Orton-Gillingham and Dyslexia

cropped-new_website_header_11This blog has covered many aspects of dyslexia so far. I have discussed what it is like to live with dyslexia, different ways to cope with organizational aspects of having a learning disability, the importance of empowering your child with dyslexia and many other different angles. But what about timely intervention?

If your child has been formally diagnosed with a reading disorder, or dyslexia (a term not often used in psychological reports), you may have done some research. Most likely you have found that, among the many ways to assist children in tackling their challenges in reading, the Orton-Gillingham method is one of the most effective, research-based programs to remediate for reading disorders. Often, psychological reports may recommend Orton-Gillingham programs or private tutors in order to help children with dyslexia develop effective strategies in their reading and writing.

I have had the recent privilege of becoming the Centre Director for Windsor’s Scottish Rite Learning Centre at the Masonic Temple. The Centre is funded by The Scottish Rite Charitable Foundation of Canada Learning Centres for Children and their mission statement is as follows:

“to provide quality, state of the art, free remedial tutoring to children with difficulties in reading, writing, and scholastic skills formally identified as dyslexia.”

The Scottish Rite Charitable Foundation uses the definition of dyslexia from the International Dyslexia Association. Their definition is as follows:

“Dyslexia is a neurologically-based, often familial, disorder which interferes with the acquisition of language. Varying in degree of severity, it is manifested by difficulties in receptive and expressive language, including the system of processing sounds in language (phonology) in reading, writing, spelling, handwriting and sometimes in arithmetic. Emotional disturbances and behavioural difficulties are often secondary results. Dyslexia is not a result of lack of motivation, sensory impairment, inadequate instructional or environmental opportunities, or other limiting conditions, but may occur together with these conditions. Although dyslexia is lifelong, individuals with dyslexia frequently respond successfully to timely and appropriate remediation.”

At the Learning Centre, we receive many referrals for children whose parents wish for them to attend, and with good reason! The Orton-Gillingham tutoring we provide has been proven to be very successful in the remediation of dyslexia.

It is so true that many components of the Orton-Gilllingham program would assist any child whose struggles with reading! However, the Scottish Rite Charitable Foundation Learning Centre has specifications in order for a child to qualify for the free tutoring program.dyslexia-conclusion

I would like to share some more information about the specifics of the Learning Centre.

Is there any cost for the tutoring at the Scottish Rite Learning Centre?

No. The program is absolutely free for children that meet the qualifications.

Who does qualify for tutoring?

Children that are formally identified as having a reading disorder, or dyslexia are candidates for the Learning Centre. This means the child has had a psychological assessment (administered by a psychologist either privately or by a School Board) that formally diagnoses them with a learning disability in reading. However, this is not the only criteria. Children must also fit the profile of being ‘dyslexic’ in order to benefit from the program. Children with dyslexia demonstrate intelligence within the average range and have only specific difficulties in reading. Students dealing with other challenges (i.e. multiple disabilities, intellectual disabilities, etc.) would not necessarily get the benefit of our program. All applications are looked at on an individual basis to determine eligibility and all students at our Centre are on a trial basis, as not all students are as receptive to the program.

What if my child has not had a psychological report, but has difficulty reading?

The Learning Centre requires formal diagnosis through a psychological report in order to be considered for the program. Psychological assessments can be obtained privately. They tend to be expensive but sometimes ar covered by benefit/health plans. If a student struggles at school, they may obtain an assessment through the school board, especially if they are significantly behind their grade level.

Although the tutoring would be beneficial in teaching many children how to read, the Learning Centre has a long waiting list of students that are formally diagnosed and meet the requirements of the program. There are many tutors that provide our services privately for a fee.


How long is the program? What is the time commitment?

The length of time that it takes to provide tutoring depends on the child. However, the average length of time to complete the entire program is approximately two to two and half years.

Tutoring is twice weekly, for an hour each session. As this is an intensive and very expensive program to run, it is expected that the child is there for every session. Other commitments (e.g. sports, music lessons, etc.) are expected to be secondary to your child learning how to read and write. Therefore, frequent cancellations due to these reasons (and others) would likely cause a student to be suspended from tutoring sessions. Commitment is essential to The Learning Centre.


