4 Essential Things to Look for in a Dyslexia Tutor

In this article, we’ll explain the four essential things to look for in a dyslexia tutor.

The advice here is based on our decades of experience tutoring students with dyslexia and other neurodiversities such as ASD (Autism/Aspergers), dyspraxia and ADD/ADHD.

In this article we will cover:

  • The common types of dyslexia tutors
  • The importance of identifying and addressing any neurodevelopmental weaknesses
  • The importance of not just learning to read, but learning how to think
  • The four essential things to look for in a dyslexia tutor

At the end of the article we’ll discuss the pros and cons of online tutoring vs. in-person tutoring.

The Common Types of Dyslexia Tutors

When you search for a dyslexia tutor, you’ll mostly find two kinds of tutors:

  1. Subject matter tutors who claim to have experience in working with dyslexic students
  2. Specialized reading tutors for dyslexics

Let’s break those two types of tutors down in more detail.

Subject Matter Tutors

First of all, what is a subject matter tutor?

Well, it means that they tutor their students in specific subjects like math, biology, history, etc.

If they turn up in a search for “dyslexia tutors” it’s most likely because they added something at the end of their profile like “Special Educational Needs: Aspergers, Autism, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia.”

They may be great subject matter tutors, but if they put their special needs ‘expertise’ right at the end of their profile, they’re probably not true experts in working with dyslexic students.

The problem with subject matter tutors working with dyslexic students is that dyslexic people don’t learn and think like most ‘normal’ people.

So when traditional subject matter tutors try to teach them as if they were just like every other student, your child will most likely continue to struggle, even with a great subject matter tutor.

So, we recommend against hiring subject matter tutors for your dyslexic child until they have learned to read at their reading age and have learned how to learn given their unique thinking style.

Reading Tutors

True dyslexia specialists will emphasize dyslexia tutoring in their profile. It will be the first thing they talk about, not the last thing in their profile.

Most specialized dyslexia tutors teach reading skills.

The best approaches to teaching reading skills to dyslexics are similar to the Orton–Gillingham method. Look for that kind of expertise in a reading tutor’s profile. Their profile might use the term “Orton–Gillingham” or the more technical term “Multisensory Structured Language Education (MSLE)”. Either one of these on their profile is a good sign.

If your child is young and has not received any specialized reading skills tutoring, this is the best place to start.

If this goes well, then stick with it.

An appropriate goal is for your child to reach their standardized reading age by the time they reach age 10. In any case, it will also be important for your child to learn how to learn given their unique thinking style. We’ll cover that later in this article.

If your child continues to struggle reading even with specialized reading tutoring, then it’s appropriate to explore whether they have any neurological weaknesses that need to be addressed.

Identify and address any neurodevelopmental weaknesses

First, what is a “neurodevelopmental weakness”?

Simply put, it is some weakness in brain development. It’s not as scary as it sounds. It might be something as simple as not fully developing their ability to process what they read. And these are things that can usually be addressed once they have been identified.

Most people have some weaknesses in their neurological development. And dyslexics may have specific weaknesses that are affecting their ability to read and learn.

So, if your child is struggling to learn to read even with specialized help, it’s appropriate to assess and address those weaknesses.

This is where the field of neurodevelopmental movement comes in.

Quite simply, neurodevelopmental movement gives your child a way to strengthen the neurodevelopmental weaknesses that they somehow missed.

Madeleine Portwood [1] has written extensively about this approach in her book Developmental Dyspraxia: Identification and Intervention: A Manual for Parents and Professionals. While that book is focused on dyspraxia, it’s just as relevant to dyslexics.

HANDLE providers are also trained to develop neurodevelopmental movement plans for individual students.

So, we recommend looking for a specialized tutor with expertise in creating a neurodevelopmental movement plan for your child. The plan should be based on observing your child in real life situations and 100% customized to your child.

Once your child has strengthened any important weaknesses in their neurological development, it will be much easier for them to learn to read, and to master other academic skills.

Now, catching up on reading is only part of the solution. There are other skills they will need to truly thrive in academics and in life.

