For students with learning disabilities, extra support and remediation targeting their specific areas of need are often required to ensure they have the best chance of developing appropriate skills. This may occur through in-school support or in the form of individual tutoring by a specialised teacher or a trained parent outside of school time. There are many intervention programs available for teachers and tutors to use, some of which are produced commercially and others that are freely available on the internet. It is important to note that the cost of the program does not necessarily determine the effectiveness. The following criteria are associated with programs most likely to achieve successful outcomes.

It is important that the program is based on current research evidence and that its effectiveness is supported by independent reviews (i.e. not evaluated solely by the program manufacturer). Structured synthetic phonics (SSP) programs are considered to be evidence-based because very strong independent research collected worldwide shows that SSP programs provide the best opportunity to produce significant literacy improvement.

Content is taught clearly and directly, not in an embedded or implicit manner. Explicit instruction directs student attention towards specific learning in a highly structured environment.

Programs that involve the effective combination of language (either spoken or written) and visual images (e.g. pictures, icons, diagrams, displays, slides, graphic organisers etc.) to deliver information can help students to remember information and consolidate learning.

Builds on what has already been learned and previous learning receives further practise.

A prescribed sequence of learning targets presented in small steps.

Regular systematic review of concepts and over-learning to ensure learning is retained in long term memory.

Concepts and skills are taught in a step-by-step manner. For example, in a structured synthetic phonics program, a complete set of phoneme-grapheme relationships are taught sequentially, cumulatively and systematically.

It is important to introduce concepts and skills in small steps but at a reasonable pace. Each component is taught on its own with ample opportunity for practice. In subsequent sessions (preferably daily) – previous learning is reviewed, new concepts and skills are taught, and – again – ample opportunity for practice is provided.

For example, possible areas for literacy remediation include: instruction targeting phonemic awareness, phonics, decoding, fluency, comprehension, spelling, grammar, sentence structure, and vocabulary.

Regular ongoing assessments of concepts taught to ensure the student is provided with instruction, resources and activities at the right level.

Further explanation and examples of structured synthetic phonics programs can be found in Appendices 3 and Appendices 4.

Beware of snake oil salesmen and spin doctors

Unfortunately, there are many individuals and organisations that make misleading statements regarding the nature of learning disabilities and/or appropriate interventions to remediate these disabilities. It is important to be wary of claims that a learning disability can be remediated following a brief, 10-week treatment, or that reading-based learning disabilities are a visual problem. With appropriate intervention, most individuals with learning disabilities will make gains in their academic skills. However, this will almost always require a considerable period of intensive remediation targeting their particular area/s of weakness.

Can intervention actually ‘cure’ a learning disability?
Can intervention actually ‘cure’ a learning disability?
What does the research tell us about different interventions?
What does the research tell us about different interventions?
 Individual Education Plans (IEPs) explained
Individual Education Plans (IEPs) explained