Q&A's on finding the right professional
(adapted from the International Dyslexia Association)
Many parents are unable to find effective instruction to meet the educational needs of their children. This situation is especially true for reading instruction. That is, most public school teachers are not trained in the scientifically based approaches that are effective for a child with dyslexia.
The following guidelines will help you know what to ask and how to find and evaluate an educational professional independent of the school. This is especially necessary if you feel that your child is not receiving adequate instructional services from a qualified teacher within the school.
Evaluating the qualifications and track records of service providers is difficult but necessary. When hiring a professional for structured literacy intervention, it is recommended that you ensure the provider has training and experience specifically in structured literacy and working with students with dyslexia.
Use IDA’s Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading and IDA’s Fact Sheet, Effective Reading Instruction, to prepare your questions.
Determine if the instructor is trained and experienced in the use of Structured Literacy, Orton-Gillingham or other programs consistent with IDA’s Knowledge and Practice Standards. Request references from professionals, parents, and former students, if appropriate.
Check out IDA's Fact Sheet: When Educational Promises Are Too Good to Be True
- Certification by a training course aligned with IDA Knowledge and Practice Standards, including IDA certification.
- Certification by an accredited multisensory structured language training course.
- Documentation of levels of training completed within the training course.
- Year and location of the training course and contact information for references from the director, institute, academy, or clinic .
- Involvement in ongoing, related professional development (attending workshops and conferences, serving on boards or committees, speaking at conferences, conducting workshops, etc.)
Take time to decide if the professional you are considering is a good match for you and your child. Specialized instruction is expensive, and your child will be investing time and faith in the person selected. Regardless of titles, degrees, or credentials presented, you must feel that you can establish rapport and a good working relationship with the professional who will be working with your child. Young professionals working under the supervision of a master teacher or experienced therapist often provide excellent services. The needs of very young children and the needs of adolescents and adults are different, and professionals often prefer to work with a particular age group.
Meet and interview the prospective specialist to determine if he or she has a personal style that is comfortable for you and teaching expertise that is appropriate to your child’s learning needs. Students with a language-based learning disability, such as dyslexia, need consistent practice and repetition to master skills and learn to use skills functionally. Every lesson should consist of explicit, systematic instruction and targeted guided practice.
Use the following questions to keep the meeting focused and productive:
- What services do you provide?
- What is the depth of your experience and training, including content knowledge and supervised practicum?
- How do you establish measurable goals for your students?
- What instructional strategies and programs do you use to plan and deliver instruction?
How long a student will need specialized instruction depends on the severity of the problem and the frequency and length of the sessions. At a minimum, one-hour sessions should occur two times per week; optimally, four or even five sessions should be scheduled per week—for up to two hours. Instruction should continue until the student is functioning at a level of independence commensurate with age and cognitive ability. This could take two to three years or more. To master skills and apply them independently, students with a language-based learning disability, including dyslexia, need explicit instruction and consistent practice and repetition with teacher guidance—not only with development of skills but with application of these skills at higher and higher levels of functional use.
Teaching reading and other written language skills to students with dyslexia and related disorders is not a quick fix. It is hard work, and sometimes students complain about how difficult it is. At the same time, however, the students themselves are the best judges of the effectiveness of the program. Students quickly become aware that the systematic strategies they are learning allow them to identify or spell words they could not previously read or spell. They recognize their newly-learned ability to “figure out” what they could only guess previously. Although progress is often slow at the beginning, it will give them hope and motivate them to do their best and to keep trying. Significant progress becomes evident when appropriate instruction is delivered with fidelity, meaning with close adherence to the instructional guidelines of a particular Structured Literacy program, and when the instruction occurs with the necessary intensity (length and frequency of sessions; individual and small group instruction) and duration (how long instruction occurs over the months and years to come). Appropriate instruction for students with dyslexia and related language disorders is a process, not a product. For the student with dyslexia, it can be an important initial step toward a lifetime of learning.
Most educational professionals schedule routine periodic conferences to discuss student progress, to share student work samples and test results, and to plan for future instruction.
The school and the classroom teacher should be kept informed about the outside program of instruction. It is useful for the school to have access to the written evaluation report that includes the diagnosis of the language-based learning disability, the child’s patterns of learning strengths and weaknesses, and recommendations for remediation, accommodations, and use of compensatory strategies. Sometimes, with parent permission, the specialist will be invited to attend parent-teacher conferences or Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings to discuss the best options for teaching and supporting the child in the classroom.
For instruction to be effective, it must occur when the student is alert. Each family needs to make decisions based on the individual student and the availability of the educational professional. Some professionals schedule students early in the morning before school; others schedule sessions after school. Sometimes it is possible to schedule sessions during the school day.
Most specialists conduct their sessions at their office or clinic. Some individuals may travel to the home of the student; there is often an extra fee for this. Sometimes, schools will provide a consistent and appropriate setting for teaching sessions to occur during the school day at school.
Fees of individual professionals vary by location and depend upon the qualifications and expertise of the professional. Ask to discuss fees —if the professional has not provided this information. It is your responsibility to ask about policies and fees in advance of hiring a professional.
Some professionals charge for all missed sessions. Some offer times for scheduling make-up sessions. Some charge for cancellations with less than 24 hours notice. Inquire about these policies before instruction begins.
Sometimes professionals charge an additional fee for instructional materials. Many do not, but it is best to ask.
You will need to ask each individual professional about fees for meetings and phone calls. Some charge for phone calls and some do not. Most charge a fee for school meetings and conferences in addition to scheduled sessions with the child.
Some professionals require monthly payments in advance. Others request payment at each session. Ask for information on fees and policies if the professional has not provided this information.
- International Dyslexia Association (2010). Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading.
- Moats, L.C. (1999). Teaching Reading IS Rocket Science: What Expert Teachers of Reading Should Know and Be Able To Do. (Item #372) Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers. Spear-Swerling, L. (Fall, 2010).
- IDA’s Knowledge and Practice Standards and Teacher Preparation. Perspectives, 36 (4): 7-9. Source: International Dyslexia Association. 2015. "Evaluating Professionals" fact sheet.