1986 to clarify the role of efficient word recognition (decoding) in reading. It explains how “the ability to read age-appropriate material will be impaired if the child has difficulty understanding the language being read or recognizing the words of text, or both.” (Tunmer & Hoover, 2019)  Students with strong skills in listening to material read to them but with weakness in recognizing the words of the text were more and more being called dyslexic. Orton had described this type of student as suffering from “twisted symbols.” Gillingham and Stillman had developed the Orton-Gillingham approach to help such students improve their weak word-reading skills. 
  • 2014 – The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) announced a major campaign to describe how reading should be taught, based on the research consensus. Some elements of what had been called the Orton-Gillingham method had research backing but others needed modernizing. IDA used the term structured literacy to describe the family of research-aligned methods for teaching reading. (See Malchow, 2014)

An Orton-Gillingham Dyslexia Approach Timeline

The Orton-Gillingham approach had become known as the gold standard for teaching reading to students with learning difficulties, including dyslexia. Private schools for students with learning disabilities specialized in it. Parents pressed their public schools to provide it as part of special education services. However, Orton-Gillingham methods had “seldom been well-defined, and clinical wisdom has been waiting for scientific research validation and explanation.” (Farrell & Sherman, 2011)

 A Modernized Orton-Gillingham Approach

Structured literacy methods might be called the grandchildren of the Orton-Gillingham approach. The original Orton-Gillingham approach focused mostly on decoding. Modern structured literacy methods include procedures to help students with all aspects of reading, not just decoding. Structured literacy approaches share a set of features: 

  • Lessons and practice are adjusted to the student’s needs, with reference to the Simple View of Reading framework. Structured literacy methods are designed to build awareness of and conscious attention to the basic structures of language, which include: 
      • speech sounds
      • letters
      • letter-sound pronunciation and spelling patterns
      • syllables
      • words and word parts (e.g., prefixes and suffixes)
      • phrases and sentences
      • text passages 
  • Concepts are taught in clear, easy-to-understand terms, with examples, and modeling.
  • Concepts are taught and practiced in a logical order, from simple to complex, in a cumulative manner.
  • Teaching begins with the most basic skills the student has yet to master.
  • Errors are used as learning opportunities, with prompt, targeted, and supportive feedback.
  • Practice is designed to focus on specific concepts in a way that is not too difficult or too easy. 
  • Progress is checked in an ongoing manner to adjust instruction and practice.
example of the structured literacy approach
Like Orton-Gillingham, Structured Literacy focuses on how words are pronounced and spelled. For example, there are three sounds in the word “coach” but five letters.

Other aspects of instruction are how often lessons are taught and how much practice is done. We know that students with reading difficulties need more practice than do their peers. But getting students to do enough practice can be hard! This is especially true when students are taught in groups, as they are in schools. How much and how often is typically defined in terms of lessons per week and length of lessons. But lessons often don’t include much, if any, practice. For example, Nicholson (2011) reported this observation by Phillip Gough, one of the authors of the Simple View of Reading framework:

“Our children do not read enough. A few years ago, I observed a first-grade classroom in Austin and watched a reading lesson. The lesson lasted half an hour and I timed with a stopwatch the minutes the children spent actually reading, that is, looking at print and deciphering it. It was less than five.” (p. 11)

In the coming years, Gough’s stopwatch would be replaced with high-tech ways for tracking how much and how often students are “looking at print and deciphering it.”

In the more than eight decades since the Orton-Gillingham approach was first described it has been continually informed through the science of reading. It is steadily being improved with new technologies. The modernized Orton-Gillingham approach referred to as structured literacy is leading the way to more and more effective intervention systems for dyslexia and other types of literacy difficulties. 


The Lexercise Structured Literacy CurriculumTM

The Lexercise Structured Literacy CurriculumTM combines a science-backed curriculum with the latest in educational technology, modernizing the
Orton-Gilfamily utilizing the Orton Gillingham approach to help with dyslexialingham approach to maximize effectiveness. We combine face-to-face, individually paced lessons
with online games for daily practice, plus parent-teacher support materials for offline activities.

