Lorri Wilke, M.Ed., PCET, SL/DS

Creating Lifelong Learners

Frequently Asked Questions


Q:  What is a learning disability?

A:  Most people with learning disabilities have average to superior intelligence. Many are gifted in math, science, fine arts, journalism, and other creative fields. A list of such people would include Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Winston Churchill, and many others who have changed the course of our world.

However, their tremendous strengths are offset by noticeable weaknesses - an inability to read or write, memory problems, and difficulty understanding what is heard or seen. These difficulties stem, not from a physical problem with the eyes or ears, but rather from the basic neurological functioning of the brain.

Every human brain is created with a unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses. We each have certain areas that make sense to us easily as well as areas of difficulty that require outside explanation and extra effort to understand.


A learning disability is an area of weakness or inefficiency in brain function that significantly hinders our ability to learn or to function in life. It is a pattern of neurological dysfunction in the brain that causes a person to have difficulty correctly receiving information coming into the brain (perception), correctly processing that information once it is received (cognition/thinking), or satisfactorily responding to the information once it has been processed (written and verbal expression, visual-motor coordination, memory, etc).


Students with learning disabilities experience an imbalance in their own ability levels. They are very good at some things, very poor at others and feel the tension between what they can and cannot do. Frustration is a hallmark of a student with learning disabilities. Typically such students will either be failing in one or more academic areas or be expending excessive amounts of energy to succeed. Also, they are also highly inconsistent, able to do a task one day and unable the next.


For a short video clip that explains learning disabilities in a very simple way, check out the link below.  This short clip might be very useful in helping your young learner to understand his/her difficulties.  



Q:  What is dyslexia?

A:  "Dys" means lack of function and "lexia" means words- thus "lack of function with words."  Originally the term "dyslexia" referred to a specific learning deficit that hindered a person's ability to read.  More recently, however, it has been used as a general term referring to the broad category of language deficits such as those listed above.


Q:  What causes a learning disability?

A:  Some learning disabilities appear to be passed down from generation to generation. Occasionally certain medical conditions such as neurological illnesses or chronic childhood ear infections may also alter the neurological development or structure of the brain as well, creating a learning disability.


Environmental factors such as cultural deprivation or parenting and teaching styles may heighten the impact of a neurological deficit, but they are not the cause.


Q:  How much time is involved with Educational Therapy?

 A:  Educational therapy requires two sessions per week.  Each session is 80 minutes long.  In addition, the student is required to do assigned homework on non-therapy days.  


Q:  What are some typical learning disabilities?

A:  Although learning deficits are as individual as thumbprints, most fall into basic categories such as those listed below:


Skill Areas

  • Academic Areas
  • Visual/Auditory Perception
  • Visual/Auditory Memory
  • Visual/Auditory Sequencing
  • Visual-Motor Coordination
  • Spatial Relations (Sense of space)
  • Temporal Relations (Sense of time)
  • Abstract/Logical Thinking

Academic Areas

  • Spelling
  • Reading (decoding/comprehension)
  • Writing (handwriting/expression)
  • Math Computation & Application

Q:  How does a learning disability affect life?

A:  A learning disability involves the foundational perceptual and thinking skills that allow us to operate in life.  Thus, just as a sore or injured muscle will cause difficulty wherever that muscle is required for physical movement, so a learning disability will affect a person's life wherever that skill is required.


For example, a person who has difficulty keeping things in a sequence may have trouble keeping in order words and letters in reading, spelling, and writing, keeping numbers in order in math, keeping track of a class schedule, completing long-range assignments such as a term paper and following directions.  A memory deficit can cause problems with taking notes in class, remembering homework assignments, spelling or vocabulary, recalling information studied for tests, remembering basic math facts, phone numbers, addresses, locker combinations, people's names, appointments, etc.


Q:  How can students with learning disabilities be helped? 

There are two basic approaches to dealing with learning disabilities.



The first and most common is compensation- helping students work around their deficit areas by utilizing their strengths. In an academic setting, this usually takes the form of tutoring and classroom modifications such as untimed tests and reduced workload. Compensation helps some students to succeed with outside help, but leaves them limited in what they can do on their own.  Compensation is typically offered by public school systems


*Direct Intervention

The second approach, which is the approach utilized by educational therapy, is direct intervention- helping students strengthen their areas of deficit so they are no longer handicapped by them. Teaching students HOW to learn allows students the eventual freedom of succeeding on their own as independent learners.

Both approaches are generally necessary in dealing effectively with a learning disability. Compensation allows students to succeed academically until the necessary skills are developed for independence. Direct intervention and the resulting competence and confidence allow students to gain the skills needed to become independent learners for a lifetime.  Educational Therapy is a direct, language-based intervention for students with learning difficulties similar to occupational and speech therapies.


Q:  How long does it take for a student to complete Educational Therapy?

 A:  Generally speaking, educational therapy is a 3-4 year program, but it depends on the student.  Some students may complete the program in less time and some students may require more time.  