What are the tutors’ qualifications?

The Scottish Rite Charitable Foundation provides certification for our tutors. Tutors apply to the program with proof of post-secondary education, a resume, and must provide police clearance. A Bachelor of Education is preferable, but not necessary for training. Tutors must also have a good command of the English language in order to qualify. Training for Orton-Gillingham certification requires 45 hours of instruction, many required readings (with subsequent reports/reflections on the readings), quizzes and a final exam. Additionally, each tutor must do a 100-hour practicum tutoring students in this methodology, with at least 8 of these hours being observed by the tutor trainer to determine effectiveness.

Training can be obtained through the Learning Centre free of charge to those qualified and interested in the time commitment. It is a requirement that the practicum is done at the Centre with our children.

What is the time commitment for Tutor Certification?

Full certification takes approximately two to two and a half years to obtain. Each tutor begins tutoring one student for an hour, twice weekly. When they are ready, tutors take on a second student bringing the time commitment up to two hours, twice weekly. We highly value our tutors and the commitment they put in to tutor our students.

Do tutors get paid?

No. The tutors that work at the Learning Centre volunteer their time. The practicum allows them to gain the necessary experience to obtain certification through the Scottish Rite Charitable Foundation. However, certified tutors may take on students privately, but do not work through the Learning Centre.

How can I learn more about getting tutor certification through the Scottish Rite Charitable Foundation?

To get further details about the qualifications and commitment of being a certified Orton-Gillingham tutor, or to obtain more information on tutoring your child. Please contact:

windsorbear - colourTammy Groulx (formerly Wilcox)

The Windsor Scottish Rite Learning Centre

986 Ouellette Ave.

Windsor, ON



Tech Kids

This weekend 48 teams participated in the largest robot competition in Canada: the Windsor-Essex Great Lakes Regional.  Teams came from across Ontario, Michigan, New York and California to compete at the University of Windsor.  My spouse took my son to partake in the events Saturday morning and he came home with an amazing amount of energy.  He was so excited that he decided to build the robot he received last year for his birthday.  He has been working on it all weekend to my amazement.


Watching my son’s enthusiasm got me to thinking about other kids and how to get them excited about technology.  As a former engineer and now a teacher that works with students with learning disabilities and ADHD, I wondered how students with disabilities can participate in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) activities with success.

Based on the research, individuals with disabilities are underrepresented in STEM careers despite advances in adaptive technology. According to the National Science Foundation, individuals with disabilities are employed in only 5–6% of the U.S. STEM jobs. 1

Too many students are told that STEM is too hard or that they aren’t smart enough. STEM can be difficult, but with appropriate support and mentoring, students with learning disabilities can be successful.  Some studies show that the use of “advance organizers” such as study guides, charts, and graphic displays is helpful to reinforce vital concepts for students with learning disabilities.  Another strategy that is rooted in UDL is to provide an introduction of vocabulary and key terms at the beginning of each lesson.  The use of prompts, organizational cues, bridging phrases (i.e. “an important point to remember”), and real-life examples helps to show important concepts.

Many students with learning difficulties have below average reading skills.  The layout of science textbooks makes it more difficult for these students to read and understand the text which they are reading.  Teachers can help by identifying important items in the text and clarify anything that may be confusing.  Teachers can also consider providing chapter notes. Providing visual aids and class transcriptions can help as can a variety of pedagogical instructional strategies based on UDL.


Teachers should provide clear instructions both verbally and written for students with learning disabilities.  Complex assignments and experiments are better to broken down into smaller tasks with intermediate due dates.

