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Dyslexia Therapy

Academic Language Therapy

What is the Orton-Gillingham approach?

The Orton-Gillingham approach is language-based, multisensory, structured, sequential, cumulative, cognitive, and flexible. Its breadth, perspective, and flexibility prompt use of the term approach instead of method.

Language-based. The Orton-Gillingham approach is based on a technique of studying and teaching language, understanding the nature of human language, the mechanisms involved in learning, and the language-learning processes in individuals.

Multisensory. Orton-Gillingham therapy sessions are action oriented with auditory, visual, and kinesthetic elements reinforcing each other for optimal learning. The student learns spelling simultaneously with reading

Structured, Sequential, Cumulative. The Orton-Gillingham therapist introduces the elements of the language systematically. Students begin by reading and writing sounds in isolation. Then they blend the sounds into syllables and words. Students learn the elements of language, e.g., consonants, vowels, digraphs, blends, and diphthongs, in an orderly fashion. They then proceed to advanced structural elements such as syllable types, roots, and affixes. As students learn new material, they continue to review old material to the level of automaticity. The therapist addresses vocabulary, sentence structure, composition, and reading comprehension in a similar structured, sequential, and cumulative manner.

Cognitive. Students learn about the history of the English language and study the many generalizations and rules that govern its structure. They also learn how best they can learn and apply the language knowledge necessary for achieving reading and writing competencies.

Flexible. At best, Orton-Gillingham therapy is diagnostic-prescriptive in nature. Always the therapist seeks to understand how an individual learns and to devise appropriate therapy strategies.

Emotionally Sound. In every lesson, the student experiences a high degree of success and gains confidence as well as skill. Learning becomes a rewarding and happy experience.

Therapy Methods That Work

No Quick Fix


IMPORTANT: There is no quick fix or silver bullet for dyslexia. It can take from 1 to 3 years to get a dyslexic child reading and spelling at grade level, depending upon their level of severity, the frequency of their remediation, and other issues.


Don't Wait.
Get Help Now



Here's what I say:

How do parents know if their child's reading delay is a real problem or simply a "developmental lag?"
How long should parents wait before seeking help in their child is struggling with reading?

Beware of the developmental lag excuse for several reasons.
First, I have listened to parent after parent tell me about feeling there was a problem early on, yet being persuaded to discount their intuition and wait to seek help for their child. Later, when they learned time is of the essence in developing reading skills, the parents regretted the lost months or years.

Second, research shows that the crucial window of opportunity to deliver help is during the first couple of years of school. So if your child is having trouble learning to read, the best approach is to take immediate action. Knowing how soon to act is easy if you know the conclusions of recent research.

Reading researchers say the ideal window of opportunity for addressing reading difficulties is during kindergarten and first grade. The National Institutes of Health state that 95 percent of poor readers can be brought up to grade level if they receive effective help early.

While it is still possible to help an older child with reading, those beyond third grade require much more intensive help.
The longer you wait to get help for a child with reading difficulties, the harder it will be for that child to catch up. If help is given in fourth grade (rather than in late kindergarten), it takes four times as long to improve the same skills by the same amount.

If your child has trouble in the early levels of school, get help immediately! Do not wait to see if the child will grow out of it.

Prevention is always easier than remediation.

Learning differences don't disappear spontaneously.

If you worry that receiving extra help will make your child feel different, forget it. Your child already feels different by virtue of what he can and cannot do.

Can Children With Reading Problems Overcome Their Difficulties?

Yes, but only if they are identified early and provided with systematic, explicit, and intensive instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension strategies.

Early identification, coupled with comprehensive early reading interventions, can reduce the percentage of children reading below the basic level in fourth grade from the current national average of 38% to less than 6%.

Are Certain Early Intervention Approaches More Effective Than Others?

Yes. The National Reading Panel found that intervention programs that provided systematic and explicit instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, repeated reading to improve fluency, and direct instruction in vocabulary and reading comprehension strategies were significantly more effective than approaches that were less explicit.

Will Proper Reading Instruction Reduce the Need for Special Education?

