One in every five students is dyslexic, yet many of these students do not receive the early intervention necessary to help them succeed in school. This is because most public schools do not consider dyslexia to be a severe enough disability to provide services for dyslexic students. As a result, students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia fall behind on their studies because they have no outlet for help. That’s when educational therapy becomes a necessity for students that need extra help outside of school. There’s a big difference between educational therapy and tutoring, however, and Katharine Novak, one of three educational therapists in Louisiana, offers insight for parents considering supplementary learning for their child.
What is educational therapy?
Educational therapy offers children and adults with learning disabilities a wide range of interventions to remediate learning challenges and build resilience. “I do informal evaluations and screenings, and I refer families to various people for educational testing,” says Dr. Novak. She is the founder of NOLA Learning Support and Consulting, where she works with kindergarten to college-aged students with mild to moderate learning differences such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, and ADHD. “I also take educational evaluations that families have already gotten and design an intervention plan to carry out,” she adds. “I advocate for students in their schools to get them services, accommodations, or modifications, and I teach parents about their children’s learning differences and what they can do to help their child at home.”
How does it differ from tutoring?
Tutoring tends to focus on a specific subject matter with which a student is struggling, but an educational therapists’ focus is broader. Educational therapists address the academic, socio-emotional, and non-academic areas of a given student to help develop individualized intervention strategies specific to what he or she needs. “I work with a team to develop a plan,” says Dr. Novak. “I’m required to do specific professional development for a certain amount of hours each year to stay on top of current interventions, remedial programs, and strategies that are research and/or evidence based. I have a toolbox of methods and strategies such as the Orton-Gillingham method that help improve a student’s skills so they ultimately gain more confidence and succeed in school.”
The student’s intervention plan is modified based on their needs. It can be a specific methodology or a combination of methodologies that challenge the student to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses and to use specific strategies to overcome challenges.
“We see students that have average or above-average intelligence, but their achievement in school is very low due to their learning disabilities. Dyslexic students need consistent intervention to improve their skills. I don’t know of any other private practices in New Orleans that offer our services,” says Dr. Novak.
In fact, NOLA Learning Support and Consulting has a sponsorship fund to provide free services to students who can’t afford them. It has also recently partnered with Son of a Saint, a non-profit organization that mentors boys without fathers. Currently, NOLA Learning Support and Consulting is seeing three sixth-grade boys whose reading skills have improved from a first grade level to a third or fourth-grade level thanks to the company’s assessment, interventions, and advocacy.
In what case would you recommend educational therapy for a child?
“Students who come to us are falling behind in reading, writing, and spelling, and a lot of students’ parents say that their child does not like to read and that they’re avoidant or have low self-esteem when it comes to academics,” Dr. Novak answers. Other red flags involve trouble with organization and basic executive functioning skills, along with trouble with sustained attention and time management. It’s also important to make sure your child is at the appropriate reading level by the time they are in third grade, as 50 percent of students in Louisiana do not meet this benchmark and therefore are less likely to graduate.
Ultimately, NOLA Learning Support and Consulting hopes to bring attention to students who need early intervention and provide no-cost and private-practice opportunities for children outside their schools. Dr. Novak strives to build their confidence, teach them to advocate for themselves and any accommodations they may need, and help them understand that they are smart and capable regardless of their learning differences. If you think your child may need an educational therapist, visit aetonline.org.