How to study vocabulary using spaced repetition

Almost any class you take in middle school, high school, and college, will be introducing you to new vocabulary. Sometimes it comes up organically and it just becomes a part of the conversation. I remember a college professor who loved the word “salient” and made it part of my vocabulary by the end of the semester. Other times, you need to make a particular effort to study vocabulary and learn what seems like an endless list of new words. This is especially true in foreign language classes, but it can also be true in science or history classes. So what’s the best way to study vocabulary?

Brain research shows that we learn best when our studying is spread out over time. In fact, forgetting is an important part of the learning process. Your memory for a fact is strongest when you learn it, come close to forgetting it, and relearn it a few times. Through that process of learning and relearning, you are building stronger connections that make the word stick in your memory for longer. The technique for studying this way is called “spaced repetition.” 

Lots of memory experts use spaced repetition to learn new material. There is software to help you do it. 

Setting up spaced repetition

But my favorite tool is a file folder and some envelopes. Here’s how I set it up.

  1. Get a file folder and open it.
  2. Get two or three regular mailing envelopes, seal the flaps and cut them in half.
  3. Glue or tape the flap side of each envelope to the file folder with the open ends facing up. You now have a file folder full of pockets.
  4. Label the pockets
    1. Every Day
    2. Every Other Day
    3. Twice a week (optional)
    4. Once a week
    5. Once a month
    6. Review (optional)
  5. Make flash cards for each word or term. Make sure they fit in the pockets.
    1. Put ONE piece of information on each card. For example, don’t write out all the parts of the face in French on one card. Have one card for nez and another for les yeux
    2. Put the definition of the word and/or a picture clue on the back

How to use a spaced repetition system

Starting out your study system

Day 1: First, don’t try to study too many terms at once. Start going through the pile. If you come to a word and you know everything on the card, put it in the Every Other Day pocket. If you are at all unsure or shaky about it, or if you miss any information, put it in the Every Day pile. Keep going until you have about 5 cards in the Every Day pocket. 

Day 2: First study the cards in the Every Day pocket. If you get them right, move them to Every Other Day. If you get them wrong, they stay in the Every Day pocket. There are lots of things you can do to strengthen your memory for these, like reading them out loud, watching a YouTube video that explains the concept, or drawing a detailed picture to help you remember more. 

Second, study the Every Other Day pocket. If you get the words right, leave them in the Every Other Day pocket (you’ll move them at the end of the week). If you get them wrong, move the card back to Every Day.

Day 3: Study the Every Day pocket. As you move words to Every Other Day, start putting new words in your Every Day pocket so you always have about 5 you are learning.

Day 4: Every Day and Every Other Day pockets. Keep moving the Every Day words to Every Other Day if you get them, and leave the Every Other Day words where they are until the end of the week.

Day 5: Every Day words. Keep adding more as you are ready

Day 6: Every Day and Every Other Day. 

Keep it going!

Day 7: New week! Study your Every Day words. When you study the Every Other Day words, you are ready to move some to Weekly. If you get them right, move them on to the Once a Week pocket. If you get them wrong, they go back in the Every Day pocket. Today, your Every Other Day pocket will be empty except for the ones you added today.

When to stop reviewing

Keep repeating these 7 days. On the first day of each following week, move Every Other Day and Weekly words on to the next pocket when you get them right. 

After 4 weeks, go through all the words in the Once a Month pocket. If you get them right, retire them! Don’t throw them out because you might want to review them before a big exam (or sell them to a less-prepared friend?) but you can take them out of your study system.

To find out more, check out my video on YouTube: How to study vocabulary using spaced repetition.

Another great year of literacy instruction

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Taking stock

I’ve been an online reading and writing tutor for more than 6 years now. I used to have conversations like, “We use a video conferencing tool called Zoom. Have you ever heard of it? Um, no, no, it’s different from Skype, but similar.” Within a couple of years, I was ready to use my skills as a certified Orton-Gillingham tutor to offer full OG lessons online. It was hard to find anyone who was 

I rolled along, teaching online reading and writing lessons part-time while teaching special education, and later reading intervention, in local schools. And then our schools closed in the winter of 2020 and within a couple of weeks, my schedule was jam-packed with existing and new students. We were all just trying to figure out what to do with ourselves that winter, remember?

My kindergartener needed a parent at home the next year, until his school reopened. So all of a sudden, I wasn’t a teacher with a side hustle. I was suddenly a full-time entrepreneur! Starting anything new can be nerve-wracking, but starting a new business in the upheaval of 2021 was a real nail-biter! But I love it! I am making a stronger connection with students and make more of a difference than I could when I was working within a school. I’ve been invited to apply for a few school-based positions, but nothing has tempted me to go back.

That brings us to 2022…

As we come to the end of 2022, I am looking back with gratitude to all the families I’ve been able to work with and all the professionals I’ve connected with. I’m looking ahead to expanding our reach to more students and more schools in the coming year. Here’s where we are now:

Things I want to keep doing in 2023

Working with students – When I was a teacher, some parts of my year were consumed with standardized testing, meetings, chaperoning field trips, paperwork, paperwork, and more paperwork. As a private Orton-Gillingham tutor, I’m able to spend most of my work hours actually supporting students! 

Learning about the English language – I’m in the middle of an advanced OG course and I’m so excited to learn more about the origins of English words and how that impacts spelling. Knowing what word parts come from Anglo-Saxon, Latin, Greek and other languages feels like a cheat code for spelling and vocabulary and I’m looking forward to sharing more of this with my students in 2023! 

Connecting with schools – I used to be chained to my school’s schedule. I was totally in tune with marking periods and seasonal activities. These days, knowing the school schedule is an afterthought for me. But this year, I am teaching a few students during their school days, and supporting a team of teachers in another district as they implement Orton-Gillingham interventions. I am excited to keep connecting my Orton-Gillingham tutoring to teaching and learning in schools because that will have a bigger impact on my students.

Things I want more of in 2023

Reading – I spend a lot of time thinking about books for my students and my own children. I am not even sure how many times I’ve read Fahrenheit 451 and Of Mice and Men. But I would love to do more reading just for myself. I’m working on it now and I’d like to keep growing my reading time (professional and frivolous!) in 2023.

Rest – As a business owner, mom and educator, I find it hard to say no to people in need. When a parent calls and describes their child’s reading difficulties, and I know exactly what I would do first to help, it’s hard not to do it. But in 2023, I want to grow our team of online reading and writing tutors so that I can offer resources to parents without putting them on my own schedule. I am committing to finding more time for rest in 2023!

Professional Community – Working as an online Orton-Gillingham tutor can be a little bit lonely, sometimes. Sure, I have my students, and it’s nice to work at home with my husband, and be here when my kids get home. I do miss working in a school and chatting with colleagues over lunch. Luckily, I work with some excellent tutors here at Deep Roots Learning Solutions, Inc., and I am part of some lively communities of literacy teachers online that I can always bounce ideas off of. In 2023, I plan to connect with other professionals more often. I’d also like to attend at least one conference in person.