If you are looking to help your child manage dyslexia and to become a fluent, confident reader, check out our online dyslexia therapy solutions or contact us for more information.



Farrell, M. L. and Sherman, G.F. (2011). Multisensory Structured Language Education. In J. R. Birsh (Ed.), Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills (3rd ed., pp. 25-47). Brookes. 

Hallahan, D. and Mercer, C.D. (2001). Learning Disabilities: Historical Perspectives. Office of Special Education Programs (Learning Disabilities Summit). Archived from the original on 2007-05-27. Retrieved 7/14/22 from http://www.nrcld.org/resources/ldsummit/hallahan2.shtml

History of IDA. Retrieved 7/14/22 from https://dyslexiaida.org/history-of-the-ida/

How a Class of 1900 alumna influenced dyslexia research. (2019). Swarthmore Bulletin. Retrieved 7/14/22 from https://www.swarthmore.edu/bulletin/archive/fall-2019-issue-i-volume-cxvii/second-looks.html

Malchow, H. (2014). Structured Literacy: Teaching Our Children to Read, Lexercise Guest Blog Post. Retrieved 7/14/22 from https://www.lexercise.com/blog/structured-literacy

Nicholson, T. (2011). The Orton-Gillingham approach: What is it? Is it research-based? Learning Difficulties Australia Bulletin, 43 (1), 9-12.

Orton, S. T. (1937). Reading, writing, and speech problems in children. New York: W. W. Norton.

Orton, S. T. (1925). “Word-blindness” in school children. Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, 14, 581-615.

Spear-Swerling, L. (2022). An Introduction to Structured Literacy and Poor-Reader Profiles. In L. Spear-Swerling (Ed.) Structured Literacy Interventions: Teaching Students with Reading Difficulties, Grades K-6 (p. 4). Guilford. 

Tunmer, W.E. & Hoover, W.A. (2019). The cognitive foundations of learning to read: a framework for preventing and remediating reading difficulties, Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties, 24:1, 75-93, DOI: 10.1080/19404158.2019.1614081


Foundational Concepts: Proficient Literacy

foundational concepts: proficient literacy

Dyslexic Students Can Become Proficient Readers and Writers

In our recent series on the building blocks for language and literacy, we looked at two foundational elements to proficient literacy:

  1. Comprehensible spoken input – language comprehension begins with spoken conversations in meaningful contexts
  2. Comprehensible written input – literacy emerges using the alphabet (letters) to represent words and meaning

For students on the dyslexia spectrum, fluency with written input is not automatic.


How Dyslexia Disrupts Proficient Literacy

The Simple View of Reading is a now universally accepted model in reading science. According to the Simple View, learning to read has two essential components: 

  • understanding spoken language (listening comprehension)
  • understanding the printed word (decoding and spelling) 

Children with dyslexia have a relative strength in spoken input and a relative weakness in written input. Sentences and paragraphs that would be easy to comprehend in spoken form become an exhausting challenge in written form.

Furthermore, these two “sides” of the Simple View formula have a multiplying effect when it comes to reading comprehension. For example, say a child is a 10 in listening comprehension but a 0 in decoding. If we multiply the two numbers, we can predict their reading comprehension will be 0. In other words, strength in one component cannot completely make up for weakness in the other.

Both components are essential for proficient literacy. Successful interventions must focus on giving each struggling reader the instruction and practice they need, matched to their pattern of strengths and weaknesses.


Overcoming Dyslexia 

There are three essentials for overcoming dyslexia: 

  • A structured literacy curriculum, delivered consistently as directed
  • A teacher or therapist who is an expert in the structure of the language
  • Daily or near-daily deliberate practice

How Structured Literacy Can Help 

Structured literacy is a science-backed, comprehensive approach to teaching reading, writing, and spelling that is widely accepted as the world’s most effective way to teach literacy and to help struggling readers and writers.” The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) explains that “Structured Literacy explicitly teaches systematic word identification/decoding strategies. These benefit most students and are vital for those with dyslexia.” This instruction includes the “analysis and production of language at all levels: sounds, spellings for sounds and syllables, patterns and conventions of the writing system, meaningful parts of words, sentences, paragraphs, and discourse within longer texts.”

the ladder of reading by nancy young
Nancy Young’s “Ladder of Reading” infographic shows the relationship between explicit instruction and learning to read.

