Dyslexia Tutoring Guide: 10 common questions answered

Updated: May 28, 2020

So, your child has received the dyslexia diagnosis, or you’ve been suspecting dyslexia for a while. If you are anything like many of the parents we talk to who are new to dyslexia, you likely have a hundred questions swarming through your brain, are totally overwhelmed by everything there is to know (and everything you don’t know), and may be close to a breakdown.

Take a deep breath and remember: you are an incredible parent with an incredible child and everything is simply going to be okay.

Today we are going to tackle one big topic for you and hopefully answer some of your most pressing questions about the subject of tutoring for your dyslexic child.

If you have been thinking about hiring a tutor for your child there are a lot of things to consider, and sometimes the process can be a little confusing and complicated. Finding the right help for your child is so important and can make a huge difference in their life, and we want to help you in this process regardless of the tutor you ultimately go with.

So, before we dive in, I’d like to share our philosophy and the approach we take when working on reading and spelling with children who have dyslexia.

Our approach is simple. The primary goal is for your child to gain the tools he or she needs in order to be able to confidently read when needed because reading is essential in life.

We named this company “Fearless Readers” because we want the children we serve to stop being afraid of reading and start having confidence in themselves and their abilities, even if reading never becomes a piece of cake for them.

If your child ends up loving books, that’s fantastic! If they don’t, that’s fantastic! We want to make sure they have the ability to read when they need to, and then help them explore other avenues to learning where they can be successful. Just remember not loving to read is not the same as not loving to learn. Your child can dislike reading and be an exceptional student who is hungry for knowledge.

Now that we have some solid expectations, let’s address some of your questions.

1. Do I need to get tutoring?

Yes, we do believe your child would benefit from receiving additional reading instruction. If no intervention is done in or outside of school, reading will almost definitely become a nightmare for your child because it will never be taught in a way that makes sense to him. In most cases, when reading is taught in schools there is a lot of information that isn’t explicitly addressed and the sequence of teachings can be a little all over the place. Children who aren’t dyslexic are often able to fill in the gaps themselves and figure it out with enough practice. But if your child is dyslexic, they will not be able to just figure it out like the rest of the kids. English is already an incredibly complex language filled with rules and exceptions to almost every rule. Not getting them help would be like putting your 3rd grader in an advanced calculus class and hoping they eventually “get it”. Not gonna happen.

2. Is it too late to start tutoring?

No! It’s never too late to start tutoring. Sure, if your child is just getting diagnosed at 16 you will have way more ground to cover, and it will take much longer to close the gap. But that intervention can still radically change their life. Regardless of how old your child is, I would highly recommend finding a good program and getting her started right away. To put this in perspective, there have been adults well into their 60’s who just discovered they were dyslexic and wanted to try to learn to read again. Once enrolled in adult literacy programs - they were successful!

3. What kind of "tutoring" do I need?

This is so important. I am not talking about general after school tutoring with someone who says they specialize in every subject under the sun and is going to help your child with their homework and dabble in reading here and there. To be fair, there are some really awesome tutors like this out there who can make a big difference in the lives of their students. But this is not the type of tutoring that will benefit your dyslexic child right now. Their difficulties in reading and spelling are what is making school so incredibly hard for them right now. If they are going to spend time after school with a tutor, reading and spelling need to be the focus of their time together. If their tutor is spending time helping them with homework, this might seem helpful in the short term, but the reality is they are not learning the skills they need to be independent and will likely never outgrow the need for a tutor. The kind of tutor you need is one whose sole focus is on reading and spelling, and strictly adhering to an Orton-Gillingham program.

You may have noticed the quotation marks we put around the word "tutoring" above. We put those there because we actually don't refer to our sessions at Fearless Readers as "tutoring," but rather "intervention." This is because we think there is a big difference between these two terms. What your child will receive from us falls within the scope of intervention more so than tutoring. People who benefit from tutoring are people who just needed a little extra help and some more one-on-one time. If you have already tried that and it didn't work, your child doesn't need more tutoring. They need intervention from a specially trained professional who understands the dyslexic mind. We will be referring to this as intervention from here on out.

4. How long will they need an intervention program?

The answer to this question will vary from student to student. Like I mentioned earlier, this isn’t the same as hiring a biology tutor to help you through a biology class, and then you don’t need a tutor once the class is over. This is a long-term investment. At Fearless Readers, we use the Barton Reading and Spelling system and to take a child through the entire program would take anywhere between 1.5 - 3 years on average. You have to remember that most programs are going to start rebuilding your child’s skills from the ground up, and this takes time.

5. When should I be able to see results?

This question also varies. This can be understandably frustrating for parents because you are investing your time and money into this and you are eager to see this pay off. In my experience, the speed of results often depends on age. Generally, a 6 year old will take far less time to close the gap and catch up to where they should be. On the other hand, a 17 year old is going to take some time because there is so much more ground to cover.

This answer also depends on how you define “results” and what your expectations of success are. For this reason, I always love to spend some time with parents at the beginning of our first session to talk this over with them and set some realistic and achievable goals. For example, “be able to read on his own” may not be a good goal to set for the short term. You’ll get there, but if that’s how you measure success it is going to take a long time to achieve this goal and you will inevitably get frustrated. Instead, I like to measure success in the short term by things like improved self-confidence, improved ability to recognize letters and their sounds, and improved ability to accurately blend sounds together in words. These goals will also vary from student to student depending on factors like age.