Finally, students need to be encouraged that they can pursue their interests and study STEM successfully.  Providing mentoring and programs that assist students with learning disabilities follow these interests has shown to be just as important as providing accommodations in the classroom.   Students gain confidence in their skills and are more willing to take risks and try different things.

robot kids

Working with students with learning disabilities I am able to see first-hand how passionate many students are about Science and Technology.   They are inquisitive and knowledgeable and very much passionate about learning.  Difficulties with reading and organization can inhibit their learning.  It’s time for us as parents and educators to shift the paradigm and start encouraging kids to pursue their interests no matter how “hard” it is perceived.  As educators, we need to evaluate our pedagogical styles to ensure that we are as inclusive as possible and are reaching every child.  We need to help our students follow their interests and take risks.  We need to help them stay on course and not quit when things become too difficult.  What strategies do you use in your classroom to teach STEM to your students with learning disabilities?

  1. Students with Disabilities Can Participate and Succeed in STEM Education Anya Evmenova, Melinda Jones Ault, and Margaret E. Bausch, 2013.

Getting Organized – Executive Functioning Tips

You may have a child or a student that has been diagnosed with Executive Functioning Disorder and you may be wondering what can you do to help.  There are various strategies to use and understanding what Executive Functioning is the first step.


What is Executive Functioning?

Executive Functioning is the “conductor” of all functioning skills.  These skills include:

Inhibition – The ability to stop one’s own behavior at the appropriate time
Shift – The ability to move freely from one situation to another
Emotional Control – The ability to modulate emotional responses
Initiation – The ability to begin a task or activity and to generate ideas
Working Memory – The ability to hold information in mind
Planning/Organization – The ability to manage current task demands
Organizational Materials -The ability to impose order on work, play, and storage spaces
Self-Monitoring – The ability to monitor one’s own performance and to measure it against the standard of what is needed

Children with Executive Functioning Disorder have problems organizing materials setting and following schedules. They misplace schoolwork and personal items.  Homework does not get handed in on time or may get lost easily.


Strategies to help with Executive Functioning:

To help a child with Executive Functioning Disorder use visual schedules and calendars that identify the tasks and the progress made towards the goal.  Break larger tasks into smaller more manageable tasks.  Try a paper calendar to help organize your child.  Students who have SEA equipment (Assistive Technology) such as a Chromebook or an iPad can use the calendar features to keep track of school work and assignments. Teachers can create checklists for assignments that help the student complete each task required for an assignment or homework.  I use highlighters with my student and have them highlight important tasks.  Remember to provide written instructions with oral instructions.  Take a step by step approach and use visual organizational aids.

Other tools include graphic organizers on mapping tools.  There are simple graphic organizers that you can download and print: Graphic Organizers Programs such as Smart Ideas, Inspiration, Popplet and MindMup are great tools to help organize thoughts and ideas.


For parents, it’s wise to set up a routine for home and homework.  For younger children a reward system can help with understanding the importance of practicing a skill and working towards a goal.  Parents should encourage their children and praise them for their efforts.

Executive Functioning skills are not something that children will grow into.  Since we use organizational skills in our everyday life it is important for children to develop these skills.  For children who naturally do not have these skills, strategies and alternative learning styles can help develop these skills.

To read more about Executive Functioning Disorder: Understood.org – Understanding Executive Functioning Disorders 

Free e-book about Executive Functioning: Executive Function 101

Laptops and iPads and Chromebooks, oh my!

I have written blog posts (Goose Bumps and The iPad Question) before about our A/T program.  For those who don’t know… A/T stands for assistive technology or adaptive technology.  LDAWE is fortunate that we have contracts with both of our local English school boards to provide A/T training to students with disabilities who receive technology for use in the classroom to help them access the curriculum.  The name of the Ministry of Education funding used to purchase this equipment is call SEA (Special Equipment Amount).

The good news is that both of our school boards are fairly progressive when is comes to issuing SEA Claim Equipment.  For example:

  • They issue equipment (and lots of it… more about that later).  I have heard that some school boards around the province still hardly issue any A/T equipment to students who would benefit from it.
  • They are innovative.  Instead of just issuing laptops like they have in the past, both school boards are now experimenting with new types of equipment, such as iPads and Chromebooks.
  • They invest in training.  The equipment is only beneficial to the student, if they know how to use it.
  • They are willing to change.  When given feedback that current policies around issuing SEA Claim Equipment are not working, they make adjustments to the policies and procedures to make it work.

