Learning disabilities

 assessment, diagnosis, evaluations, testing     Internet Special Education Resources

Special Education & Learning Disabilities Resources: A Nationwide Directory

Choosing a Tutor, Learning Specialist or Learning Therapist

Matthew Lundquist, LMSW, MSEd, New York, NY

Selecting a tutor or learning specialist is an important process. Finding the right match involves a thoughtful search. What follows is a step-by-step guide to help you through that process.

What kind of learning support does my child need?

Learning-support services and providers to children and adults range from homework helpers and tutors, to learning and reading specialists, and educational and learning therapists.

Generally speaking, a homework helper is a high school or college student who comes to your home or meets your child at a local library or coffee shop and assists with homework. A tutor is often a college student or teacher who works part-time helping students in a particular subject matter or with executive-functioning skills such as organization or time management. For the most part, tutors and homework helpers do not have specialized expertise in working with children and adults with learning disabilities. While they may be helpful to an average student in catching up or grasping challenging subject matter, serious assistance for children struggling with learning difficulties requires the services of a reading or learning specialist.

Educational or learning therapists are experts at helping children with both the cognitive and emotional issues related to learning. They may be your best bet if your child is experiencing emotional difficulties related to schoolwork. These individuals, along with ADHD coaches, can also help children with ADD/ADHD maximize their learning given their additional difficulties. These professionals most often hold advanced degrees in special education, literacy, reading, psychology or social work, and have extensive experience working with special-needs learners. While tutors and homework helpers often charge between $10 and $60 an hour (those tutoring in subject areas such as math and science may charge more), qualified learning specialists may charge between $75 and $200 an hour, depending on their qualifications and the marketplace in your area. For fees such as these, you should expect top-notch services from highly qualified individuals.

Selecting the right professional for your child

  • Word of mouth can provide the best referrals.
  • Talk to your child's teacher or the learning specialist or guidance counselor at his or her school to find out if they maintain a list of learning specialists who work with children with similar difficulties to your child's.
  • Speak with other parents to find out what resources they are familiar with. Be clear about what you're looking for. If you child is having difficulty with reading or writing, you're probably looking for a reading specialist. For difficulties in math or other subjects, you'll want to find a learning specialist with experience in those areas.

Contact candidates by phone
Include several individuals in your search. Once you have found the names of qualified individuals in your area, contact several of them by phone. Unless they are out of town, expect a call back within a day or so. If they take longer to respond, you should wonder how quickly they'd return your calls once your child starts working with them.

Questions to ask

  1. Ask whether the learning specialist will come to your home or if you will have to visit them at their office. Often the most qualified specialists in your area will only see students at their offices. While this may be less convenient, the change of environment may make the work more successful. You should also anticipate that he most sought-after, qualified specialists are too busy to travel to and from their client's homes.
  2. Ask learning specialists about their qualifications, such as where they were trained, how many years they've been working with children with learning difficulties, and what types of special programs they use.
  3. Ask about the ages of children, types of learning or other disabilities the learning specialist works with. How many students have they worked with who have similar issues as your child? Some specialists are great with younger children but less experienced with high school students and more advanced subject matter.
  4. When discussing fees, be sure to ask the typical length of a session and the number of sessions per week generally needed for a child with difficulties such as your child's. Is the learning specialist available to answer questions over the phone between sessions and will those sessions be charged for? Further, find out whether they are available to attend school meetings and IEP conferences, and what additional charges may be required for those meetings. While the services of a good learning specialist are costly, some work on a "sliding scale" fee structure, meaning that they are willing to provide services at a lower fee for families who are less able to pay the full fee.
Select at least two or three individuals to visit for your search. It is fine to let prospective learning specialists know that you are impressed with their credentials, but are "shopping around" to find the best fit for your child. Knowing that they are "auditioning" for the role as your child's learning specialist should prompt them to present their best side.

Many children with learning difficulties have some reluctance to working with a learning specialist. Often they have been stigmatized by classmates, or experience low-self esteem and a high level of frustration around the work. Motivating children to learn is an important part of the job of a skilled learning specialist. Therefore, in addition to inquiring about curriculum and credentials, ask a potential specialist what methods they use to encourage children to learn. With younger children, some learning specialists rely on a reward system with stickers or prizes for consistently good work. While this can be an effective tool, be wary of specialists who rely too heavily on a behavioral system. Ultimately, the goal of the sessions is not only to help children learn, but to help them feel good about the success they are having and make them eager to go further. Ideally, a learning specialist should be easy to talk to, and excited and optimistic about the work. A learning specialist with qualities such as these will ultimately help your child produce his or her best work in the long run.

Look for evidence that the specialist you choose will help your child with the emotional aspects of learning. In the initial session, take note of how they interact with your child.

  • Do they speak at a level that is neither too advanced nor overly simplistic for your child?
  • Do they use humor to help your child feel comfortable?
  • Consider bringing a challenging homework problem or writing sample to the initial session and ask the specialist to spend a few minutes to help your child with the material. This will give you and your child the opportunity to see the specialist in action.
  • Before making a decision, ask your child if they would feel comfortable working closely with the specialist for some time. While your child may not be thrilled about the idea of committing to extra work, trust their instincts about whom they think they can work with.
Ask for references
Ask for at least two references for parents of children with similar difficulties as your child. Generally, other parents who are willing to provide a reference for a learning specialist are enthusiastic about that specialist's work and are willing to help other parents with their search for the right match. How long have they been working with the learning specialist? What difficulties have been addressed in the sessions? What results have you, your child, and your child's teacher noticed? While success can be measured in a variety of ways, students should see quantifiable results within a few months of working with a skilled learning specialist. Asking parents questions such as, "How many months (or years) of improvement did you son or daughter experience?" or "Has your child's teacher commented on any improvements."

It is also valuable to ask other parents what their child says about the sessions. While many children experience some reluctance to spending the time and doing the extra work involved, with time the improvements they experience should result in a generally positive attitude about the work. If a parent comments that his or her child is resistant to attending sessions after more than a few months of work, it could be that the specialist is less skilled at making the work accessible and enjoyable, which hampers students' motivation.

Getting started
Once you've selected a learning specialist, you'll want to make sure your child gets the most out of the experience. While learning specialists may find it valuable to look at the assignments your child's teacher is assigning, the sessions will generally not be used to complete homework. Instead, the learning specialist will develop a program to remediate a specific learning difficulty or delay. In fact, a learning specialist will often assign homework themselves, some of which may require assistance from you. Don't hesitate to ask for guidance with this work. Additionally, keep the learning specialist posted on any feedback you receive from your child's teacher. The learning specialist may even want to call or meet with the teacher to help construct the best possible program. As with all of aspects of their education, sessions with a learning specialist will work best when your child commits to the hard work of growing and developing as a learner.

Matt Lundquist, LMSW, MSEd., is a reading and learning specialist and learning therapist in private practice. He specializes in working with children and adults with learning and developmental disabilities, and ADHD.

291 Broadway, Suite 801
New York, NY 10007
Tel: 212-571-5799



Learning disabilities

 assessment, diagnosis, evaluations, testing    

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help people find the right help for their special needs children and teens. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, type of special education professional, specific special education professional, or educational methods.

ISER Home | First Steps | Planning | Navigating | Tips and Ideas
LD assessment | ADHD assessment
educational alternatives | learning centers | therapy | advocacy
list with www.iser.com