At least 20 million school-age children suffer from reading failure, but only a small fraction of these children receive special education services.

By putting in place well designed, evidence-based early identification screenings and early intervention programs, the number of children suffering from reading failure would be reduced by at least two-thirds.

The Orton Gillingham Multisensory Method


The Orton-Gillingham Multisensory Method was developed in the early 1930's by Anna Gillingham and a group of master teachers. Dr. Samuel Orton assigned Anna's group the task of designing a whole new way of teaching the phonemic structure of our written language to people with dyslexia. The goal was to create a sequential system that builds on itself in an almost 3-dimensional way. It must show how sounds and letters are related and how they act in words; it must also show how to attack a word and break it into smaller pieces. And it must be a multi-sensory approach, as dyslexic people learn best by involving all of their senses: visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic.


The Orton-Gillingham Multisensory Method is different from other reading methods in two ways: what is taught, and how it is taught.

What is taught:

  • Phonemic Awareness is the first step. You must teach someone how to listen to a single word or syllable and break it into individual phonemes. They also have to be able to take individual sounds and blend them into a word, change sounds, delete sounds, and compare sounds -- all in their head. These skills are easiest to learn before someone brings in printed letters.
  • Phoneme/Grapheme Correspondence is the next step. Here you teach which sounds are represented by which letter(s), and how to blend those letters into single-syllable words.
  • The Six Types of Syllables that compose English words are taught next. If students know what type of syllable they're looking at, they'll know what sound the vowel will make. Conversely, when they hear a vowel sound, they'll know how the syllable must be spelled to make that sound.
  • Probabilities and Rules are then taught. The English language provides several ways to spell the same sounds. For example, the sound /SHUN/ can be spelled either TION, SION, or CION. The sound of /J/ at the end of a word can be spelled GE or DGE. Dyslexic students need to be taught these rules and probabilities.
  • Roots and Affixes, as well as Morphology are then taught to expand a student's vocabulary and ability to comprehend (and spell) unfamiliar words. For instance, once a student has been taught that the Latin root TRACT means pull, and a student knows the various Latin affixes, the student can figure out that retract means pull again, contract means pull together, subtract means pull away (or pull under), while tractor means a machine that pulls.


How it is taught

  • Simultaneous Multisensory Instruction: research has shown that dyslexic people who use all of their senses when they learn (visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic) are better able to store and retrieve the information. So a beginning dyslexic student might see the letter A, say its name and sound, and write it in the air -- all at the same time.
  • Intense Instruction with Ample Practice: instruction for dyslexic students must be much more intense, and offer much more practice, than for regular readers.
  • Direct, Explicit Instruction: dyslexic students do not intuit anything about written language. So, you must teach them, directly and explicitly, each and every rule that governs our written words. And you must teach one rule at a time, and practice it until it is stable in both reading and spelling, before introducing a new rule.
  • Systematic and Cumulative: by the time most dyslexic students are identified, they are usually quite confused about our written language. So you must go back to the very beginning and create a solid foundation with no holes. You must teach the logic behind our language by presenting one rule at a time and practicing it until the student can automatically and fluently apply that rule both when reading and spelling. You must continue to weave previously learned rules into current lessons to keep them fresh and solid. The system must make logical sense to our students, from the first lesson through the last one.
  • Synthetic and Analytic: dyslexic students must be taught both how to take the individual letters or sounds and put them together to form a word (synthetic), as well as how to look at a long word and break it into smaller pieces (analytic). Both synthetic and analytic phonics must be taught all the time.
  • Diagnostic Teaching: the teacher must continuously assess their student's understanding of, and ability to apply, the rules. The teacher must ensure the student isn't simply recognizing a pattern and blindly applying it. And when confusion of a previously-taught rule is discovered, it must be retaught.

Research supports the Orton-Gillingham approach


If your child has an I.E.P., this description of a reading program should be on the I.E.P.:

"Independent scientific, replicated research supports the use of a reading and spelling system that is simultaneously multisensory, systematic, and cumulative with direct and explicit instruction in both synthetic and analytic phonics with intense practice."