Laptops, iPads, and Chromebooks

All of that being said… I’m feeling a little bit like Dorothy in Wizard of Oz this year.  The first full year that we provided A/T training was the 2009/2010 school year. That year we had 5 A/T Trainers on staff and we provided training to 129 students. This year, due to some changes in one of the Board’s policies, we have already received referrals for 486 students to receive training (and it’s only November). We started off the school year with 9 A/T Trainers, 1 A/T Training Scheduler, and myself as the coordinator of the program. Since the change in policy, we’ve hired 7 more A/T Trainers. I have also been busy creating new lesson plans for the new types of devices that are being issued. Also, both school boards are looking into adding classroom training as well.

Please be patient as LDAWE and the school boards work through these changes. All of these changes are great news for students with learning disabilities and ADHD in Windsor and Essex County.  I look forward to a day when all students can access the curriculum regardless of ability and without fear of judgement.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!However, with that being said, I must admit that I’ve had more than a couple dreams about A/T lately…

Laptops and iPads and Chromebooks, oh my!

Laptops and iPads and Chromebooks, OH MY!!

Laptops and iPads and Chromebooks, OH MY!!!

The Role of Psychological Assessment in Intervention

UWindsor Blog Post by: S. Scott, M.A.

When your child is having difficulties in school, whether in the area of academics, social relationships with others in the class, or one or more other areas, the first instinct as a parent or teacher is to intervene to help make the situation better and meet the child’s needs.

StudentsThis motivation to act is critical, as is gathering information about what exactly the child is having trouble with and why.  Such information is key in providing direction in deciding what supports would best help the child. The process of identifying the necessary supports can be achieved in several ways, one of which is by completing a psychoeducational or a neuropsychological assessment.  These types of assessments evaluate skills and abilities in areas relevant to school performance in a standardized way.  That is, the child’s performance is compared to other children who are the same age, and this provides information about areas of strength and weakness compared to their age-mates. This method can help to speed up the process through which a child is formally identified and accommodated at school.

Clinical psychologists who specialize in assessing children have a variety of tools in their toolbox to help pinpoint the difficulty and potentially determine the reasons why it exists.  The assessment process overall can take several weeks or more and requires a fair amount of information to be collected, including the child’s performance on standardized tests; a clinical interview with parents to gather background information; observations of the child’s behavior during testing; and other informal assessment procedures, such as reviewing samples of the child’s classroom work or direct observation of the child in the classroom (Sattler, 2008).  Teachers and parents may also fill out questionnaires to help the psychologist better understand some aspects of the child’s everyday behavior.

Although it is a time consuming process, at its conclusion, recommendations are given that are tailored to the child’s unique combination of strengths and needs to ensure the most appropriate interventions and learning strategies are put in place.  Additional resources often become available after a child has been diagnosed and formally identified, such as access to assistive technology (if warranted), and other accommodations in the classroom that will support the child’s learning, such as preferential seating in the front of the classroom or additional time to complete tests.

Another benefit of completing an assessment is ruling out diagnoses that do not fit with the difficulties that the child is experiencing.  That is, accurate diagnosis enables steps to be taken to initiate appropriate intervention, significantly reducing the chances of starting down a path that will not prove to be helpful and potentially losing valuable time treating the real problem.  It is well established that different developmental disorders often require different interventions.  For example, Nonverbal Learning Disorder is best managed with classroom accommodations that draw on a child’s strengths in language based academic and learning tasks (e.g., developing step-by-step written instructions that can be memorized to solve mathematical problems or to find a classroom when entering a new school), while minimizing reliance on weaker visual spatial skills.  In contrast, Autism Spectrum Disorders are treated most effectively with Intensive Behavioral Intervention (Perry et al., 2008) and techniques that incorporate Applied Behaviour Analysis (Dawson et al., 2010).  The methods used to reach an accurate diagnosis are continually refined by the findings of new research. Currently, additional research focusing on the way decisions are made by clinical psychologists and other health professionals to arrive at the correct diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder or Nonverbal Learning Disorder is needed to further reduce the chances of misdiagnosis.