Is helping your child improve their reading one of your goals for 2023? Contact us for a free consultation to see if online Orton-Gillingham tutoring is the right fit for your family.

Things I want less of in 2023

Rushing – there are some spots in my schedule where I run in the door from some errand and get right on to Zoom. Maybe I can grab a glass of water in between, but not much more. In 2023, I want to build a schedule with more breathing room.

Repeating myself – there are some lessons or concepts I teach the same way every time, both to students and adults. I’m wondering if I can turn some of those explanations into videos or documents that will let people get the information they need at their own pace. That will let me spend more time on specific challenges or new learning in live meetings.

Looking for lost papers – my dirty little secret, that no one can see on Zoom, is that I have a Pile. Not just any pile, a Pile with a capital P. Don’t mess with my Pile, because everything important is in it! …Somewhere… In 2023, I want to use a better system for minimizing and dealing with paper. As an online reading and writing tutor, most of my work is virtual these days, but it’s surprising how many pieces of paper show up anyway!

Here’s to a happy, healthy, 2023!

It’s fun to look back at 2022 and see how far we’ve come. There are some beautiful parts of this year I want to keep going into 2023. There is also always room for growth and change. The end of the year is a great time to take stock of what you enjoyed this year and what you are ready to leave behind.

What goals do you have, for yourself or your family, in 2023? Drop a comment below and let me know what you are hoping to carry into the new year!

What if the school doesn’t see a problem with my child’s reading?

We’re coming up on fall teacher conference season in my area. I’m scheduled to see my child’s teacher in a few weeks to take a look at some of his work, here the good and bad news about his progress and make plans for how I can support him at home as the year goes on. Usually, my son’s teacher and I are on the same page about what he’s great at and what he needs. But what you go in with concerns about your child’s reading and the teacher doesn’t share them?

When to worry about your child’s reading

When is dyslexia diagnosed?

Learning to read in kindergarten, first and second grade can be a messy process. Students all come to school with different levels of skill and different language backgrounds. They are learning how to be students – how to line up, sit at desks, follow directions. And somewhere, in all of that, the teacher is taxed with teaching students how our system of written language works. Yet for most kids, by the end of about second grade, they are reading fluently and ready to take on new books and new challenges! Nancy Young, creator of The Ladder of Reading & Writing model, estimates that about 45% of kids learn to read in a way that seems pretty effortless. 

The other 55% of students (that’s more than half!) need consistent, explicit instruction in how reading and spelling work. They need to be taught the sound represented by each grapheme (letter or group of letters that spells a sound in words). They need to learn to manipulate language sounds out loud (phonemic awareness) and blend sounds together smoothly to form a recognizable word. They need to be able to work with syllables and notice if a word has a prefix or suffix that affects the meaning. 

Within that 55% of students who need explicit phonics instruction, some – 10-15% of all students – will need lots and lots of intensive practice and teaching with phonics. This number correlates roughly with the number of dyslexic students. That doesn’t mean that all struggling readers are dyslexic, or even that all dyslexic readers will struggle to learn to read. But those numbers taken together do suggest that in a class of 20 first graders, at least 3 will need some intensive instruction to become readers. 

Often, schools use a “response to intervention” approach to identify students with learning disabilities (dyslexia is an example of a specific learning disability in reading and schools tend to use that term instead of dyslexia). That means they may put the student in small groups, give them extra instruction in the skill areas where they struggle, or bring in additional materials. Done well, this process can fill in skill gaps for students who struggle and also help to identify students who need the most help. Done poorly, this process can waste a child’s time with unfocused or ineffective instruction and delay testing and identification that gets them the support they need. 

Dyslexia is diagnosed by a qualified professional, through a combination of formal testing, observation, and an educational history. It is often left to the parent to initiate and push through this process. But deciding to “wait and see” can have grave consequences for children as the months and years tick by without their reading problems getting solved!

Will dyslexia go away?


Dyslexia can be remediated, meaning the skills a child struggles with (repeating multisyllabic words, decoding, spelling, fluency) can be taught. But a child with dyslexia grows up to be an adult with dyslexia. 

With the right teaching and plenty of support, many dyslexic adults are successful. They may choose careers where reading isn’t a barrier. They may also choose to tackle lots of challenging reading that is worth it to them because they are curious and passionate about what they are learning. But they are still dyslexic. They will benefit from accommodations and tools like audiobooks, spellcheck, note-taking strategies, speech-to-text, and a family member or friend who will edit their written work. 

Will dyslexia go away for children whose needs aren’t met in school? 

Double nope. 

Ignoring a child’s reading struggles in the hopes that they will “catch up” or believing that they are “late bloomers” is a harmful practice leftover from the days of whole language teaching. Teachers used to think that if we just fostered a love of reading and read to kids enough, they would eventually catch on. 

In many schools, these “late bloomers” don’t bloom at all. Instead, they become below average students who “miss a lot of details,” “have a bad attitude” about schoolwork, and become anxious, depressed, or disruptive in the classroom. And who can blame them? They’ve been sitting in these classrooms for years, being told to “try harder” when their educational needs are being ignored! 

If this describes your child, contact us for a consultation today to find out how online Orton-Gillingham reading tutoring can help your child succeed!

So what should parents do about dyslexia?

If your child is struggling to learn to read, they need your love and support, and they also need better instruction. Often, it falls to the parents to advocate for their children. This may begin with asking the teacher for data about your child’s reading, from classroom assessments. Be sure to get your child’s score and ask what the expectation is for students in their grade at this time of year.

If classroom instruction isn’t moving your child along to where they need to be, you can request a special education evaluation from the school district. Even if your child attends private school, your local school district is responsible for conducting the testing and, if necessary, offering services. 

Once the testing is complete, the school may offer an IEP, or Individualized Education Plan. This document, written for a student with an educational disability, lays out the instruction your child needs to make effective progress in the curriculum. It will include goals (what the district plans to achieve in a year), accommodations (supports like study guides and audiobooks that will help your child access her schoolwork) and services, a specific number of hours or minutes during which your child will get specialized instruction, every week, throughout the school year. 

The IEP process is complex, but there are lots of resources out there to help you make sense of it. I recommend starting with your local Decoding Dyslexia chapter. Decoding Dyslexia is a network of parents and professionals working to improve education for students with dyslexia. They are an incredible resource for information and advocacy as you support your child.

Conclusion heading

Watching your child struggle with reading is disheartening and scary. We know how much reading they are expected to do in school, how many tests they must take between now and graduation. We picture them struggling to read a menu or a job application. We hear them cry over homework or fight over getting ready for school.

