Tutoring & OT for Dyslexic Kids

Tutoring and occupational therapy (OT) are two avenues available to help your child outside of school with his or her reading difficulties or other related challenges such as dysgraphia, ADHD, etc.


If your child struggles with reading, we urge you to consult a tutor who specializes in teaching kids with reading difficulties. Even if a child is receiving extra help at school—and especially if there is no extra help in school—working with a great tutor can make a huge difference in your child’s confidence and abilities.

Not sure what you need? Some tutors can evaluate your child to determine if there are problem areas. Sometimes the child is right on track and doesn’t need tutoring at all, but either way it’s very useful information.

What to Expect from Tutoring

First of all, keep in mind that tutoring isn’t a “cure.” Dyslexic kids may always struggle to some degree, but with the help of a specially trained tutor, your child can make great strides toward becoming a self-sufficient learner.

Secondly, as parents we have to understand that tutoring is hard work, especially after a long school day. But it’s well worth the effort when you see your child start to enjoy reading for the first time! So keep up the encouragement.

Finally, tutoring is costly. It might be a struggle to pay for it. But here’s some perspective: what will your child’s future look like if she drops out of school because she can’t read well enough to keep up? It’s a sobering thought.

Types of Reading Instruction for Dyslexic Students

To help parents decide what’s best for their child, here are some different methods of reading instruction that are successful for kids who struggle with reading. A tutor who has a variety of “tools” in his/her toolbox will have the flexibility to tailor the instruction specifically for your child.

  • Orton-Gillingham methodology is a multi-sensory strategy used to strengthen decoding through sound/letter(s) association, spelling rules, and sight word memorization.
  • Lindamood Bell’s LiPS (Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing program) is very similar, but uses the child’s mouth to help develop stronger phonemic skills. It’s about how the mouth feels and moves to identify specific letter sounds.
  • Wilson is another methodology/reading program that has been modified from Orton-Gillingham. This very structured program is easily used in schools. Many tutors use it because of its ease and proven results.
  • Fast ForWord Language (from Scientific Learning) is a computer-based program that develops a student’s memory, attention, and sequencing. It has its own phonemic development built within the program. It also addresses processing, which is something that can be difficult for a tutor to work on alone.
  • Tutors can offer other programs as supplements to learning: Great Leaps, Reading Assistant, Interactive Metronome, and The Listening Program.


How to Choose a Tutor

  • Look for personal referrals. Are any friends currently using a tutor for a child with similar learning issues? Ask them if they’re happy. Check websites that may give support for your child’s struggle (i.e. International Dyslexia Assn., Orton-Gillingham, Autism, Facebook support groups, etc).
  • Ask questions. Interview the tutor. Ask about his/her specialty. Does she/he have training in more than one methodology? How long has she/he been working with children? If she/he is new to tutoring, is the tutor being mentored by someone? If she/he has a website, it may help answer even more questions. The more information you can gather from your tutor, the better the connection.
  • Does your tutor offer assessments? Not all tutors can provide standardized assessments, but they should be able to do some form of monitoring to understand how best to work with your child.  It’s always good to have some form of pre-evaluation so that you’re all on the same page.
  • Establish what you want from your tutor.  Make sure you and the tutor agree on your goals. Do you want your tutor to give homework between sessions?  Some parents can’t handle the additional workload. If that’s you, talk with the tutor or ask for an update via email.
  • Do you understand what your tutor is doing?  Many parents don’t understand the homework sent home or review sheet from the tutor. Make sure you have the chance to review with the tutor. A good tutor will be able to explain the work to you. If she/he cannot communicate with you regarding these simple tasks, then you might want to re-evaluate your choice of tutor.
  • Small group or one-on-one?  If you’re investing in tutoring, make sure your child is getting all he/she needs. Small group learning might be more economical, but in my opinion, one-on-one tutoring is more effective. Your child won’t be comparing himself/herself to the others in the group, and the tutor can match the pace to your child.
  • Does you tutor communicate with your child’s teachers? The goal is for the child is to be successful in the classroom. If the child’s teachers are willing to work with the tutor, this is a great relationship to develop. This lets the parent and tutor know how things are progressing in school.
  • Understand tutoring isn’t always a quick fix. Children who struggle with reading and/or math may have a significant learning challenge. Normal once- or twice-a-week tutoring can span a school year or beyond. Sometimes a tutor can’t specifically state how long tutoring will be required, especially if she/he hasn’t met and/or worked with your child.
  • Does the tutor fit your child’s personality? Tutoring will be much more pleasant for your child if he/she likes the tutor and his/her energy level.
  • Tutoring is an investment. Kids with significant reading difficulties will likely require certified, qualified tutors who are trained in a specific methodology (such as Orton-Gillingham). These tutors have gone through extensive qualifications, and their specialized skills are expensive. Tutoring costs can range from $60 – $120 per hour, so it’s important to interview the tutor and make sure you have a good fit for your child. If you’re simply looking for a homework helper, your school might be able to connect you with a teacher or an older student to mentor in a specific subject at an affordable rate.