If you have noticed that your child is struggling in school, an assessment from a clinical psychologist would almost certainly be helpful, and there are a number of options available.  If educators have identified your child as having difficulties in school based on their academic performance, then children may be assessed by clinical psychologists who are employed by the school board.  As a parent, it is within the scope of your rights to have discussions with your child’s teacher about concerns you have and to ask if your child would be eligible for an assessment through the school board.  Another option is to obtain an assessment privately.  There are a variety of clinical psychologists in Windsor and the surrounding area who specialize in assessing children.  Often, the child’s teacher or other parents who have been consumers of psychological services can make recommendations regarding who to contact.  A complete list of registered psychologists and their specializations can be obtained from the website of the College of Psychologists of Ontario.

House on Sunset - Psych ServicesIt is not uncommon for children and their families to face financial or other barriers to accessing diagnostic psychological assessments.  For those facing such barriers, several alternatives are available.  Psychological assessments are completed on the University of Windsor campus by licensed psychologists and clinical psychology graduate students based on a sliding fee scale for qualified individuals and families (for further information, please contact the Psychological Services and Research Centre directly at 519-973-7012 or access through their website.

Another option available from time to time is to involve your child in a research study that includes a comprehensive psychoeducational or neuropsychological assessment, usually free of charge.  Such research studies are often available through the Department of Psychology at the University of Windsor.  Each study has its own particular criteria that a child must meet in order to participate. Browsing the websites of Psychology Department faculty will give some idea of what is available.  For example, there is currently a study that is investigating the similarities and differences between Autism Spectrum Disorder and Nonverbal Learning Disorder in order to better understand the characteristics of each and to ensure that a correct diagnosis is reached. In this case, participants receive a neuropsychological assessment free of charge. To participate, however, children must be between the ages of 9 and 16 (inclusive), be able to speak in sentences, and have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder or meet study criteria for Nonverbal Learning Disorder.To find out if your child is eligible to participate in this study, please call 519-551-8997 or email asd.nld.study@gmail.com.

CNRG: Child Neuropsychology Research Group

Regardless of the route you take to have your child assessed, it is a helpful process that offers numerous benefits to your child, and potentially to children who have yet to be diagnosed and are having difficulties in school.  Through research, there is an ongoing refinement of methods used to reach an appropriate diagnosis and to identify the most effective interventions.


Dawson, G., Rogers, S., Munson, J., Milani, S., Winter, J., Greenson, J., . . . Varley, J. (2010). Randomized controlled trial of an intervention for toddlers with autism: The Early Start Denver Model. Pediatrics, 125, e17-e23. doi: 10.1542/peds.2009-0958

Perry, A., Cummings, A., Geier, J. D., Freeman, N. L., Hughes, S., LaRose, L., . . . Williams, J. (2008). Effectiveness of Intensive Behavioral Intervention in a large, community-based program. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 2(4), 621-642. doi:10.1016/j.rasd.2008.01.002

Sattler, J. M. (2008). Assessment of children: Cognitive foundations (5th ed.). San Diego, CA: Jerome M. Sattler.

S. Scott, M.A.
Child Neuropsychology Research Group
University of Windsor

Transitioning to University or College

students_2357903bThe transition from high school to post-secondary education is always a difficult time. There are so many things to consider! Should I go to college or university? What do I want to choose as my career? Will I get in to the program that I desire? Are my marks high enough? Do I qualify for scholarships? Should I stay at home or go to school out of town? …the list goes on.

These decisions become increasingly more difficult when you have been faced with the additional challenge of have a learning disability.48359784

I have been witness to the many issues that arise when a student makes their way from the comforts of secondary school to the “real world” of post-secondary life. Both of my sons have been going through this trying and uneasy time lately. My oldest is in his second year of university and is coming to the realization that, although he has not wanted to disclose his learning challenges, it is necessary to accept the assistance offered in order for him to meet his full potential.