Becoming an expert in dyslexia and reading challenges on top of supporting your child through her school days is a lot to take on. But the rewards – a happier, more confident child, proud of her new skills and ready for new challenges – is an outcome worth fighting for.

If your child is struggling to learn to read, contact us for a consultation today to find out how online Orton-Gillingham reading tutoring can help your child succeed!

What We Miss When We Don’t Read

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I was chatting with a friend the other day about garden flowers. We each grew up around gardeners (her father, my grandmother) so we’ve heard lots of flower names over time. With the help of Google, we were able to find the names of some flowers we like and decide what to plant. 

And then she brought up a flower I know my grandmother had in her garden, “gladiolas.” “I think I overwatered my gladiolas.” “Did you see the gladiolas out front?” And that’s how I typed it into Google: gladiolas. I was switftly corrected by the search engine: Did you mean gladiolus? 

Hmm, I had heard about these flowers, but I guess I never saw the word in print. Does that matter?

Is it better to read or listen to a book?

Learning by listening

My friend and I have knowledge of flower names that is broad, but shallow. Names sound familiar to us. When we try to recall a name, we know it’s something with a G or it sounds like a person’s name. We might pull out the right name from memory but that’s about it. 

This is the kind of knowledge a novice, like a student in elementary school, might have about the planets in the solar system. They know a few names, and a few facts, but they aren’t clear on the relationships. So they might say the moon is a planet because it goes around the sun. Seeing models and diagrams, with labels, makes a huge difference in a child’s understanding of the subject, and helps them remember the facts better than listening alone.

So audiobooks are bad, right?

“But I thought you were all for audiobooks!”

Yes, I will talk all day about how much audiobooks can support comprehension for struggling readers, exposing them to challenging content that they are not yet ready to decode on their own.

But that’s not enough.

I often hear stories of school districts saying “We give a 504 for dyslexia, not an IEP” or offering accommodations like a scribe for written work, an adult to read aloud, or audiobooks, as the end point for supporting students who struggle to read. 

But if students only hear Shakespeare say [double entendre], they may miss the fact that [homophone] Their understanding will be less rich and less complete than that of a person who read the play with their eyes. Shakespeare wrote his works to be performed, though, so even that isn’t as bad as listening-only access to something like a history book or a scientific article. Academic writing is complex, with subtle punctuation choices (semi-colons, colons, and m-dashes, oh my!) and long sentences. Glancing up to the previous paragraph or flipping ahead to a diagram are an important part of understanding the text.

If your child is not getting enough support for reading and writing at school, contact us for a consultation to see how we can help through online Orton-Gillingham tutoring.

Making in the invisible visible

Seeing words and understanding morphology adds a whole layer of richness to our understanding of words. Kids may be able to memorize definitions of math and science words (centimeter, milliliter, quadrilateral) but if they don’t have the skills to take the word apart into its morphemes and notice the meaning connections to other words (centimeter, century, cent) they are missing a layer of undertstanding.

So what do we do? For kids who struggle to read, we often have to prioritize. They have fallen behind, so we choose between devoting time to shoring up basic skills or helping them to push through their current workload, relying on accommodations to save time and substitute for weaker skills. 

Teaching morphology – the meaningful building blocks that make up words in our language – is working smarter, not harder. Once students have the basics, they can continue to learn (and even teach themselves!) the meaning of new vocabulary by taking words apart into their morphemes and using that information to understand the new word. 

Managing time and energy

In life, and especially for our students who struggle, we have to manage our time and energy. We can’t expect slow reading students to both sound out all the words in an act of Hamlet and understand Shakespearian language and learn the definitions of a half-dozen vocabulary words in the play. 

So is it better to read or listen to a book? It depends on your purpose. For an overview of a complex chapter or essay, or to understand the plot and character development in a novel, audiobooks are great! You can adjust the speed, pause, rewind if you need to hear something again. You get the benefit of hearing a professional reader imbue the story with energy and meaning through expressive reading. But if the goal is the nitty-gritty details of vocabulary, word choice, and spelling, it’s best to turn to the printed version to get all the available information.

I’ll be getting my garden-planning books in visual form and saving the audiobooks for taking in stories while I commute or clean the kitchen.

If your child is struggling to read and write at school, contact us today for a consultation to see how online Orton-Gillingham literacy instruction can help.

What is visual dyslexia?

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What is dyslexia?

According to the International Dyslexia Association , dyslexia is: 

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

Dyslexia looks different for different people and even the same person at different ages. It can be quite severe, making it difficult for a child to read or spell at all, even after lots of teaching and practice. Dyslexia can also be very mild and students might “fly under the radar” for years or just be considered “careless” spellers or “reluctant” readers. Students with this profile are sometimes identified as having “visual dyslexia,” to distinguish them from students who have difficulties with the phonological (sounds) part of reading and spelling. But what is visual dyslexia?

Are there different types of dyslexia? 

The International Dyslexia Association is widely recognized as an authority on the subject of dyslexia. They do not recognize visual dyslexia as a subtype of dyslexia. In fact, they emphasize that dyslexia is not a vision problem. And therefore, glasses, colored filters and vision exercises are not treatments for dyslexia. But just the same, kids with dyslexia can be very different from each other. Terms like “visual dyslexia” and “phonological dyslexia” have gained popularity with some professionals because they describe how students are unique and help evalutaors and tutors communicate about what students need.

What is visual dyslexia?

Visual dyslexia is also known as surface dyslexia or dyseidetic dyslexia. These terms describe a reader who has difficulty remembering how to read and spell words, but who does not have significant problems with the phonological or sound parts of language. There is some research that shows this is a true distinction and may help us understand causes and improved treatments for dyslexia. However, these subtypes of dyslexia don’t completely explain differences between different students and there isn’t enough evidence to support giving these readers a different kind of treatment or intervention.

What is phonological dyslexia?

Phonological dyslexia is a term used to describe readers who have difficulty with the phonological or sound parts of reading. The might struggle with oral language skills like rhyming or repeating multisyllabic words when other kids their age are mastering the skill (kids who say pah-sketti for spaghetti beyond preschool, for example). Readers with this profile might not include all the sounds when they read or spell a word or might say the wrong sound for a letter they see.

Are there other types of dyslexia?

While there are not clear cut “types” of dyslexia, students can have varying degrees of need in different skills. They are similar, the same way a pink striped sock and a pink polka dot sock are similar. They might both match your sweater and be made of wool. That doesn’t mean they’re a perfect match!

Some people with dyslexia mainly have weaknesses in their phonological skills. They might need a lot of practice to learn to read long science words or a lot of practice counting the sounds in words and making sure to include all the letters.

Others might have no problem with phonological skills, but have a great deal of difficulty rapidly and fluently applying rules and patterns they know to words on the page. This often shows up in testing as a weakness in Rapid Automatic Naming (RAN), the ability to quickly and accurately recall knowledge, like letter and number names. 