Article by Laura M. Smith, M.Ed

Laura has a Masters in Elementary Education and is a certified teacher. She’s trained in the Orton-Gillingham methodology from Kindergarten – Adult. Laura owns Accelerated Learning, Inc. in downtown Decatur, GA where she and her Orton-Gillingham-trained tutors offer one-on-one tutoring. The center also offers other programs specifically targeted to help a child learn. For more info visit www.accellearn.net

Occupational Therapy (OT)

Occupational therapy is helping people who have difficulty performing everyday life activities because of illness, injury, disability, etc. Occupational therapy is concerned with the person’s physical, cognitive, psychosocial, and sensory-perceptual  health, well-being and quality of life.

What Is Occupational Therapy for Kids?

The “occupation” of young children is play (it’s how they learn); for older children, the occupation is school. Some children have disabilities or developmental delays that interfere with their ability to engage in play or learning (or other life activities). An occupational therapist (OT) works with the child to promote independent function in these common areas:

  • Fine- and gross-motor skills (running, jumping, holding a pencil, using scissors)
  • Visual-motor skills: coordination of eyes and motor skills (like copying from the board)
  • Visual-perceptual: making sense of what is seen
  • Sensory processing: the way the brain processes and responds to incoming information through the 7 different senses (visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, proprioceptive and vestibular)
  • Coordination: the ability to perform graded motor movements in time
  • Motor-planning/praxis: the ability of the brain to conceive, organize, and carry out a sequence of unfamiliar actions
  • Executive functioning skills: higher-order thinking skills including planning and organizing (both of thoughts and materials), and includes cognitive sequencing, inhibitory (impulse) control, mental shifting, initiation, and emotional control (frustration tolerance).


Private vs. School-Based Occupational Therapy

In private practice, the goal of occupational therapy is for the child to learn to function as independently as possible. An occupational therapist uses standardized testing to determine the child’s ability, then designs an OT program with the goal of bringing the child’s performance up to match the level of his/her abilities.

The role of the OT in a school is more limited. A common role for an OT in the school setting is to develop “accommodation and adaptation” of school tasks.

Accommodations are strategies that allow a task to be performed as designed. Example: a child who struggles with writing might have a letter strip on his desk so he can refer to the correct formation of letters.

Adaptations are changes to the task itself, so that the person can perform it more independently.  Example: have the child type or dictate a paragraph instead of writing it by hand.

OTs perform services in schools based on federal guidelines (IDEA and FAPE) that require schools to provide an appropriate education and access to learning for every child. To receive OT services in school the child must have an IEP. The child’s delay or disability must be directly related to his performance on one of his IEP goals. The therapist’s work with the child will focus specifically on achieving the IEP goal(s); once the goals are met, OT services are no longer provided, even if the student is still functioning below his developmental ability. This is different from OT in a private setting, where the goal is for the performance to match the ability.

How Can OT Help Kids with Dyslexia?

OTs can help with numerous symptoms of dyslexia or symptoms that often aggravate dyslexia, including ADHD, dysgraphia, and dyspraxia, all of which can occur in conjunction with dyslexia.

  • High in IQ, tests well orally, but not in writing. (possible dysgraphia)
  • Trouble with writing or copying; unusual pencil grip; inconsistent or illegible handwriting. (possible issues with fine motor, dysgraphia, visual processing)
  • Uses fingers for counting and other tricks; knows answers, but can’t do it on paper. (possible dysgraphia)
  • Difficulty sustaining attention; seems “hyper” or “daydreamer”; gets lost easily or loses track of time. (possible ADD, ADHD)
  • Confused by letters, numbers, words, sequences. (possible visual perception issues)
  • Writing shows repetitions, additions, transpositions, omissions, substitutions, and reversals in letters, numbers and/or words. (possible issues with visual perception and sequencing)
  • Complains of feeling or seeing non-existent movement while reading, writing, or copying. (possible visual perception issues)
  • Seems to have difficulty with vision, yet eye exams don’t reveal a problem; lacks depth perception and peripheral vision. (possible visual perception issues)
  • Has extended hearing; hears things not said or apparent to others; easily distracted by sounds. (possible auditory processing issues)
  • Difficulty putting thoughts into words. (possible dysgraphia)
  • Clumsy, uncoordinated, poor at ball or team sports; difficulties with fine and/or gross motor skills and tasks; prone to motion-sickness. (possible issues with motor coordination, visual processing, vestibular processing, motor planning)
  • Can be ambidextrous, and often confuses left/right, over/under. (possible issues with visual processing, vestibular processing, proprioceptiove processing)
  • Poor memory for sequences; difficulty learning sequenced information or tasks, or being on time. (possible sequencing issues)
  • Extremely disorderly or compulsively orderly. (possible issues wiht organization, sequencing, executive functioning)
  • Had unusually early or late developmental stages (talking, crawling, walking, tying shoes). (possible developmental delay)
  • Unusually high or low tolerance for pain. (possible issues with sensory processing)
  • Mistakes and symptoms increase dramatically with confusion, time pressure, emotional stress, or poor health. (possible issues with executive functioning (multi-tasking), organization)


OT Information provided by Angelika Brocklehurst OTR/L

Originally from South Africa, Angelika began work as a contract occupational therapist in City Schools of Decatur in 2007. The same year, she started her private practice, Achievement Therapies LLC, which specializes in working with children with learning difficulties. She continues to work as an OT for CSD and maintains her private practice as well.