Before you invest time and money on what claims to be an effective dyslexia intervention, do your homework.

Before you invest your family’s time and money on what claims to be a quick, easy, and effective dyslexia intervention, be a good consumer and do your homework, starting with this article.

Avoid the Dyslexia Cure Merry-Go-Round and Stick to What Works

Some things bear repeating—I have written about what works and what doesn’t work in intervention for dyslexia before. This month, I thought that a reiteration was in order based on a recent referral we received at my private practice—yet another student who has had to endure and whose family had spent thousands of dollars (literally) on a therapy approach that has no validity; and therefore, not surprisingly, there were no positive outcomes on reading or spelling. The program had absolutely no evidence of the research-based tenets of Structured Literacy. It kind of got my dander up…again.

I know that it is very difficult for parents, especially in the day of flashy websites touting “citation information” and “research articles” to sift through the mire [1] in order to find reputable programs for their children. We previously shared this great piece [2] from Dr. Gregory Lof, Department Chair and professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at MGH Institute of Health Professions, which I felt compelled to highlight again. I especially want to caution parents to be wary of programs that make claims to cure dyslexia or ones that publish their own “research!”

Colored lenses, eye movement exercises, balancing acts, and brain calisthenics do not improve reading or spelling. Explicit, systematic work on making connections between the sounds and syllables in words and the letter and letter combinations that represent those sounds and syllables does. I spell it out (no pun intended) in my article about structured literacy [3]. And, the International Dyslexia Association spelled out what didn’t work [4] in their very informative issue of Perspectives.

I frequently recommend Dr. Sally Shaywitz’s book Overcoming Dyslexia [5] to the parents of clients in my practice and to those of you who write in to me at DyslexiaHelp. Despite its 2005 publication date, Dr. Shaywitz’s information remains current. I recommend that you get a copy (check your public library) and read what she has to say about the pieces of dyslexia intervention. To quote Dr. Shaywitz, the essentials elements of an effective intervention program are

  • “Systematic and direct instruction in;
    • Phonemic awareness—noticing, identifying, and manipulating the sounds of spoken language
    • Phonics—how letters and letter groups represent the sounds of spoken language
    • Sounding out words (decoding)
    • Spelling
    • Reading sight words
    • Vocabulary and concepts
    • Reading comprehension strategies
  • Practice in applying these skills in reading and in writing
  • Fluency training
  • Enriched language experiences listening to, talking about, and telling stories” (p. 262)

Nothing less. And, as Dr. Shaywitz outlines in her book and we state on DyslexiaHelp, to be successful the intervention should begin as soon as dyslexia is identified (the earlier the better, but it is never too late) and be intensive, high-quality, and of a sufficient duration so that the newly learned skills become ingrained. I know it is not easy, but I encourage you to be a good consumer and do your homework before committing to a program for your child. Ask questions. How does the practitioner or program address each of the areas highlighted above by Dr. Shaywitz? And, know that DyslexiaHelp was created thanks to the vision (and financial support) of one man who wants to be sure that you can get reputable answers to your questions. That is my job. I am here to help.

I thank my colleague at 3LI, Dr. Lauren Katz, for her thoughtful review of this piece.