Still other students have difficulty in both of these areas. This profile is known as “double-deficit dyslexia” in which students have difficulty in both phonological skills and RAN. These students often make slow progress and need more repetition and review than those with only one deficit.

What helps with visual dyslexia?

If a student is evaluated and given a diagnosis of dyslexia, the chief recommendation is usually an explicit, sequential, program of reading instruction that includes instruction in letter-sound relationships, spelling rules, vocabulary and comprehension. Orton-Gillingham (OG) is one approach for teaching dyslexic readers. These approaches may also be known as “structured literacy” and, while OG is older and well-known, there are many other programs and instructional approaches that can also be quite effective.

Students whose signs of dyslexia are mostly visual (poor spelling) and not phonological (segmenting and blending sounds in spoken words) might need more spelling and morphology instruction, and less practice with phonemic awareness exercises or letter-sound drills. But this is still done effectively under the umbrella of structured literacy or Orton-Gillingham instruction. As an educator certified in Orton-Gillingham, I’ve taught students who fit each of these profiles, and some who didn’t quite fit any. I’ve had other students without a dyslexia diagnosis at all. For all of these different students, the Orton-Gillingham approach has been effective, as long as we are accurately recognizing the skills they need.

As different as these profiles seem, their needs are very similar, at the core. We use the language parts of our brain for reading (not the same visual parts we use to recognize faces or objects). So whether a reader is struggling with mostly spelling or mostly decoding or mostly fluency, the answer still lies in studying the English language. 

For example, I work with some middle grades students (4-7th grade) who are adequate readers and are good at spelling the sounds in words, but they forget which there/their/they’re or to/two/too to use. Their writing might be phonetically readable for other words, but not correct. They may spell compete as cumpeet or walked as wockt. It helps tremendously when they learn the patterns and rules behind English spelling. They learn about words that come from Anglo-Saxon, and those that come from French, Latin and Greek. They learn how often a certain spelling is used in English words so they can start to make educated guesses about words they aren’t sure of. They learn how meaning impacts spelling. Walk + ed sounds like /wokt/ but it means that someone did the action (walk) in the past (-ed) and that’s how we spell it.

So is it wrong to say my child has “visual dyslexia?”

I wouldn’t say it’s wrong to use the term “visual dyslexia,” but I would say it’s imprecise and sometimes not a useful piece of information. Our scientific understanding of dyslexia and reading development has come a long way, but it is still growing. Scientists use brain imaging and studies of people with dyslexia over years to learn more about what kind of instruction is effective. We may learn something different through this research that helps us help students more promptly and more efficiently by tailoring instruction to their needs.

But for now, no matter how your child’s dyslexia presents, the most important thing is to get connected with teachers or tutors who are experts in the process of learning to read. Finding a tutor certified in Orton-Gillingham or an OG-based program (Wilson, Sonday, etc.) is one way to make sure the person has sufficient expertise. It’s more important to recognize that a child is struggling and give them the instruction they need than it is to give that struggle a specific label. 

And that’s what we do at Deep Roots Learning Solutions, Inc. We offer Orton-Gillingham instruction in a convenient, effective, online format. If your child needs explicit, systematic reading instruction, contact us for a free consultation and demo lesson . Let’s talk about how we can help!

What to do after dyslexia diagnosis?

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If you’ve just learned that your child has dyslexia, or you are in the middle of an evaluation, you likely have many questions. Once you start following experts in the field and chatting with parents, your “to do” list, along with your “to read” and “to buy” will fill up quickly. Here are my recommendations for families who are wondering what to do after dyslexia diagnosis and are beginning their journey into dyslexia.

Learning that your child has dyslexia can be a time of intense emotions for you, your partner, your child, and other children in the family. You might feel overwhelmed by all the information, relieved to have an answer, guilty for not seeing the problem sooner, or something totally different from these. For many people, dyslexia isn’t even something on their radar until a child struggles with reading and writing. 

Some people like to gather all the information they can and they hit Google hard, bookmarking and highlighting and printing everything that seems useful. Others might feel like they are slowly drowning in reports and recommendations and just hope that some expert will throw them a life preserver. It’s important not to lose sight of your real goal: helping your child with dyslexia be confident, skilled, happy and successful. 

Tools for you, Supports for your child

Educate yourself

One of the first steps a parent should take when their child is diagnosed with dyslexia is to educate themselves about the condition. There are many widespread misconceptions about dyslexia, like that it’s an “old-fashioned” term we don’t use anymore, or that people with dyslexia physically see letters and numbers backwards. We have learned a lot about the brain and about dyslexia in the last several decades and there are many good sources of information. 

  • Join your local Decoding Dyslexia chapter – these groups are made up of parents, educators, and educational advocates. They are great sources of more local information about state education laws and local resources. My state’s Decoding Dyslexia Facebook group is very active and just by reading along I have learned so much about how the state and local school districts respond to dyslexia.
  • Find your local SEPAC – many school districts have a Special Education Parent Advisory Committee, a group made up of district parents that communicates with the school board or school committee about the needs of special education students. In some districts, the SEPAC also sponsors educational speakers or events that are relevant to needs of their students. 
  • Check out the International Dyslexia Association’s fact sheets – The IDA puts out lots of informative fact sheets, for parents and teachers, about a wide range of topics that impact people with dyslexia. 
  • Get some books. There are so very many good books you could read about dyslexia, education, parenting, and literacy. (Keep in mind, these may be available as audiobooks through your public library or through Audible.) Here are my recommended starting points:
    • For inspiration: Reversed by Lois Letchford is a memoir about how Ms Letchford taught her severely dyslexic son to read and write when the schools could not.
    • For the scientific basics: Overcoming Dyslexia by Dr. Sally Shaywitz. Dr Shaywitz is the co-director and co-founder of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and has an incredible wealth of knowledge about both scientific and practical aspects of dyslexia.
    • For the non-academic challenges: It’s So Much Work to Be Your Friend by Richard Lavoie. Dyslexia can impact so much more than a child’s reading and spelling. It can also impact the way they communicate and process information, socially as well as in the classroom. Rich Lavoie has advocated for the social and emotional needs of kids with learning differences for decades and his workshop F.A.T. City is an eye-opening window into how it feels to be different in school.

Services for dyslexia

You’ve heard that dyslexia is life-long, that it affects many parts of a person’s thinking and achievement, not just reading and writing, and that it can be complicated to address. So, can anything be done for dyslexia? Absolutely, yes! The International Dyslexia Association recommends a structured literacy instruction approach. That means reading and writing instruction that addresses all 5 components of literacy (letter-sound relationships, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension) and is systematic, cumulative explicit, and diagnostic. 