A structured literacy approach is critical for dyslexics. But the same three essentials required to overcome dyslexia can benefit all students to some degree. Nancy Young’s wonderful infographic, “The Ladder of Reading,” illustrates the value of a structured literacy approach: students who are not dyslexic may not need as much direct instruction and practice to achieve proficiency, but all students can gain fluency and improve their literacy through this approach.

Struggling readers, and especially students with dyslexia, need to be taught to recognize individual speech sounds. But so do all readers when it comes to some words. It is only through explicit instruction and practice that readers and writers learn to discern the difference between (for example) to / too / two  …or… their / there / they’re …or… boys / boy’s / boys’ …or… how to approach an unfamiliar written word, working out its pronunciation and meaning. 


What’s Next for Your Struggling Reader

Lexercise clinical educators are experts in structured literacy. The approach is individualized to each child. It includes a print-to-speech (reading) and a speech-to-print (spelling) structured literacy curriculum plus a program of daily practice that is engaging, instructive, and builds awareness and memory. In the first eight weeks of using Lexercise with a qualified Lexercise therapist, most students improve their reading proficiency by one full grade level.

To learn more, explore our dyslexia treatment pages online or contact us to discuss your child’s specific needs.


Additional Resources

To see Nancy Young’s infographic and links to supporting research, click here. This infographic was updated in 2021, see what was updated here.


Foundational Concepts: Emergent Literacy

foundational concepts: emerging literacy

Emergent Literacy Skills

The goal of literacy, like language itself, is communication. In our previous post, we introduced comprehensible input – the way, through a variety of sensory stimulation (visual, auditory, touch, etc.), we comprehend language even if we do not precisely understand the meaning (or spelling) of the words. Such sensory input feeds into the complex networks of mental representations that underpin spoken and written language. In this post, we’ll examine some of those mental representations and their role in emergent literacy.

For children with dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities, language fluency is not automatic. While such individuals are capable of enormous creativity and complex understanding, their brains are “wired” differently. Rather than absorbing words through exposure and repetition, they need a more individualized and explicit approach in which each concept is clearly and explicitly defined and then practiced with enough consistency to establish mastery for both reading and spelling.

How Structured Literacy Can Help Children with Dyslexia

Most of us don’t think very much about how we learn a new word, but often with just a few exposures, we learn not just what the word means but also how to use it in different contexts, how to pronounce it, and how to spell it, even with different suffixes. But decades of scientific research demonstrate that to learn to read and spell words, struggling readers and writers do have to consciously think about words and, usually, more than just a few times!  

The Lexercise Structured Literacy

The Lexercise Structured Literacy Curriculum provides struggling readers and writers structured opportunities to learn words through listening and speaking, and reading and writing,  tailored to the student and supported by brief, daily practice games.


Recognizing Individual Speech Sounds and Syntax

Spoken interaction, otherwise known as conversation, requires turn-taking, joint attention, and words.

Words are made up of speech sounds, which have specific identities and a specific order. Speech sound identity – “bat” vs. “pat” – and speech sound order – “ask” (æsk) vs. “sack” (sæk) – are foundations for reading and spelling. Struggling readers, and especially students with dyslexia, need to be taught to recognize individual speech sounds. Awareness of individual speech sounds is not something that all students “get” intuitively or “pick up” from reading or speech that they hear at home or in the classroom.

An example of syntax: “a boxing chicken” versus “a box of chicken”
An example of syntax: “a boxing chicken” versus “a box of chicken”

Word order (syntax) is also critical to meaning. Consider the difference between “the pet hen” and “pet the hen” or ​​“a boxing chicken” and “a box of chicken.” Same words, different order, different meaning.

Another aspect of language is that words may refer to things and actions that are not present. Remembering and describing yesterday’s game with the red ball requires a complex mental network of words, sounds, and images.


Building Proficient Reading, Writing, and Spelling

Reading and writing (literacy) involve using the alphabet (letters) to represent words and meaning. Each letter has a name and a unique identity. In words, letters are used to represent specific speech sounds, such as the letter -m- that represents the speech sound “m,” and specific meaning elements, such as the -ed suffix that indicates past tense.