It’s not just about learning to read – it’s about learning to think

Dyslexic students have difficulty processing written information, for sure.

But there’s so much more going on for dyslexic students.

They process information differently and think differently.

If you have a dyslexic child you’ve probably already noticed this. It may be hard to put your finger on it, but somehow you’re aware that they just think differently and process information differently from other children.

A great dyslexia tutor will address this by teaching your child:

  • How to work with the limitations of their dyslexic thinking style
  • How to understand and appreciate the particular genius of their dyslexic thinking style
  • How to bridge the gap between:
    • their unique thinking style and 
    • how their teachers expect them to explain their thinking in order to get good grades

Well, that’s all very nice, but how does it work?

The fundamental difference between the thinking style of most people and dyslexics is this:

  • Most people learn details and procedures first and then figure out the big picture later
  • Dyslexics do it the other way around. They think best when they get the big picture first, and then learn the details and procedures later.

Unfortunately for dyslexics, classroom teaching matches how most people learn and mismatches how dyslexics learn. This makes it hard for them.

So, the trick for the dyslexic student is to learn how to use these simple steps:

  1. Reframe what is taught in class into a framework that actually works for them (often using techniques to relate the new knowledge they are learning to the existing web of knowledge they already have)
  2. Think about the the problem in ‘their world’ – coming up with answers in a way that’s easy for them
  3. Translate their answers back from ‘their world’ to the linear, procedural answers that their teachers want to see to get good grades

Once your child has learned how to do this, they’ll struggle a lot less and discover that they can thrive in learning.

To summarize… 

The Four Essential Things to Look for in a Dyslexia Tutor

When looking for a dyslexia tutor, there are four essential things to look for:

  1. They are not just subject matter tutors who claim to work with students with special education needs
  2. They will teach your child how to read and process written information better
  3. They can assess and address any neurodevelopmental weaknesses
  4. They will teach your child how to think more effectively

So, where can you find a dyslexia tutor who meets these four criteria?

Online vs. In-Person Tutoring

Unfortunately, these four simple criteria eliminate most dyslexia tutors. Finding a great dyslexia tutor near you might be impossible.

Considering an online tutor opens up a lot more options, but does it really work?

Fortunately, the answer is a resounding Yes.

We’ve been working with all our students online over the last few years, and surprisingly, it turns out that their results are generally better online than with the old-school in-person tutoring.


Well, the answer is slightly different for younger children than for teens and adults.

Let’s break it down…

For younger children

If you have a young dyslexic child, you know them better than anyone else.

You see them every day. You know what they do well. You know where they struggle. You know when they get confused. You know when they get frustrated.

You see all these things. But you may not know how to interpret them and what to do about it. That’s not your fault. You’re a good parent, but you’re just not trained in special education.

So when we work with younger children, we ask you to take short video clips of your child going about their daily lives. Especially video clips of them doing the things you know that they struggle with on a daily basis.

Then you share those clips with your expert tutor – who knows how to analyze the video clips and knows what to do about what they see.

Then your specialized tutor will give you ‘play’ activities to do with your child. These ‘play’ activities are specifically designed to help your child learn and thrive.

You sharing video clips of your child in a variety of situations with us gives us much richer information than we used to get by coming to observe your child in-person.

For teens and adults

For teens and adults, we work directly with the student. And, of course, advise the parents as well.

Dyslexic students often have difficulty processing the information they’re reading. When a tutor is sitting beside the student in-person, it’s hard to see their eye movements, how they’re scanning the information on the page, and where they get stuck.

But online, the tutor can actually see the student’s face as they’re working with the information they’re reading. The camera is right on the computer screen that the student is reading, so the tutor gets a bird’s-eye view of how the student is processing the information.

This turns out to be a significant advantage.

So, overall, online tutoring actually works better than in-person tutoring.

The most important thing is to find the best tutor for your child.

Short course via Zoom: How to Understand and Support a Child with Dyslexia

If you would like to talk with one of our experts to discuss what would be the best approach to tutoring your dyslexic child, book a free consultation today.


Related article: Dyslexia – What it is, challenges, how to overcome it.

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