That means skills are taught directly (not inferred from lots of reading, which is something dyslexic readers find incredibly difficult or impossible). Instruction follows a purposeful sequence, usually from most common patterns to less common ones. It is cumulative and diagnostic, meaning skills are built and reviewed over time, until a child has mastered them, and that lessons are planned based on frequent assessments of a child’s particular needs, rather than adherence to a prescribed curriculum.

One type of structured literacy teaching is the Orton-Gillingham approach. It’s been around since the early 20th century, and has a long track record as one of the most effective ways to improve reading and writing in people with dyslexia. Many popular reading curricula are based on Orton-Gillingham, like The Sonday System, Wilson Reading, and Barton. No matter what approach you choose, instruction should be individualized and intensive enough to allow a child to make progress. At Deep Roots Learning Solutions, we strongly recommend that students work with a tutor at least twice a week, for a 50-minute session. That’s pretty standard among Orton-Gillingham tutors. 

How to get the school to provide dyslexia tutoring

Even after you’ve addressed the first challenge of finding your child dyslexia services – understanding the different approaches – you may be dealing with the challenge of getting your child’s school to educate them appropriately. While some schools have dyslexia therapists or Orton-Gillingham or Wilson-certified teachers working intensively with students, other districts are not forthcoming with those resources. A child who is struggling with schoolwork due to an identified learning disability, including dyslexia, should qualify for an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) that includes appropriate literacy services. 

In order for a child to get an IEP, the school will evaluate them through testing and a review of their school records. This process can be daunting, but it is important to understand that you and your child have rights in this process, outlined in the Procedural Safeguards document the school must give you as part of this process. The details vary by state and it is worth reading and understanding. The bottom line is that those safeguards help ensure that your child gets the services and supports they need and that their voice and yours are adequately represented in the IEP process. 

What if the school isn’t?

But what if the public school isn’t providing the right services? This can happen for a lot of reasons, and it can be very challenging. For example, the school might respond to a dyslexia diagnosis by saying something like, “We don’t use the term dyslexia.” or “Dyslexia is handled under 504 plans.” Blanket statements like that are illegal, to put it bluntly. The term dyslexia is part of IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act , which is the federal law that governs the IEP process and special education services. In many cases, the district has policies or common practices in place that aren’t in line with IDEA. Administrators sometimes get the mistaken idea that those policies take precedence over federal education law. This document from the US Department of Education from 2015 is a great starting point to share with them to help clarify their understanding of their responsibilities. 

Another reason schools sometimes fail to provide needed services is staffing. They’ll say, “We don’t have a teacher who teaches that,” when asked for a service like Orton-Gillingham reading instruction with a certified provider. If these services are deemed necessary, and the district does not have a teacher who can provide them, they need to a) train one (certification for Orton-Gillingham or another reading approach takes more than a year) and/or b) hire one. In some cases, the district finds a professional to hire or contract with, and in other cases, parents have been able to refer a tutor they have been working with to contract with the district instead.

As a former special education teacher, I would love to say “Work with your district! They know your child and have her best interests at heart! Trust them!” In many cases, that’s true at the school level. But there are still many cases where the district does not act in a child’s best interest. You may consider hiring a special education advocate (or at least bring a knowledgeable friend to the IEP meetings to help you take notes) to help you navigate the process and ensure that the IEP meets your child’s needs . Always request that the district put their decisions in writing.

An alternative if the district is not meeting your child’s needs is seeking services elsewhere. If there is a Children’s Dyslexia Center in your area, they provide free Orton-Gillingham tutoring to children who qualify. If you want to hire a private tutor, look for lists of certified tutors from the Children’s Dyslexia Center, Orton-Gillingham Academy or Wilson Reading . If there are not many tutors in your area, many tutors also offer their services online. If you want to talk about whether online tutoring with us would be a good fit for your child, contact us here .

Beyond seeking tutoring services, some parents choose to send their children to a private school (or even choose to move to a different location!) that will better meet their needs. This is an enormous change, and I think it speaks to how challenging it can be to get appropriate services in some schools! In some cases, school districts end up paying for a child’s private school placement when the local school is not able to provide needed services. This process is long and complicated, and often best navigated with the support of an advocate or special education attorney.

Another option if local schools aren’t the right fit is homeschooling. There are many parents whose homeschool journey began with concerns about children who weren’t learning to read. There are many groups of homeschool parents who teach using structured literacy or Orton-Gillingham, and many programs designed to meet the needs of parents teaching their children. For some families, this is a short-term decision to focus on getting reading skills up to speed, and for others it’s a long-term schooling change.

Recommendations for kids with dyslexia

OK, if you’ve made it this far, you deserve a topic that’s a little lighter. Let’s talk about the rest of your kid’s life, outside of schooling. Here are some ways to support your child after a dyslexia diagnosis, outside of education decisions:

  • Get some decodable books: These books are written for readers in the process of learning to decode. They limit the word choices in the book to words the kids can sound out, and a small handful of irregular words (like was). These books provide essential practice while kids are learning to decode, as well as building their fluency, reading stamina, and confidence! Some of my favorites are listed below. Check out the whole list here
  • Read Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco with your child. This picture book about a struggling reader who finally learns to read beautifully captures the experiences of embarrassment and frustration many children experience when they struggle in school, as well as the pride and joy when that begins to change. In this video version, Jane Kaczmarek reads the book .
  • Enjoy audiobooks! Audiobooks (from Audible or from your local library’s ebook collection) are a great tool for helping kids with dyslexia develop comprehension, vocabulary, and knowledge while their decoding skills grow. They can also be a helpful tool for older students who are trying to keep up with the volume of reading in middle and high school. 
  • Do things that build joy and confidence. Some things are hard right now, especially when a dyslexia diagnosis is new. The gap between your child’s reading and their peers can seem huge and overwhelming. Resist the temptation to overload them with services and tools and programs and whatever else. Leave time in your family’s schedule for laughter, physical activity, rest, and sleep. That means balancing multiple priorities, like tutoring, sports, dance, and family time. It’s hard and will need adjustments over time, but it’s worth it because happy, healthy kids learn better, too!

But first, breathe!

Choose your favorite inspirational meme, whether it’s putting on your own oxygen mask first, pouring from an empty cup, or boulders, pebbles and sand. Take some time to feel your feelings about this new aspect of your child’s life, write down your thoughts and questions, and plan your next steps. You won’t be able to conquer every challenge at once, but you can steps in the right direction!

For parents, navigating what to do after dyslexia diagnosis can be confusing, exhausting, frustrating, and expensive. Of course, you want to do what you can to get results as soon as possible, but remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. You’ll be guiding your child through the education system throughout high school and likely beyond. You’ll find resources and people that will help you fill in the gaps and meet new challenges. And you will get better at it as you go.

If you are considering online Orton-Gillingham tutoring for your child, contact us for a consultation and demo lesson to see if it is a good fit for your family.