Mirror images of letters are not identical to one another.

To become literate, students have to learn that letters are special and different from other objects. Mirror images of letters (e.g., -b- and -d-) are not identical to one another. Font differences and color variations do not change the identity of letters.

After about 6 months of literacy instruction, most students have mastered these foundations.  For students who struggle to master these foundational elements, research proves that early intervention is an important key to future success.


In our next post, we’ll dive a little deeper into the foundational concepts. Meanwhile, if your child has difficulty reading, writing, or spelling, we would be happy to help you find the evaluation and/or treatment that will turn your challenged reader into a reader for life. Schedule a free consultation with one of our highly-trained therapists here.


Foundational Concepts: Where Literacy Begins

foundational concepts: where literacy begins

The Importance of Early Literacy

As we begin the new year (and, by the way, Happy New Year!) we’d like to do all we can to empower effective and efficient reading instruction. The science of how to teach reading effectively and efficiently has never been clearer. We know the main building blocks for proficient literacy and how to teach them.  And yet, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often referred to as the “nation’s report card,” the percentage of U.S. public school students reading at proficient levels has dropped over the last two years (NAEP, 2019). Mississippi was the only state in the country where 4th grade reading scores improved. As Mississippi demonstrates, when parents, teachers, administrators, and policy makers work together to apply reading science, reading outcomes improve!

The more we understand about the building blocks for language and literacy, the better equipped we are to support our children and students as they learn these essentials and improve their reading and writing. So, over the next few months, we’ll be examining the most basic and essential elements of language and literacy.

Let’s start with how children learn words.  How does a child learn the meaning of a word like frog?

How does she learn to pronounce the word frog? In fact, this all begins inside the “black box” of a baby’s brain, long before the child can walk or even sit up!

Somehow, we learn to speak. But by the time we’re old enough to wonder how we went about it, we can no longer remember our own experience of language learning. It seems to have “just happened.” Even now, when we learn a new word we don’t think much about it. Word learning is largely an unconscious process. For example, do you remember exactly when and how you learned the word coronavirus?

As infants, we are surrounded by sensory stimulation. We hear the sounds that people make and watch their faces, gestures, actions, and reactions. Nobody stops to explain to us the formal meaning of words, but gradually we begin to make associations between words and actions—to comprehend the language even if we do not precisely understand the meaning (or spelling) of the words. We refer to all of that incoming stimulation, including visual, auditory, touch, etc., as input.

The linguist Stephen Krashen studied this process, especially in relation to learning to understand and speak a second language. Krashen’s theory, called comprehensible input, describes how adults learn to understand and speak a second language. This theory, now supported by scientific research, is easily illustrated by watching and listening to a story being told in a language you do not yet speak.

As an example (for those who do not speak Spanish), in the Fabulaudit series on YouTube, native Spanish speaker Francisco tells simple stories entirely in Spanish. We listen as we watch his face, his mouth, his expressions and gestures, and the drawings and words he scribbles on the whiteboard. He rarely translates or explains in English and there’s no “repeat after me” memorization. We watch and listen, and, somewhat like a child, absorb the story. 

This sensory input feeds complex networks of mental representations that underpin spoken and, later, written language. In future posts, we will examine some of the elements of language learning, how the remarkable human brain connects spoken language to written symbols for reading and writing and, finally, how the Lexercise Structured Literacy Curriculum™ helps students build proficient reading, spelling and writing using these building blocks. 

Learn more here about how Lexercise Therapy can help struggling readers.


Making a Case for Practice

Perhaps you’ve had this experience: you decide to learn a new skill. Let’s use bread-baking as an example, but it could easily be a foreign language, golf, piano, etc. You sign up for a class and after the first session you can practically smell the loaves of fresh bread coming out of the oven. But then you discover some of your loaves are hard as rocks; others are still raw in the middle; yet others taste like salt. Yuck. It’s then you realize what’s missing: practice. And sure enough, as you practice you become more comfortable and fluent in the language of bread.