A little background…My oldest son has Executive Functioning Disorder. He has difficulties with transition, set-shifting, time management, task initiation and various other aspects of managing time, space and emotion. He has never taken full advantage of the assistance that could be offered to him because he works hard and tried to overcome his challenges decisionswithout the aid of others. He has always been successful with his efforts and has definitely met with success. However, the challenges that University offer can sometimes overwhelm. He is feeling this pressure now (as most university students would agree) and has succumbed to the realization that the assistance that he qualifies for would definitely be beneficial in helping him meet his life goals. Thankfully, the University is very prepared for students that attend and have learning challenges. This year we have learned the following:

  1. Consult with Disabilities Services at the University (or College) to see what you are qualified to receive for assistance. They are amply prepared to provide whatever accommodations are necessary in order for their students to meet with success.
  1. Make sure you have a recent psychological report. Disabilities Services requires recent information on the student’s level of functioning, strengths and needs in order to provide appropriate accommodations.
  1. Advocate! Help your son/daughter (or yourself!) to speak up and ask for the assistance necessary in order to meet with success. They will not come to you (as in elementary and high school) to help give you what you need.

Both Colleges and Universities are excellent at accommodations and meeting the needs of students that require different download (1)learning methods and/or styles – you just have to ask.

A recent Psychological report is necessary to make sure information is up to date and relevant to the student’s current level of need and functioning. You must decide whether the need is for a regular psychoeducational report or a more extensive neuropsychological report. In our case, since my son has Executive Functioning issues, he was in need of a current neuropsychological report to give a more accurate reading of his abilities and adaptive functioning as an adult.

If there is a financial need (for example, if you are not covered through health benefits), the University is often willing to assist in that manner as well. Again, self-advocacy is key in acquiring the help you need. Disabilities Services is always willing to lead you in the right direction regarding accessing the assistance necessary to meet with success.  choices_meme_of_the_week

Transition: Smooth Moves, Part 2

Silhouette of man appearing to hold the setting sun in his hand, examining it closely.

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”.        Aristotle

In my last blog post (Smooth Moves: Transitioning to University),  I talked about the transition process for students moving from high school to college or university, and the idea that many students are unprepared for the changes they will find when they reach post-secondary (with or without a disability).  In “Predicting Success (and Why Hope Matters)”, I talked about the six qualities which researchers have identified which distinguish successful students with learning disabilities from those who are less successful.  But there are also some specific, concrete things which high school students approaching this transition can do to get ready.

  • Discover yourself
  • Understand your report, your diagnosis, and your disability
  • Learn and use your technology
  • Understand your rights and responsibilities
  • Learn about the schools and programs you are considering (and choose appropriate classes)
  • Connect with Disability Services staff and familiarize yourself with available services
  • Document your disability with the school you choose

Most of these things are self-explanatory, but what does it actually mean to “discover yourself”? Well, in part it means that you need to understand the small piece of you that is the learning disability. It’s not a weakness or a character flaw, and it should never define who you are.   But…the more you understand what makes you tick, the ways in which you learn best, your cognitive strengths and challenges, your learning preferences, and how your particular brain is best able to process information, then the better chance you have to make good program and course selections, and to implement study skills and strategies that are just the right fit for you. The better you understand yourself, the better prepared you can be for the beginning of life after high school, whether that means university, college, or the work world.

So where do you begin to learn about this stuff?   You can start by participating in your own IPRC process.   You can start by reading and understanding your IEP (Individual Education Plan). You can have a discussion with your Learning Support Teacher about your specific accommodations and why they make sense for you. You can talk to your parents and/or psychologist about your diagnosis and your report (if you have a recent one). You can take time to meet with your Guidance Counsellor and have a better understanding of your own abilities, aptitude and interests . And armed with this information, you can make smart choices, and begin implementing an arsenal of study strategies that allow you to tap into your significant learning and processing strengths.

And when should you begin thinking about these things?   NOW!  It doesn’t matter whether you are in Grade 9 or Grade 12.  If you are failing to plan, you are planning to fail, and it’s never too early to start the process of knowing and understanding yourself, both as a human being and as a student. Armed with the right kind of information, you will be able to walk confidently into the future you have imagined for yourself, and seize the success that is waiting there. So start learning and planning now as you consider your future, and make your transition from high school as smooth as possible.

Keep calm and know thyself