What do reading specialists do?

They open doors and change lives.

Reading specialists are trained to assess students’ reading ability and offer instruction and coaching to struggling readers. Some work alongside teachers in public or private schools, helping students individually or in groups. Others work in private practice to offer intensive, individual ongoing support—something increasingly common as fewer public schools provide enough reading specialists due to budget constraints. Some private reading specialists also offer advocacy services to help families get all the school support they’re entitled to. 

Reading specialists understand the double whammy:

Reading problems are often caused by or paired with specific learning disabilities or challenges, such as ADHD, dyslexia, or dyscalculia (difficulty making sense of numbers and math concepts). Bringing students up to grade level in reading can help them overcome these problems and do better in other areas, including spelling, writing, math, and study skills.

Typical problems reading specialists see:

  • Difficulty decoding or “sounding out” words
  • Trouble with reading comprehension
  • Reading English as a second language
  • Difficulty writing
  • Reading below grade level


In the U.S. (and many other countries), parents have the right to request a complete assessment of math, reading, and writing skills and to get other basic supports free through the school. Reading specialists in private practice charge anywhere from about $60 to $200 an hour. If your child has been diagnosed with a “reading disability” (or a related underlying condition) your health insurance might cover some or all of the cost.

What to look for:

Reading specialists in public schools are usually required to have a master’s degree and three years experience teaching reading, so it’s likely you’ll get someone good.

If you need more intensive support and/or a more rigorous assessment (and can afford it), try asking for a referral from your child’s school or your child’s doctor to someone in private practice—or search our directory.

A reading specialist in private practice should have at least a bachelor’s degree—or, even better, a master’s degree or doctorate (PhD, PsyD, EdD) in reading, literacy, learning disabilities, special education, or a similar field. Reading specialist certification or advanced certification in special education or a related field is a plus.

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More good things to know or do:

  • Interview any candidates you’re considering. Key questions to ask:
    • What experience do you have working with kids like mine (mention his or her specific problems and age)?
    • Will it always be you working with my child or someone else?
    • How long have you been doing this and what additional training in reading instruction do you have in addition to a BA or a teaching credential?
    • Will you need to do any kind of additional assessment, and, if so, what will it cost—and how will you use it?  (Your reading specialist might recommend psychoeducational testing to assess reading skills and to diagnose any suspected learning disability or other issues getting in the way of your child’s ability to learn.)
    • How often and for how long do you anticipate working with my child?
    • Can you provide recent references?
  • Don’t overlook educational therapists. Many specialize in helping struggling readers. You can learn more about them here.
    • Tip: Getting a diagnosis of any underlying problems causing reading problems—or related issues—can help students get special accommodations, such as more time to take tests or extra help, as long as they have a current Individualized Education Program (IEP).

Photo: U.S. Dept. of Education/Flickr

See also:

By | 2017-08-13T13:28:50+00:00 December 19th, 2016|Grade-schooler, Q&A, Teen, Tween|

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