We know that practice is absolutely essential for developing skills of all sorts, yet we may forget this principle when it comes to learning to read. We think if a child just shows up in the classroom, they will learn the necessary skills “automatically.” Indeed, that may be true for some children, but for those who struggle with reading, consistent, structured practice is essential to produce the “muscle memory” of language fluency.

For decades, research has provided strong evidence for the benefits of structured literacy.

Explicit, systematic, and diagnostic, structured literacy includes all the components needed for struggling readers with decoding and spelling difficulties: phonology, phonics, syllables, word parts, vocabulary, and sentences.

But wait. This list is missing an essential piece: practice. Struggling readers need structured practice to improve outcomes and make skills automatic. In fact, struggling readers may need 10 times more practice than typical readers; what a typical reader may achieve in two practice opportunities is likely to take a struggling reader 20 practice opportunities.

Neuroscientist Stan Dahaene (2020) lists daily rehearsal as one of his 4 Pillars of Learning, along with focused attention, active engagement, and error feedback. But this is not new science. This principle of frequent practice has been established for more than a century. In 1880, Hermann Ebbinghaus pioneered landmark research in the field of retention and learning, measuring how much we forget over time. He discovered that without any reinforcement or connections to prior knowledge, information is quickly forgotten – roughly 66 percent after just one day!

So if we accept that frequent practice is essential to reading success, how do we achieve it? Compliance is certainly a challenge. Almost every struggling reader can – at least initially – think of many things they’d rather be doing than practicing their literacy skills!

Here are some ways to encourage daily practice:

  • Keep it focused and brief
  • Make it engaging
  • Report practice compliance to the parent and teacher 
  • Provide error reports to parents and teachers for focused coaching and progress monitoring 
  • Incentivize practice compliance
  • Incentivize correct responses
  • Provide special privileges, prizes, certificates, and awards

At Lexercise, we have found that drawing in the student with engaging graphics, offering meaningful feedback, and tracking progress add up to eager participants. For example, have a look at one of our practice games, Pickatron.

Designed to provide daily practice with concepts taught in regular lessons, these review and  practice games integrate Dehaene’s 4 Pillars of Learning. We stress to parents and teachers the importance of completing the 15 minutes a day of practice at least four days a week. Students who practice four or more days a week get two-and-a-half times more practice opportunities than students who practice one or two days a week; the two additional days of practice each week improved spelling accuracy an average of 6%. This could mean covering the curriculum twice as fast since students with 80% accuracy would likely be moved to the next lesson rather than repeating the same lesson the following week.

Practice makes a lot of sense, whatever the skill. We’d be happy to talk with you about your child’s learning needs and practice habits. We can almost smell the fresh bread!


Dehaene, S. (2020). How We Learn: Why Brains Learn Better Than Any Machine…for Now. Viking.

Closing the Gap

parent and child looking at the computer

With schools continuing in lockdown and students turning to online learning, we have been hearing something surprising from some of our Lexercise therapists. They have been noticing that there is a group of Lexercise students whose reading skills have actually improved faster since school has been canceled. At first glance, this seems crazy, but after a bit of analysis, we think it makes perfect sense.  

These surprising results remind us of the work journalist Natalie Wexler has been doing. (In fact, we’re such big fans of Natalie Wexler that we recently named our practicum scholarship The Natalie Wexler Scholarship in her honor.)

In her recent article in Forbes, “Achievement Gaps Increase The Longer Kids Stay In School,” Wexler discusses the learning gap that has become known as the “summer slide.” Briefly, this phenomenon attempts to explain how students lose ground when they’re out of school over the summer. As a result, some school districts are suggesting extended school days and/or year-round school – and this was before COVID-19 closures!

Wexler argues that the studies around summer slide are old and don’t necessarily apply or offer a valuable solution to anticipated losses due to our current school closures.


How You Can Help Your Child

Perhaps schools should be taking a page from the Lexercise approach. When we look at the Lexercise students who are sprinting ahead during their homeschooling, what they have in common is this: Each student has an involved adult (a parent, tutor, therapist, or teacher) who does two vital things:

  1. Makes sure they do their 15 minutes of structured literacy practice at least four days a week
  2. Connects with them – even very briefly – to comment on their practice results and provide some – even very brief – focused coaching and support

This involvement seems like a remarkably simple intervention – one that doesn’t require specialized knowledge or training but demonstrates a shared interest and shared investment in the student’s achievement.