Q:  Who is a candidate for educational therapy? 

 A:  Potential students for educational therapy are those experiencing obvious frustration in areas of school performance.  Common indicators of a learning disability are poor spelling, illegible handwriting, inability to express thoughts verbally or in writing, and difficulty with reading and math. 


Q:  How are learning disabilities diagnosed and how do I know for sure if my student is in need of educational therapy intervention?

 A:  Learning disabilities are diagnosed through a battery of formal and informal psycho-educational tests that measure and compare a student's potential with his actual performance.  An educational therapist works in conjunction with qualified examiners and assists parents in completing appropriate psychological and educational assessments.   


Q:  How is educational therapy different from tutoring?

A:  Educational therapy and tutoring are very different.  Tutoring attempts to reteach subject matter that a student did not master in class.  Educational therapy, on the other hand, addresses the underlying causes of "why" a student was unable to master classroom material in the first place.  NILD Educational Therapy was developed to treat the underlying causes of learning difficulties rather than simply treating the symptoms.  Unlike tutoring, educational therapy aims intervention just above the student's level of functioning and raises expectations for performance.  Students are trained to view themselves as competent, confident learners as they develop clear, efficient thinking tools that enable them to overcome specific learning weaknesses.  Tutoring typically focuses on content while educational therapy builds efficient learning processes.   Educational therapy teaches students how to think rather than what to think.  


Tutoring focuses on WHAT to learn


educational therapy focuses on HOW to learn.


Q:  Is the parent or the classroom teacher involved in educational therapy? 

 A:  Yes.  Regular collaboration between the educational therapist, parents, and classroom teachers is encouraged in order to assess progress and appropriately adjust educational programs for each student.   


Q:  What professional organizations recommend educational therapy?

 A:   Among other organizations, The International Dyslexia AssociationThe American Academy of Pediatrics, The Council on Children with Disabilities, and The American Academy of Opthalmology recommend educational therapy.  A joint report issued by The American Academy of Pediatrics, The Council on Children with Disabilities, and The American Academy of Opthalmology recommends educational therapy.  


Q:  How do I know when my child has successfully completed educational therapy?

 A:  Students complete their therapy programs when they become independent and successful learners.  This decision is based upon recommendations from the educational therapist, parents, and classroom teachers.  Typically, the program takes about three years.    


Q:  What ages are appropriate for educational therapy?

 A:   Learning disabilities can be addressed whenever they are identified, not just in childhood.  The NILD Educational Therapy techniques are effective regardless of age and can be adapted to all levels of functioning.  Educational therapy is appropriate for ages 5 through adulthood.


 Q:  How and why does NILD Educational Therapy work?

 A:  Research indicates that thinking can be changed through intensive, focused intervention.  In educational therapy students are trained to think for themselves rather than depending upon a teacher or parent to think for them.  Language and thinking skills are interdependent so that when one skill develops the other is also strengthened.  Educational therapists are trained to develop language and thinking through effective questioning.  Students are taught to defend their answers and to reflect upon their thinking processes.  Through educational therapy, students transition from dependent learners to those who think and reason independently.  Following NILD Educational Therapy treatment few, if any, adjustments, modifications, or accommodations are needed in students' academic program.


 Q:  How can we know that NILD Educational Therapy works? 

A:  Several research studies are available about NILD Educational Therapy.  A dissertation has been completed with statistical data documenting program effectiveness.  Statistical data documenting program effectivemess is available from NILD.  Success stories of students who have completed the therapy program, however, speak for themselves.  Many educational therapy "graduates" are achieving honor roll status and are pursuing undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees.


Q:  What is an NILD Educational Therapist?

A:  An NILD educational therapist is an individual who holds a minimum of a bachelor's degree in education or a related field and has been trained by NILD to work with students who have learning difficulties and disabilities.  By the time an NILD educational therapist reaches Level III (and certification), a master's degree is required, as well as ongoing, annual, graduate level training.  An NILD educational therapist provides intervention therapy and is a trained professional holding or working toward NILD certification. 


Q:  What training is involved in becoming an NILD educational therapist?

A:  NILD has an intensive professional development program for educational therapists.  An average of 5 years is required to become a fully-trained NILD educational therapist.  Training for NILD Education Therapy is progressive and includes 240 hours of instruction in the following formats:

  • Level I:  intern qualified to begin giving educational therapy, must have a minimum of bachelor's degree plus Level I training
  • Level II:  minimum of 1 year experience giving educational therapy,  must have a minimum of bachelor's degree plus Level II training
  • Level III:  minimum 200 student contact hours in educational therapy, must have a minimum of master's degree plus Level III training

NILD educational therapists receive ongoing graduate level training.  NILD Certification is available upon satisfactory completion of Levels I, II, and III and a demonstration of effectiveness in working with students.  Supplemental to the training courses are professional development activities such as annual regional conferences and on-site supervisions.