It is important that you give the program and the interventionist an adequate chance to take root and begin working, but at the same time if 6 months have gone by and you have absolutely nothing to show for it, that might not be a good sign. Communication with your interventionist is key. Ask her/him to schedule a time so you can talk about progress - chances are more progress has been made than you may be aware of, but if not you will know after that meeting.

6. How do I find an intervention program?

We offer online intervention at Fearless Readers, and would love to work with you! However, there are many interventionists to choose from. Finding a good interventionist for your child can be tough. There are various tutor boards online with individuals saying they work with children with dyslexia, but the majority of them aren’t actually certified or aren’t using a specific Orton-Gillingham program, so be careful there.

You will likely have to do a lot of research online, but here are a few good places to start with. First, if your child goes to public or private school, reach out to the dyslexia specialist there if they have one. Your school may already have a program and a interventionist they use and this could be a good option. If they don’t have a program, or you don’t want to use it, reach out anyway as they may have some good contacts for you to connect with.

Second, you may start by doing research on which program to use. As mentioned earlier, we use the Barton Reading and Spelling System, and while we believe it is the best (due to the amazing transformations we have witnessed), there are several other Orton-Gillingham based programs to choose from. Do some research and find a program you think is a good fit, and then ask the program developers for a list of certified instructors for that program. If they have a list, you can find out who in your area offers it.

Finally, tell everyone you are looking for one! There are lots of helpful mom and school groups on Facebook and other social media platforms you can join. I’d recommend posting in those groups and on your own page that you need one and you will likely get many referrals.

7. What should I ask my Interventionist?

Once you find an interventionist, I highly recommend you and your child meet with them in person (or on a video call if it is online) to make sure they are a good fit before you actually make or sign an agreement with them. They may have all the right credentials and qualifications, but you and your child will be working closely with this person and it is imperative that you both like them and fit with their personality.

Don't feel badly if you find out they aren’t a good fit for your child’s learning style. You could have 5 different interventionists all using the same program, but each one might approach the way they structure their sessions and interact with your child in a completely different way.

After you’ve decided they are a good fit, here are some questions you might want to ask them:

  • Do you specialize in working with children with dyslexia and do you use an Orton-Gillingham program? (if the answer to either question is no, then you should keep looking)

  • Will you be giving my child homework?

  • How involved will I be in this process?

  • How many sessions per week will they need to attend?

  • What kind of results should I expect to see?

These are the top questions I would ask an interventionist, but if you have more you should certainly ask. This is a big investment and it's best you get all your questions answered up front.

8. What if my child resists intervention?

This is why it is so important to make sure the interventionist you hire is a good personality fit for your child. In all honesty, your child may not love their intervention sessions. This isn’t shocking because they are working on the one thing they likely hate most: reading and spelling. However, they shouldn’t completely dread their sessions either. It is important your interventionist find ways to make the sessions fun. If your child is complaining and resisting sessions, the first thing you should do is listen to them. See if you can find out exactly why they hate it so much. Then, talk to your interventionist about their feelings. You may be able to work together to find a way to make it more fun.

Next, take a step back and put yourself in your child’s shoes. Is their schedule jam packed? Are they receiving intervention at school and then again after school? Do they have any down time to just relax and be a kid? It’s possible they just have too much going on and need to take a break or reduce other activities they are involved in.

9. How often do they need to attend sessions?

I like to compare dyslexia intervention to going to the gym. If you go to the gym once a week, do you think 6 months from now you’ll look at yourself and see dramatic results? Probably not. Ideally, you will go to the gym at least 3 times a week for an hour each time. If you are consistent, 6 months from now you may be amazed at how much you have accomplished.

The Barton Reading and Spelling System requires a minimum of 2 hours/days a week because anything less than that won't be enough to be effective. Intervention for your child should be intensive because the goal is to close the gap between where they are and where they should be, not maintain it.

10. Should I do 2 intervention programs?

I have worked with children in the past who are doing one intervention program in school and one after school with me. Usually the thinking behind this decision is “more is better,” but this isn’t necessarily true.

Every program is going to have different names for spelling rules, different processes, and different sequences in which concepts are taught. It’s hard enough for a student to keep track of and master everything they are learning in one program, let alone two. They will more than likely become confused and frustrated.

Not to mention, at this stage reading is still very stressful for them. If they are at school struggling all day and also being pulled out for further reading instruction, by the time they get to me after school they are so burnt out and frustrated it’s hard for us to make a lot of progress together.

Two is not necessarily better than one. Spend time researching programs and interventionists and if you find one you like, stick with it. If you would rather your child work with a private interventionist than continue their program at school, talk to the school and ask them to stop their school reading program since they are working with someone privately.

Finding the right program can be a daunting process, but once you find a good one it can make a huge difference in your child’s life. These are the top ten most common questions parents ask about finding a dyslexia interventionist, but this isn’t all of them. Got more questions? Ask us! We provide online intervention using a great program, but we also love to serve as a resource and guide parents in the right direction.

Leave a comment with your question, send us an email (FearlessReadersInfo@gmail.com), or give us a call (210-577-8883) and we will be happy to help!

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