See how our structured literacy approach can help your child with reading, writing, or spelling. We offer parent resources to help you connect with your child and turn your challenged reader into a reader for life. Schedule a free consultation with one of our highly-trained therapists here.

Thank you!

It’s almost Thanksgiving and so, along with family and turkey and pumpkin pie, our minds turn to gratitude. Here at Lexercise, we have many people and things to be thankful for: the parents and children whose trust and dedication turn struggling students into competent, confident readers; the magnificent team of Lexercise therapists who guide these families through the learning process; and, not least, our dedicated and mighty Lexercise staff.

There are many others, of course, including the educators, research scientists, and organizations working to deepen our understanding of language learning. In particular, we would like to express our deep gratitude to two journalists who have, with consistent and articulate attention, exposed the problems with how reading is taught in most U.S. schools:

  • Emily Hanford (Senior Producer and Correspondent at APM Reports) for her work explaining the science of reading and how reading should be taught.
  • Natalie Wexler (author of The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System – And How to Fix It) for her work explaining how the U.S. education system suffers from a lack of knowledge-based curricula and a misplaced focus on “strategies” instead of knowledge (facts and critical thinking).

For several decades, reading scientists have struggled to get the world of education to hear their message about the consensus that exists around the Simple View of Reading and its implications for how reading should be taught. But in a little over a year, these two journalists have written intelligent and accessible materials that have sparked a national discussion about the Simple View of Reading:

Reading Comprehension (6)Natalie and Emily agree that reading comprehension is a primary goal. Natalie’s work has addressed mainly the listening comprehension side of the formula, whereas Emily has addressed mainly the decoding side of the formula. As the formula implies, both are essential in that each side has a multiplier effect on the goal.

Through their writing, Hanford and Wexler are helping schools find better ways to teach and, so importantly, helping parents to demand the educational methods that will teach their children to read – whatever their abilities.

You can learn more about Emily Hanford’s work by reading or listening to her APM Reports (click on her name, above, for a list of recent reports). Find out more about Natalie Wexler’s work by reading The Knowledge Gap or visiting The Knowledge Gap page on her website, where you’ll find information as well as links to presentations, podcasts, and interviews.

These dedicated writers have earned our deepest regard and they definitely deserve the nation’s thanks!

We wish you the very best for the holidays and are always here to answer your questions about dyslexia, language processing disorders, and the Lexercise approach.

Best Practices for Dyslexia Diagnosis and Treatment


Best Practices for Dyslexia Diagnosis and Treatment

When parents notice that their child is having difficulty with reading, writing, speaking, or understanding language, they typically turn to the child’s teachers, other parents, doctors, and online resources. Anxious to make decisions that will resolve their child’s problems, they often find themselves overwhelmed with information – not all of it reliable.

The good news for parents and their children with language-processing disorders is that decades of research have yielded a solid foundation of best practices: methods of evaluation and instruction that produce the best results.

While the research is dense with numbers and technical language, we can offer a brief overview of three areas where best practices are critical for dyslexia diagnosis and treatment.

Testing and Evaluation

A parent’s observations are very important, but it takes more than observation to establish a diagnosis. Many factors can influence a child’s language difficulties, including vision or hearing impairment, developmental delays, attention deficits, or language-processing disorders.

This dyslexia symptoms checklist (near the bottom of the linked page) can help parents decide whether their child is a candidate for screening or further testing. It’s an easy place to begin, even if the child is not present.

The next step is a brief screening that engages the child. Lexercise offers a number of free online tests for dyslexia, dysgraphia, learning disabilities, and listening comprehension. The results are immediate and will indicate whether the child needs a comprehensive evaluation.

The initial screening is a good place to begin, but a professional evaluation is needed to truly define the child’s problem. A language processing assessment is also essential for the design of an individualized treatment program and the development of documentation that can assist the family in getting access to tax-supported services.