Do Kids Outgrow Dyslexia?

I was explaining to a student how our brains process language when we read and how some brains don’t do it as efficiently, which can lead to slow reading. I named dyslexia as an example of what can cause reading difficulty. My student nodded knowingly and said, “I had dyslexia when I was little, but I outgrew it.” I mentioned that there are lots of different types of reading difficulties, but that dyslexia isn’t something a person outgrows. But it’s a common perception about dyslexia that it only affects children.

Why can’t you outgrow dyslexia?

What is dyslexia?

The International Dyslexia Association has developed this definition of dyslexia:

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

For young children, it often looks like poor reading and spelling, difficulty remembering or pronouncing words, trouble rhyming, and resistance to reading. At this stage, teachers often say that kids are learning “at their own pace” or that we should “wait and see” if they catch up. But research has shown us that kids don’t outgrow dyslexia! They need systematic, explicit, literacy instruction to get the skills they are missing.

Often, older children with dyslexia have learned some reading and spelling skills but their reading remains slow, or they have poor comprehension. They sometimes avoid reading or writing, and might demonstrate behaviors (like arguing or goofing around) that take the focus off their difficulties and make it easier for them to avoid what they struggle with. But even if a child with dyslexia can learn to read, that doesn’t mean they outgrow dyslexia.

If you learn to read, is dyslexia cured?

Unfortunately, learning to read and spell isn’t the end of the journey for a person with dyslexia. Through the IEP process, schools will complete formal testing and sometimes, if instruction has been effective, they will determine that a child no longer qualifies for an IEP because their scores are average now. Unfortunately, that isn’t the same as outgrowing dyslexia. 

While reading and spelling skill gaps can be remediated – meaning students get the skills they were missing – the brain of a person with dyslexia can still process information differently. They may need explicit instruction in vocabulary, comprehension, fluency, or writing. Older students and adults with dyslexia may also use assistive technology to help them do reading and writing tasks.


What happens to adults with dyslexia?

Adults with dyslexia continue to exist! They become scientists, teachers, athletes, writers, lawyers, parents, and many other things. With skills, accommodations, advocacy and support, people with dyslexia can grow up to be successful, powerful members of our communities.

Unfortunately, without the right teaching and support, people with dyslexia have outcomes that aren’t as good. According to, there are over 43 million adults in the US who struggle with math, reading and writing tasks above a third grade level. Many of those adults may have dyslexia and not even know it. Poor reading skills can lead to a lack of job opportunities, as well as making people more likely to end up incarcerated. 

If you can’t outgrow dyslexia, what should we do?

A dyslexia diagnosis is something that will be with a person for the rest of their life. It will affect the way they learn, the way they communicate, the jobs they choose, and the tools and supports they use every day. Many adults with dyslexia are proud of their identity as dyslexic and say it also includes strengths like creative thinking that help them succeed! 

But embracing dyslexia is not the same as ignoring it. For a person with dyslexia to succeed and thrive, they need high quality, explicit instruction in reading and writing and consistent support from teachers and family who understand dyslexia and advocate for the student’s needs. 

If you suspect that you or your child has dyslexia, learn more from the International Dyslexia Association. If you are looking for systematic, explicit, literacy instruction, contact us for a consultation to find out if online Orton-Gillingham tutoring is right for you! 

An Orton-Gillingham Tutor Near Me

As the school year comes to a close, many parents are thinking about using the summer to help their children catch up on skills with the help of a tutor. But if you are looking for something specific, like an Orton-Gillingham certified tutor, you might have to do a bit of digging. Often, searching for “Orton-Gillingham Tutor Near Me” gets you search results for large tutoring organizations or referral services. Sometimes you even end up in the weeds, with information about how to get OG certified instead of how to find a tutor that is already trained! Here are my top tips for finding an Orton-Gillingham tutor near you!

Finding an Orton-Gillingham tutor near me

Some of the best local Orton-Gillingham tutors I know are totally invisible online. They built their businesses on referrals from parents and schools and so they don’t come up in a search when you look for “tutor near me” online. The best way to find these hidden gems is to ask around. Your local Decoding Dyslexia branch, Facebook parent groups and local teachers are three great sources of information about local OG tutors near you. 

If you’re not ready to ask about your child’s needs in a public forum, you can also search any Facebook groups you are in for older discussions about tutors in your area. 

Finding dyslexia therapy near me

The term “dyslexia therapy” is used to describe structured literacy instruction done by a highly-trained expert who has passed an exam through the Academic Language Therapy Association (ALTA) and completed their certification requirements. Some states also license dyslexia therapists, such as the state of Texas. In other states, certified dyslexia therapists are difficult to find. If your “dyslexia therapy near me” search leaves you empty-handed, there are other trainings and qualifications that can help you find a highly skilled dyslexia tutor for your child. 

How do I find tutoring for dyslexia

I’ll tell you how to find tutoring for dyslexia, but a word of caution, first: Many teachers and principals, and some whole schools, are completely uninformed about dyslexia. If a teacher that hasn’t helped your child grow significantly in reading this year is recommending something like, “Just go to the library and read to her plenty! She’ll catch up!” smile and nod and find a more knowledgeable source of information.

Tutoring for dyslexia should be done by a person with training (certification is even better!) in Orton-Gillingham or another structured literacy approach to teaching reading. Orton-Gillingham is a systematic, sequential, diagnostic, multisensory approach to teaching language skills. While some large, national tutoring companies offer tutoring for dyslexia, make sure the staff is certified in OG or another approach before signing up. There are a few people qualified to offer tutoring for dyslexia on any large directory of tutors. An exception is the Literacy Nest’s Tutor Finder directory. These tutors are not all OG-certified but there is a good concentration of them.

What is Orton-Gillingham training?

Orton-Gillingham training is an intensive combination of both classwork and a practicum supervised by an Orton-Gillingham trainer. Certified OG tutors study the structure of the English language, learn about dyslexia, and practice assessing and teaching children with dyslexia and measuring their progress. My program ran from January to December and offered the equivalent of 6 graduate credits of instruction, and a 100-hour practicum. That means I submitted my first 100 lessons to my trainer for feedback, and she also observed some of my lessons and gave live feedback.

What are certified tutors?

While there are options for shorter OG tutor training programs, such as a 30-hour training, these do not give tutors the depth of knowledge and experience needed to effectively help dyslexic students. Certified tutors have completed a supervised practicum. During that practicum, certified tutors have had their lessons critiqued by a trainer. They have also assessed students and planned and taught lessons that moved them along the sequence of skills. While OG training is an excellent option for many, especially classroom teachers, certification makes a difference. Certified tutors, in my opinion, are the best choice for students who are dyslexic or struggling greatly to learn to read.

