How Does Dyslexia Therapy Differ from Reading Tutoring?

By Margaret G. Tuttle and Lisa P. Kestler, Ph.D.

Reading tutors and dyslexia therapists both help students do better in school. How does a parent choose the right approach? This article shares what reading tutoring is and compares it with what dyslexia therapy accomplishes.

What is reading tutoring and who offers it?

Reading tutors usually take their lead from skills currently taught in class, or they will follow a learning program that takes a structured approach, such as Orton-Gillingham tutoring. General reading tutoring or coaching can help students improve their grades by teaching or re-teaching specific skills covered in English/Language Arts class. Some students need more time and greater reinforcement of skills, and a good tutor will patiently provide the time and the reinforcement. Another type of reading tutoring follows a specific approach: Orton-Gillingham-based tutoring. Orton-Gillingham (O-G) methodology is a structured, explicit, multi-sensory method of learning to read that focuses on phonics, reading fluency, and comprehension. Work done by the tutor and student might not follow what is taught in class because O-G methodology sticks to its own defined sequence. This is a carefully developed sequence in which one skill builds directly upon previous skills.

Parents can often find a tutor through recommendations from their child’s school, or by searching on the Internet through various listings and directories. In general, there are no specific training or licensing requirements to become a tutor. Some reading tutors are certified in one or more specific programs, such as the Orton-Gillingham approach.

What is dyslexia therapy (or “dyslexia tutoring”) and who offers it?

A therapeutic approach to dyslexia begins with an assessment that pinpoints a student’s type of dyslexia, its degree of severity, and cognitive weaknesses related to dyslexia.  Next, a dyslexia therapist develops a therapy plan that follows individualized and well-defined protocols to strengthen reading skills as well as any weaknesses in related brain skills.

Researchers have identified several areas of neuropsychological weakness that may be related to the development of dyslexia:

  • Phonological processing: awareness of the discrete sounds of language and the ability to identify and blend sequences of sounds within words
  • Auditory and visual memory for sequences: how well an individual can recall sequences of language sounds and sequences of letters
  • Visual-motor integration and ocular-motor skills: eye-hand coordination for spelling and writing; eye movement skills for smoothly scanning lines of text
  • Visual perceptual skills: the “eye” for fine details of print—including which direction a “d” points vs. which way a “b” points

The dyslexia therapist develops a weekly plan that directly targets each student’s individual levels of difficulty in the above areas. In addition to weekly therapeutic tasks and activities that target these areas, dyslexia therapy employs the O-G approach to phonics--adhering to it with strict fidelity--to achieve reading fluency and comprehension.

Dyslexia therapists often work in private practice or in learning centers, such as The Dyslexia Center of Princeton. Initial testing is performed by a licensed clinical psychologist; therapy is offered by a general or special education teacher who has received specialized training.

What kinds of students can benefit from reading tutoring versus dyslexia therapy?

A reading tutor can benefit a child who is struggling with specific reading goals or struggling with grade-level literacy homework. However, if a child is more than 1 grade level behind in reading and shows signs of continuing to fall behind, a phone consultation with a dyslexia therapist will help parents determine whether a dyslexia evaluation in needed. Similarly, if a child has worked with a tutor for 6 months to a year and shown little or no improvement, parents should contact a dyslexia therapist.

In conclusion, dyslexia therapy follows therapeutic protocols that probably won’t mirror exactly what a child is learning in school. By contrast, reading tutoring typically takes its cue from what a child is learning in school. Problems can arise when the child does not have the underlying skills to grasp and retain what is being taught currently in the classroom. That is where targeted dyslexia therapy can be helpful for an individual child’s specific needs.  By identifying the “roots” of the problem, reading difficulties are remediated from the bottom up. The process may take longer. However, with insight into the roots of dyslexia, the result will be more successful over the lifespan of the child diagnosed with dyslexia.


Margaret G. Tuttle is the Founder & Director of The Dyslexia Center of Princeton, Princeton, NJ.  She is a New Jersey-certified educator.

Lisa P. Kestler, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and consultant to The Dyslexia Center of Princeton. In addition to providing psycho-educational testing for individuals seeking evaluation for dyslexia, Dr. Kestler provides expertise in the clinical and neuropsychological aspects of learning issues. 

Since 2009, The Dyslexia Center of Princeton has tested nearly 1000 students and offered successful dyslexia remediation to several hundred, following the protocols described in this article.

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