Setting the bar for best practices, the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) provides a very clear explanation of what should be included in the evaluation. This goes far beyond observation and a brief interview, taking into account a wide range of skills as well as personal and family history.


Who’s Qualified to Help?

While teachers, school counselors, and even pediatricians are often eager to help families manage their child’s learning challenges, the IDA found that “many teachers are unprepared and poorly equipped to manage the level of attention and instruction needed.”

The IDA’s detailed publication, Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading (or view the full PDF here) establishes a high caliber of best practices for teachers and other professionals working with children who have language-processing disorders such as dyslexia. These are the standards that Lexercise uses in qualifying our therapists.

Dyslexia Treatment

As the research shows, there are a number of elements of effective intervention and treatment for dyslexia and other language-processing disorders, including:

  • Direct instruction (clear, explicit, systematic, step-by-step instruction with full explanations)
  • A multiple-linguistic approach (language components – speech sounds, letter symbols, word meanings – are explicitly identified and connected to one another)
  • Simultaneous involvement of four language systems: listening  comprehension, oral expression, reading comprehension, and written expression
  • Learning the building blocks of both spoken and written words (vowels, consonants, phonemes, graphemes, syllables)
  • Reciprocal reading and spelling skills (phonics, fluency, nonsense words, sight words, spelling) to support upper level literacy
  • Explicit teaching of morphology (word parts, i.e., base, suffix, prefix, word sums)
  • Direct instruction approach for vocabulary
  • Sentence practice and construction (parts of speech, capitalization, punctuation)
  • Listening for comprehension
  • Transcription skills, such as handwriting and spelling

Over time, these strategies support and emphasize planning, organization, attention to task, critical thinking, and self‐management.

The combination of comprehensive testing and evaluation, skilled professionals, and research-based treatment – in other words, best practices – produce the best results.


Reference: McArthur, G. and Castles, A. (2107). Helping children with reading difficulties: some things we have learned so far. Nature.com, Science of Learning, 2 (7). )


For more information on dyslexia testing and treatment, visit the Lexercise website or contact us today.

Can we say “dyslexia”?



Dyslexia?  “Oh no no. We don’t say that.”  

In Part 4 of her Unlocking Dyslexia series on NPR’s All Things Considered,  Gabrielle Emanuel explored the issues that public schools have with the term “dyslexia”.  

NPR_CYMK_2014Emmanuel quotes an English teacher recalling an administrator explaining that they are not allowed to use the term because, “….we don’t have the capabilities to support that particular learning difference.”

Over the last several decades, language scientists have developed clear and specific procedures for identifying dyslexia and differentiating it from other types of learning problems.  Educators are typically not trained to diagnose or treat dyslexia, but parents don’t understand this.  If educators do use the term dyslexia in discussing a child’s reading and/or spelling difficulties, parents understandably assume that means the child will be getting an instructional program designed to address it.

The federal special education law does require public schools to provide qualified disabled readers and writers with an Individual Education Plan (IEP). But the specific services provided under an IEP are decided by the local school district.  Most public school interventions are provided in group settings and, often, using methods that do not address dyslexia’s core deficits.

Odd as it seems, clarity about the nature of a child’s reading, spelling and writing difficulties is often left up to parents.  This is why Lexercise partners with parents to provide intervention matched to the child’s specific reading, spelling and/or writing difficulties.

Click here to learn more about our therapists and how Lexercise partners with parents!

BREAKING: Supreme Court Rules For A Special Education Student

supreme court ruling

In a ground-breaking decision the Supreme Court last week ruled that school districts must give students with disabilities an opportunity to make “appropriately ambitious” academic progress. For decades the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the law that governs how schools provide intervention and special education to children with disabilities, has guaranteed a “free, appropriate public education” (aka, FAPE) to all students with disabilities.  But the law did not define “appropriate”,  leading to the case the Supreme Court ruled on last week.  The Court’s decision adds a little stiffening to this previously undefined term, specifying that schools must provide an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that is “appropriately ambitious”. 

seal supreme court of the United StatesWhat does this mean for a child with a reading, spelling, or writing disorder classified as a Learning Disability and qualified for services under IDEA?   The current ruling seems to suggest that IEP goals must be “appropriately ambitious”, but what is meant by “appropriately ambitious” is still subject to interpretation. 