At Deep Roots Learning Solutions, we choose tutors who are certified, or who are in the process of completing their practicum for certification, to work with our students. An OG tutor that has completed a rigorous training and practicum program for OG certification is qualified to assess a student’s changing literacy needs, bring in additional teaching resources as needed, and recognize needs that may best be referred to other professionals. 

Are all OG tutors the same?

Find a certified OG tutor: check. Should be pretty easy, right? You know they need to complete a practicum, and that certified is better than trained. But there are several different organizations that provide OG tutor training, and they all use slightly different terminology. And Google does not know the difference, so when you search for “Orton-Gillingham tutor near me” you’re going to get a mixed bag of different training backgrounds. Here are some of the big ones:

Orton Academy

The Orton-Gillingham Academy (OGA), formerly known as AOGPE, is one of the largest and most well-known of the organizations training OG tutors. They train individuals at four levels: Classroom Educator, Associate Level, Certified Level and Fellow Level. An Associate Level OG tutor works under the supervision of their training fellow, and a Certified Level OG tutor is able to teach and tutor independently of their fellow. So if a tutor you are considering is OGA Certified, they have cleared a pretty high bar of training and supervision! The Academy offers a directory of tutors it has trained.

International Dyslexia Association

The International Dyslexia Association also certifies OG tutors through an affiliated program, The Center for Effective Reading Instruction (CERI). Tutors can complete an IDA Accredited Program and become Dyslexia Interventionists (formerly known as Dyslexia Practitioners) or Dyslexia Specialists (formerly known as Dyslexia Therapists). These OG tutors have also passed an exam and completed a supervised practicum. CERI also certifies people at the classroom teacher level.

OG reading programs

Orton-Gillingham is an approach to teaching, rather than a specific curriculum. OG tutors often follow a specific sequence of reading skills introduced in their training, but compose their own lists of practice words and decide when to practice a skill more and when to move on. They may use materials from many different sources, with a focus on teaching the next skills a child needs, rather than getting to the next chapter or unit of a program.

In addition to these “pure” OG tutors, there are many different programs that are based on the principles of Orton-Gillingham or structured literacy. Some are taught by teachers who receive live training in using the materials. Others are designed to be used without explicit training because the instructions are in the lessons.

Barton tutoring

One popular program for dyslexia tutoring is the Barton System. Barton is an “Orton-Gillingham influenced” program that consists of 10 levels. It is designed for parents, or other individuals without teacher training, to study and teach on their own. Each level includes training DVDs for the tutor and lessons and materials for the students. The upside of choosing Barton tutoring is that everything is laid out and the lessons are explicit and systematic. The downside of choosing Barton tutoring is that it’s not as flexible as OG because students need to begin at Level 1 and progress through all the levels, regardless of their starting skill level.

Wilson Reading

Wilson Reading (WRS) is another Orton-Gillingham based program that is commonly used in some parts of the country. In Massachusetts, where I live, it is commonly offered both in schools (usually in special education) and by private Wilson tutors. Wilson certifies teachers in its program, so make sure if you are selecting a Wilson tutor they are certified at the appropriate level. The Wilson Reading website also provides a directory of certified providers. 

Final thoughts

Children with dyslexia, or with characteristics of dyslexia, need specialized literacy instruction to gain skills and become successful readers and writers. Finding a tutor can be quite challenging in a world where dyslexia is often misunderstood, even by those in the education field. If your family is investing time and money into tutoring for your child, it’s important to find a person who is the right fit, someone with the skills and training to help your child succeed. 

If you are looking for a certified Orton-Gillingham tutor to work with your child online, contact us today! We have spots open. We would love to give you a demonstration of what our online lessons look and feel like and help you decide if working with an online OG tutor is a good fit for your child.

Can kids with dyslexia learn to read faster?

Even with lots of good reading instruction, some readers with dyslexia still read very slowly. While the Science of Reading is pretty clear about the best ways to teach students to decode words, improving reading fluency for dyslexic students is another challenge, and one that can be harder to overcome. Here’s what it takes to help students with dyslexia read faster.

It takes knowledge and patience

Do all dyslexics have trouble reading?

The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as “a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

Many students with dyslexia struggle to read from the very beginning of their schooling. They may be slow to learn letter names and sounds, and even have early difficulties with conversational language, like recalling specific words or pronouncing multi-syllabic words. 

For other students, strong visual memory capabilities and lots of practice can memorize an impressive number of words. They may read slowly, or mix up similar words (saw/was, though/through/thorough/tough) but can often read well enough with these so-called compensatory strategies to read “at grade level” through second or third grade. Students with this profile are sometimes diagnosed with “stealth dyslexia,” meaning they have dyslexia but it is very difficult to detect. These readers may find reading exhausting or unpleasant, or be known for their poor spelling, but don’t get any specialized instruction because their needs aren’t recognized. 

In one example that really changed my thinking, I assessed a fifth grader who was pretty successful in class, but his parents had long-standing concerns about his reading and spelling. I found that, while he was passing grade-level reading assessments, he did not know the sounds of the short vowels! When he encountered unknown words or nonsense words, he did not have the skills to decode them. That severely limits a person’s ability to gather information about an unfamiliar topic through reading. 

So do all dyslexics have trouble reading? I’d say: eventually, without support, most will.

What is the best reading program for dyslexia?

The recommended reading approach for students with dyslexia is structured literacy. This can include lots of different programs, including Orton-Gillingham and OG-based curricula, like Wilson Reading or Barton. But structured literacy describes any program that teaches literacy skills in a comprehensive, explicit, sequential manner. It includes instruction in phonemes (sounds in spoken language), sound-symbol correspondence (phonics/”sounding out” words), orthography (spelling patterns), morphology (including prefixes and suffixes), semantics (vocabulary and comprehension) and syntax (grammar).

If your child is struggling with decoding and reading fluency, we can help! Our Orton-Gillingham tutors are available to plan and carry out a customized tutoring plan for your child. Contact us today!

Improving reading fluency dyslexic students

While the core problem for most readers with dyslexia is in the phonological (sound) part of reading, some students also have trouble quickly identifying letters (and/or numbers, colors or objects). Students who don’t perform well on this rapid naming task, in addition to having phonological awareness deficits, are sometimes described as having a double deficit. When readers have low scores in both areas, they take longer to develop reading fluency and may always be slower than average readers.

For these students, I often use a fluency-focused program in addition to Orton-Gillingham to help them develop these skills. There are many different possibilities for improving fluency, but the basic principle is that students benefit from repeated reading with feedback, and from hearing a model of a more fluent reader. 

While we often think of reading fluency as “reading fast enough,” there are actually three components of fluency and they are all important. Fluent reading is reading that is accurate, expressive, and fast enough to allow for good comprehension.