Yes, you can get methodology onto an I.E.P.


Our Children and reading failure

American children suffer more long-term life-harm from failing to learn to read than from parental abuse, accidents, and all other childhood diseases and disorders combined. In purely economic terms, reading related difficulties cost our nation more than the war on terrorism, crime, and drugs combined.
More than any other subject or skill, our children's futures are determined by how well they learn to read.



How to find a tutor?


 The most important decision a parent must make is hiring the right therapist. Anyone can call themselves a therapist, but not everyone knows how to effectively teach an Orton-Gillingham-based system.

So before you hire anyone, be sure to ask: "Which Orton-Gillingham-based system are you certified in?"

If they don't know what Orton-Gillingham is or means, they are not the right therapist for your child.

If they are not certified, you won't know if they've been properly trained or are using the materials effectively. That's because anyone can buy the materials. But it takes special training to learn how to use them appropriately. Certified means the therapist has gone through special training by the developer of the program, and has passed their rigorous testing process.

 Research has shown that the single most important factor in a student's educational success is the knowledge and skill of his or her teacher, and that fact is even more significant when the student has a disability.

It doesn't matter so much which Orton-Gillingham program they're using as that they are certified.

Successful therapy needs these 5 things:

It is advised parents to seek professional one-on-one therapy for their child outside of the public school system. That's because to bring the reading, writing, and spelling skills of a child with dyslexia up to grade level, you need these 5 things:

1. The right system
(an Orton-Gillingham system)

2. The right therapist or teacher
(someone who is well trained and certified in that Orton-Gillingham system)


3. Instruction at the right intensity level
(at least three times a week, for fifty minutes to an hour each time)

4. The right setting
(one-on-one tutoring is best; one-on-four is maximum)

5. For the right duration.
(until the student's skills are at or beyond grade level)

Most public schools cannot provide those five elements. So parents should either:

1. Send their child to a private school for dyslexic children,

2. Hire a private therapist who is certified in an Orton-Gillingham method,

While a child is receiving one-on-one therapy, he or she will ALSO need classroom accommodations until their skills reach grade level.

Common Classroom Accommodations


While your child is acquiring his/her basic reading, writing, and spelling skills through an Orton-Gillingham Multisensory method, classroom accommodations will be needed.

Here are the most commonly requested classroom accommodations that will allow your child to demonstrate his/her knowledge even though the child is not yet reading, writing, or spelling at grade level:

  • Oral testing
    Tests are read to the student (or provided pre-recorded on audio tape), and student are allowed to give answers orally (or tape record their answers).
  • Untimed tests
    Dyslexic students do not perform well under time pressure. It also takes them longer to read the questions, compose the answer in their head, and get it down on paper.
  • Eliminate or reduce spelling tests
    Classroom teachers rarely teach spelling rules in the same way or same order as a dyslexia tutor. Many teachers will accept a spelling test given in a tutoring session as a replacement for the classroom test, or only grade a classroom spelling test on a small number of pre-determined words.


Don't force oral reading
Teachers should never force students with dyslexia to read out loud in front of the class. If for some reason this is absolutely necessary, warn the student in advance and show them exactly which passage they will have to read so that they can practice ahead of time.