Based on 8 years of data with thousands of struggling readers and spellers,  Lexercise has set a bar for “ambitious” progress:  90% of children using Lexercise Professional Therapy make at least a year of reading growth in the first 8 weeks.  With the data to back it up, we actually guarantee it!

Click here to learn more about Lexercise’s Structured Literacy Curriculum.


By Ipankonin (Vectorized from  SVG elements from) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Help for Struggling Learners: Styles versus Strategies

diagnosing dyslexia (10)Children are often asked to complete various tests in schools that will help determine their “learning style”.  These tests categorize children as “visual” learners or  “kinesthetic” learners, for example.4ae88d815992e62857567993856ddd29_visual-learning-styles-clipart-visual-learning-clipart_283-348   The implication is that children should be taught in their preferred sensory format (seeing, hearing, touching, etc.).  However, recent research has found no concrete evidence that learning styles exist. The notion that children can be identified has having one learning style or another is a neuro-myth. It sounds like science, but there is no science to back it up!


Imagine this: Your child takes a test and they are told: “Sally, you’re visual learner”. Sally then tries to study with pictures and videos but finds that she still struggles to learn. She may begin to wonder if she is just “not smart” enough.


8370889743_1cf76d4b3b_zLearning style is a popular buzz-word that is often confused with learning strategies.  But these are very different concepts!  A learning style implies a passive learner who is powerless to change their “style” but presumably benefits from information provided in a specific format.  In contrast, a learning strategy, such as the use of elaboration techniques and/or retrieval practice, implies an active learner.


Lexercise has a number of different curricula used to help struggling readers, spellers and writers.  For example, the Lexercise Structured Literacy Curriculum© is used with students who struggle mainly with spelling and reading unfamiliar words.  The Mind’s Eye Curriculum© is used with students who may be good readers and spellers but who struggle with understanding and remembering what they hear or read. The Lexercise Chancery Script Curriculum© is for students who have trouble writing efficiently and legibly.  All these curricula make use of proven elaboration techniques, practice and retrieval principles.
Click here to learn more about Lexercise and  how it can benefit your child!



Defining Dyslexia

diagnosing dyslexia (9)For all of us who are affected by dyslexia, it is important to stay up-to-date with regard to how dyslexia is defined, understood, and perceived.

Emerson Dickman, past president of the International Dyslexia Association, has been working to develop and promote a universally accepted definition of dyslexia and has recently provided his take on the current definition of dyslexia. The commonly accepted definition up to 1994 specified that the reading and writing difficulties in dyslexia were caused by insufficient phonological processing, as well as difficulty with decoding words.  Here is a graphic outlining the previous definition:

Dyslexia Definition 1994 Graphic

Research over the last few decades has suggested refinements in the definition. Dickman and colleagues have developed a working definition that states that dyslexia is characterized by difficulties in fluent word recognition and also by poor spelling and decoding abilities.  It is important to note that dyslexics’ learning speed and efficiency is at least average in areas that do not depend on reading and spelling.  A dyslexic child who struggles with reading and spelling may develop strong skills in other areas, such as visual arts or music!  But difficulties with spelling and word recognition may impact reading comprehension, which can then limit academic achievement, reading experiences and reading enjoyment.Dyslexia Definition 2002 Graphic

This article provides an informative break-down of the definition of dyslexia to help you understand the nuances and relevance for your child.

You may be thinking, “Does a change in the definition mean anything for our situation?”. It may, in that the change may give you a better understanding of the meaning of dyslexia and its impact. As discussed in the article, tax-supported special education services in public schools are usually undifferentiated, group treatment and available only for the most severely impaired students.  Parents may want to seek help outside public education if the public school is not providing effective help.

Lexercise provides effective, research-based, structured literacy therapy that can help kids when schools can’t.  The platform empowers families to to help their struggling reader, speller or writer through online therapy from literacy experts combined with daily practice activities. This help may be less expensive than you think.  But one thing is pretty certain: In terms of a child’s future, doing nothing is likely to be the most expensive choice of all.   Click here to learn more about how Lexercise’s structured literacy therapy might your child.