Elaine Whitley is an educational diagnostician and dyslexia specialist for over 20 years, and is the owner of a private practice in Houston, TX Educational Success Advisors (ESA). She is also the mother of a 17-year-old student with a learning difference. Learning Ally is grateful to Elaine and her colleagues for referring and qualifying over 12 Learning Ally members. We sat down with Elaine to gain some insight into why and how she started her own private practice, why she recommends Learning Ally, and the impact Learning Ally has on her students.
How and why did you get into the business of helping students who are dyslexic?
25 years ago I ran a small tutoring business just to help kids with homework after school and realized there were kids who needed more help than I was able to give them in just an hour in the evening. So I went back to school and became a dyslexia specialist because a number of the kids I worked with really couldn't read well as high school or middle school students. And it was just like, wow, if you had gotten help earlier, maybe I wouldn't be here doing this now! The tutoring I did really showed me there were kids who needed more help. I fine-tuned my skills and became a dyslexia specialist. As a dyslexia specialist, I could start working with younger students providing an earlier intervention. Then I got my masters degree as an educational diagnostician, which gave me greater ability to enable students who learn differently to gain access to the accommodations they need so they can keep up with their peers in school. I started my private practice because I noticed that students were falling behind and just could not close the reading gap. Teachers and school administration often identify students who need help through their failures or lack of reading progress on annual standardized assessments.
Through my practice, parents have the ability to bring in their child(ren) and we can evaluate and provide an accurate diagnosis so their child can get the help they need before too much time has passed. One of my own kids, a junior in high school, has been using Learning Ally because he has a learning difference in reading comprehension. As a parent you know your child is struggling above and beyond what might be considered normal, and through my private practice parents have the power to get their child the support they need early. I serve students locally and throughout the state of Texas as well as a few students internationally who have parents who work for global companies. It brings me great satisfaction to know that we at ESA are able to help hundreds of students annually.
Elaine, why do you recommend Learning Ally?
Pretty much all of our clients need some sort of help with reading, whether they're dyslexic or they've got a reading comprehension deficit. Learning Ally is one of the recommendations we put in all of our reports. I discuss with parents that right now when their child reads, they’re maybe getting a bad sketch of the story, but when using Learning Ally, that child can get a more vibrant and detailed color picture. It's so much more helpful to have the ability to read in multiple modalities. A student can read along while listening, so they don't have to stumble across the words they don’t know or have trouble decoding. Students get that visual recognition of a word, making that word easier to recognize in the future.
At ESA we talk about the importance of multisensory learning and multisensory reading. When an individual can see and hear the text, they will remember the content better. It really does boost their confidence. Let's say you read really slow...audiobooks can help speed you up, especially for those in high school who have to read large quantities of material for homework. Without audiobooks, reading a chapter can take much longer than 20 minutes for a struggling reader. Audiobooks can really help speed them through the material while helping them comprehend or understand what they are reading better.
Our students range anywhere from five-year-olds in kindergarten to grown adults who are maybe making a career change and are preparing for some sort of entrance exam. That's where Learning Ally can really come into play again. It is a definite help if the books they need can be accessed through the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution. It really supports my students in preparing for a test or any kind of material they're going to need to keep moving forward in their education and career.
Personally, as a mom of a student with a learning difference, it’s really a lifesaver; my son will say, “Hey mom, can you put this book on my bookshelf?” And that's how he gets through all his summer reading and required reading. And that frees me up to help my other children with their homework and activities.
Have your students achieved academic success and progress using Learning Ally?
Our students have definitely increased their comprehension and the speed with which they can get through the material. It gives them a much better visual of what they've been reading. In Texas, students with learning differences and classroom accommodations are required to get updated tested every three years, and when we diagnose somebody and we see their reading comprehension is poor, then we recommend Learning Ally. When they come back for their re-evaluation, we often see that their comprehension has improved. The comprehension scores have either stayed on par with their peer group or better.
I also see the change in parent and family dynamics. Access to Learning Ally takes some stress off of parents' shoulders. We have working parents and we have parents with multiple kids. So if I can suggest, “Hey, have them put on Learning Ally for 20 minutes,” the parents are freed up to do other activities and help their other children. It also teaches that child that, “Hey, I don't have to have my mom right next to me when I do my 20 minutes of reading.” And so maybe they'll do it while they're waiting for a pickup from after school practice, or maybe they'll do it at a different time during the day. It can be a huge relief for parents to not have to be the only one responsible for reading out loud to their kids.