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Choosing a Reading Specialist or Reading Tutor

by Matt Lundquist, LMSW, MSEd, New York, NY
When a child struggles in reading, his or her classroom teacher or school support staff is the first to intervene. Yet often the challenge is greater than what the school is able to handle. In these instances, parents can look outside of school for the services of a qualified Reading Specialist or Reading Tutor who can provide the expertise, custom-tailored interventions with the appropriate intensity necessary to help struggling readers succeed.

When are the services of a Reading Specialist or Reading Tutor called for?

Good schools are prepared to support children with a range of learning disabilities and difficulties, including trouble with reading. However, there are times when the school may not be able to help:

  • The school uses a particular approach to reading that is not helpful to your child.
  • The school is overwhelmed with students with reading difficulties (and other learning and/or behavior problems) and simply does not have the available staff or expertise to help your child.
  • The school disagrees about the nature of the problem or diagnosis.
  • The school is slow to respond, allowing the child to risk falling further behind.

What kinds of difficulties do Reading Specialists or Reading Tutors treat?

  • Difficulties with decoding or "sounding out" words
  • Dyslexia
  • Difficulties with reading comprehension (understanding what’s read)
  • Writing problems
  • Difficulties related to learning to read when English is a second language

What is Dyslexia?

While definitions of dyslexia vary, broadly speaking, dyslexia refers to difficulties with decoding, or "sounding out" words. Dyslexia is not the only cause of reading difficulties. Estimates regarding the incidence of dyslexia suggest that approximately 10% of the population is affected.

How can I tell if my child has dyslexia or a related reading disability?

  • Dyslexia is diagnosed by an Educational Psychologist or Neurophysiologist after completing a thorough battery of tests.
  • Common signs of dyslexia occur when children:
    • Are behind their classmates in reading.
    • Have difficulty spelling.
    • Rely heavily on pictures and context to figure out words, rather than sounding them out.
    • Have difficulty "stretching out" or "breaking up" words into smaller pieces.
  • A qualified Reading Specialist or Reading Tutor can informally evaluate a child's reading and determine whether or not further testing is called for.

Reading Disabilities Such as Dyslexia Often Go Undiagnosed. Why?

There are several factors:

  • Many children with dyslexia are also quite smart—and very good at covering up their reading difficulties. After all, no child wants to advertise a reading difficulty.
  • Ineffective interventions can often help in the short term, but mask a difficulty in the long run.
  • Schools don’t often have the resources to treat dyslexia. As a result, they are less likely to diagnose it.

What kind of training should a qualified Reading Specialist or Reading Tutor have?

Most Reading Specialists have a master's degree or a doctorate (PhD, PsyD, EdD) in literacy, learning disabilities or special education. Some educational psychologists also provide Reading Specialist services. A Reading Specialist that is a good fit for your child should also have advanced training in treating the specific kinds of reading difficulties your child is having.

What can I expect to pay for a quality Reading Specialist or Reading Tutor?

A skilled Reading Specialist will likely charge between $75 and $200 per one-hour session. Some may charge more to come to your home, though many of the best Reading Specialists are in high demand and therefore only see students in their offices.

Does health insurance cover all or part of the services of a Reading Specialist or Reading Tutor?

In some instances, if a diagnosis of "reading disability" is given, health insurance may cover part or all of the cost of services.

Does my child need a dyslexia diagnosis or some other diagnosis in order to receive services?

No. Because schools can be hesitant to diagnose dyslexia, and because a formal evaluation can be expensive, parents with children who are clearly struggling in reading can seek out the services of a Reading Specialist or Reading Tutor without such a diagnosis.

What will a Reading Specialist or Reading Tutor do with my child?

A good Reading Specialist will make a quick determination regarding what type of intervention is needed. For children with dyslexia or decoding difficulties, this will most-likely involve an Orton-Gillingham-based program (see below). The Reading Specialist will determine at which level to begin and introduce your child to the various aspects of the program. These typically include:

  • Dictation (practice spelling dictated words)
  • Reading of word, phrase and sentence lists
  • Writing sentences
  • Reading from a leveled reader (a book with engaging stories using only words containing phonetic patterns that the child is familiar with.

What is Orton-Gillingham?

Orton and Gillingham were pioneering psychologists who first diagnosed, studied and developed treatment for dyslexia in the early 20th century. Orton-Gillingham refers to a particular approach to teaching children with dyslexia and reading difficulties related to decoding. There is no "Orton-Gillingham" curriculum, but rather several reading programs based on this methodology. Examples include

The programs differ slightly, but all are research-based and proven highly effective at treating dyslexia and related reading disorders.

Orton-Gillingham approaches are multi-sensory, meaning they use a variety of sensory inputs to help children master language. Additionally, they are "part-to-whole," meaning children are taught individual phonemes (the smallest chunks of language, such as c, th, ea, etc.) and spelling rules one at a time, with lots of opportunity to practice, repetition and review.

How often will my child need to meet with his or her Reading Specialist or Reading Tutor?

Effective intervention requires significant practice and repetition. For many children, this means meeting 2-4 times per week. When scheduling and finances are prohibitive, a Reading Specialist may assign homework requiring practice with a parent or other skilled reader. The more practice your child is able to get, the more quickly he or she will advance.

Where can I look to find a qualified Reading Specialist or Reading Tutor?

The best referrals come from those you know best. Your child’s school's learning specialist, Reading Specialist or special education teacher may have a list of providers their school works with. Other parents whose children have struggled in reading are also an excellent source of first-hand referrals (see for an article on Choosing a Special-needs Learning Specialist).

Additional resources include:

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.See his listing here.

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

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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