  • Accept dictated homework
    Dyslexic students can dictate answers much more easily and quickly than they can write them down. Allow parents to act as a scribe.
  • Reduce homework load
    Many teachers create homework assignments by estimating how long it would take a "normal" student to complete it. They may not realize it takes a dyslexic student 3 to 4 times longer to complete the same assignment. Teachers should agree to a maximum time to spend on homework. Parents should sign the end of the homework page showing the amount of time spent on the assignment.
  • Grade on content, not spelling nor handwriting
    Some teachers take spelling and handwriting into consideration when assigning a grade. For dyslexic children, this is not appropriate. Teachers should be asked to grade only on the content of an assignment.
  • Reduce copying tasks
    It takes dyslexic students longer to copy information from the board, and if they have dysgraphia, they may not be able to read their notes. So provide lecture notes, or discretely assign a fellow student to act as a scribe using NCR paper.
  • Quick print shops can create NCR sets of binder paper. (NCR paper is sometimes called carbonless copy paper.) The top sheet of binder paper has a coating applied to the back of it that is pressure sensitive. When someone writes on the top sheet, the coating automatically makes a copy appear on the lower sheet of binder paper. So when class is over, the scribe just tears off the lower sheet and gives it to our student.
  • Alternate assignments
    Teachers should offer alternative ways to show mastery of material other than a long written paper. Alternatives could include oral or video presentations, dioramas, collages, or debates.
  • Avoid or reduce essay tests
    Use match up, fill-in-the-blank, or short answer formats for tests. List vocabulary words for fill-in-the-blank sections at the top of the exam.
  • Multiple-choice questions are also difficult for dyslexic students due to the volume of reading required to answer them correctly.
  • Conduct a class review session before the test
    Also, provide a study guide with key terms and concepts to the students.
  • Ask the student how he/she learns best
    Often, dyslexic students can explain strategies and techniques that help them learn to teachers. These are usually easy to incorporate into a classroom.


Technology Tools


Computer technology makes the lives of dyslexic students much less difficult while they are acquiring their basic reading, writing, and spelling skills. Here are some of the most useful technology tools I've found:

  • Naturally Speaking
    Continuous speech recognition software that runs on Windows-based PCs. Software comes with a headset. You just talk, and the software types in what you said, spelled correctly. The hardest part is training the software to recognize your voice. Training requires reading a long passage displayed on the computer screen. (I sit beside my students and whisper the hard words into their ear.) Once trained, the person with dyslexia just talks to the computer in his/her normal voice at a normal speed, and the software types in the words, correctly spelled. It will even read the passage back to you when you're through. Available in most major computer stores. It can also be purchased from the publisher, Scansoft, in Newton, Massachusetts (800-443-7077 or 978-977-2000).
  • Franklin Spelling Ace
    This portable electronic dictionary runs on batteries and is a wonderful tool. You can enter the phonetic approximation of a word, and the closest choices will be displayed, along with a brief definition. Franklin web site. Available at many office supply stores. Suggested retail: $ 29.95.
  • AlphaSmart Pro
    This less-than-two-pound portable, battery-operated, virtually indestructible keyboard with a small display provides an ideal way to take notes in class or at meetings IF you know how to touch type. At home (or back in your office), start your personal computer (Macintosh or Windows-based PC), open your favorite word processor, plug in the AlphaSmart Pro, and watch your typed-in words fly into in the document. This is a lifesaver for people with dysgraphia. For more information, check out
    the AlphaSmart Pro web site.


  • Books on Tape
    Virtually every textbook used in the United States is available on 4-track audio tape through Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic. Books for pleasure and books for literature classes, read by professional actors, can be rented through Recorded Books Rentals. And most states also sponsor a state-funded Books Aloud program through their public libraries. Contact your closest library for details.

    Even after a dyslexic person has learned to read, recorded books are useful, especially in high school and college, where it may prove impossible to read fast enough to keep up with the demands of many different teachers.
  • Type to Learn
    This is an excellent program that teaches both children and adults how to type by touch. It is available from
    Sunburst Software for both Macintosh and Windows-based PCs.
  • Any Word Processor
    It goes without saying that once you can type, your most important technology tool will be any word processor that has a good spell checker.


Watch Out for Snake Oil


There is no magic bullet to quickly fix or cure dyslexia. Your child was born with dyslexia and will die with dyslexia. Orton-Gillingham-based training methods can avoid the reading, writing, and spelling failure so often associated with dyslexia. But these methods take time; anywhere from one to three years.

Watch out for any method or product that costs lots of money and promises 4 to 8 week "cures."

A method is considered a "controversial therapy" if:

  • There is no research to prove that it works.
  • The research has not been independently replicated.
  • The claims of the method or product far exceed the research results.


Copyright 2009. Pamela Lazar. All rights reserved.