  • Accuracy – it should go without saying that for reading to be considered fluent, the words have to be read accurately to understand the text.
  • Speed – reading fluency assessment too often focuses on fluency, getting kids to read faster. Kids become aware of these speed goals and focus on zooming through the text, at the expense of accuracy or understanding.
  • Prosody – prosody is the most challenging component of fluency to explain, but you know it when you hear it. I tell students it’s reading “like a storyteller,” using phrasing and intonation to express the emotions of the story. Lots of the feedback we give students – stop at the periods, notice the quotation marks, act out what the characters are saying with your voice – promote prosody. 

It’s not glamorous

Teaching the early stages of reading can be really exciting. Students go from non-readers, struggling to remember individual letter names and sound, to slowly joining together sounds and then having that a-ha! moment when they recognize the word they’ve just read. My son used to giggle uncontrollably every time he sounded out a word successfully. This stage is lots of work, but rewarding!

Building fluency can be a slower, less glamorous process. Even with the best types of instruction, improving reading fluency for dyslexic students can take years. Take data, like counting how many words per minute a student is reading, or take a short audio recording of them reading now, and again in a few months, so you can celebrate that growth, even when it takes a long time!

If your child is struggling with decoding and reading fluency, we can help! Our Orton-Gillingham tutors are available to plan and carry out a customized tutoring plan for your child. Contact us today!

What is Vision Therapy for Dyslexia?

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Last month in my post “Bad News About Dyslexia,” I addressed some scammy or misguided quick-fix “diagnoses” and “cures” that are being marketed to parents of struggling readers. Next on my list is the idea of vision therapy as a fix for dyslexia. 

I’ll be up front. Here’s the problem some will find with my post: I’m not going to say something absolute like “IGNORE ANYONE WHO RECOMMENDS VISION THERAPY FOR DYSLEXIA!”

Is it possible that some readers struggle due to vision problems? Yes. 

Is it possible that some young children who couldn’t see well until vision intervention were mislabeled as learning disabled or dyslexic? Yup. 

Is it possible that those same children received vision therapy and their reading got better? Sure. 

And finally, could some kids have two kinds of problems (a vision one and a reading one) at the same time? Of course.

But I can say: If vision therapy fixes your child’s reading problem, it was not dyslexia, not ever.

If vision therapy fixes your child’s reading problem, it was not dyslexia, not ever. Click To Tweet

According to the International Dyslexia Association, “Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

Readers with dyslexia can find reading very uncomfortable, even exhausting! Children with dyslexia may complain of headaches, stomachaches, fatigue, or other physical symptoms. That doesn’t mean that dyslexia is a stomach problem, or a vision problem. These physical symptoms often speak to the enormous stress children experience when their needs for instruction and accommodations are not being met. 

Children with dyslexia might also have behavioral problems, including defiance, off-task behavior, or fooling around when faced with tasks they can’t do. That doesn’t mean dyslexia is a behavioral disorder! 

Do you see what I’m getting at? The effects might present differently for different students at different times, but dyslexia is a reading problem, and the right intervention is appropriate reading instruction. It’s not a vision problem, so there is no effective vision therapy for dyslexia.

Is it dyslexia or a vision problem?

If you have concerns about your child’s reading or their performance in school, the first step is to get a thorough evaluation. If your child is school-aged in the U.S., you can request an evaluation at no cost from your local public school. They may or may not use the term dyslexia, depending on the qualifications and knowledge of the school-based team. Schools often identify a “specific learning disability in the area of reading” without specifically naming dyslexia. Evaluation is also available through educational psychologists or neuropsychologists. 

If an academic evaluation doesn’t resolve the questions about why your child struggles to read, further evaluation by an ophthalmologist may be one possible route. Vision therapy, which includes exercises with a therapist and at home to improve eye tracking abilities, may be prescribed. However, a 2010 policy statement from the College of Optometrists in Vision Development, the American Optometric Association, and the American Academy of Optometry clarifies that this therapy does not directly address dyslexia or other learning disabilities. I know some families that have found this type of therapy beneficial, but it is often costly and may not be covered by insurance. 

Another type of vision therapy for dyslexia that is often recommended, but has little scientific evidence, is colored lenses or colored overlays. A set of symptoms called Irlen Syndrome is often used as the basis for prescribing colored overlays or filters, but the data on the existence of Irlen Syndrome is, well, not great.

According to Helen Irlen’s website, this syndrome can impact reading accuracy, math calculation, concentration, behavior, motivation and sports performance. While some people find relief from using colored overlays on white printed material, there is little evidence that there is a “best” color for readers, or even that one color is “better” for a particular reader. 

The right teaching

If colored lenses and vision therapy cannot help dyslexia, what does a child with dyslexia need to read better?

They need good reading instruction. A structured literacy program, such as Orton-Gillingham, which is prescriptive and diagnostic, and addresses all the main components of reading, is needed for struggling readers to make progress.

Instruction should be based on assessments and include explicit instruction in phonemic awareness (the sounds heard in words), phonics (the way those sounds are represented in print), vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension, depending on the student’s needs.

Depending on how far behind the student is, and how severe their dyslexia is, teaching these skills can take several years of hard work on the part of the student and their teachers. 

The right accommodations

While students work through the process of learning how to read and write efficiently, life marches on. They will move from grade to grade and be expected to learn and express more and more complex ideas. Having the right accommodations in place can make it possible for dyslexic students to more easily keep up with the curriculum and demonstrate their learning alongside their peers who read more easily.

Effective accommodations for reading and writing are essential. While their reading skills grow, students need access to age-appropriate texts through audiobooks, read alouds, and other technological options to continue to grow their comprehension, vocabulary and knowledge. They may need additional time to complete assignments, tools for writing like speech-to-text, copies of class notes, or other accommodations to help them work more efficiently.

Social-emotional support is also incredibly important. Dyslexia is a lifelong condition. Students can make great strides in improving their skills and becoming more accurate and fluent readers, but they may always find some tasks more challenging than their peers do. Students need to be supported in their areas of weakness and celebrated in their areas of strength.

Don’t buy in to quick fixes like vision therapy for dyslexia

Parenting a child whose needs are not being met at school due to a learning disability is incredibly difficult. Parents who aren’t educators or experts in reading get a crash course in the human brain, curriculum and special education law all at once, whether they want it or not.

It’s easy to feel like “nothing is working” when your child is struggling to read. We get tempted by “out-of-the-box” solutions like vision therapy, colored filters, or other non-reading interventions because they make a kind of superficial sense and because there are often glowing testimonials from people who found success when they were struggling, too. 

Make sure that the therapies and interventions you are investing your family’s time and money in are well-regarded and evidence-based. Get multiple opinions from trusted sources, including people both in and out of your child’s school system. Whatever other approaches you try, remember that explicit, systematic reading instruction is the chief recommendation for teaching students with dyslexia. Trading that out for anything else is not worth the risk.

If your child needs structured literacy tutoring, using Orton-Gillingham, to make progress in reading, contact us today to learn how we can help.