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The Wall Street Journal - Field is catching on with California and New York private-school parents of children with learning disabilities.

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Ashley Shapiro is used to people being confused about what she does. 

As an educational therapist in Los Angeles charging $250 an hour, she bristles at being mistaken for a tutor. Her clients, primarily private-school families, turn to her when their children with learning disabilities, like dyslexia and ADHD, are falling behind. 

While a tutor may reteach a student a biology lesson if they are confused, Shapiro says she will assess the way the student’s brain works, picking up on problems like trouble memorizing and recalling information. She’ll help the student break down study strategies to assist with the biology class, and whatever subject they struggle with next. 

“If their confidence is rapidly declining, how quickly can we intervene before we’ve lost them as a learner?” she said of her mission. 

Part teacher and part psychologist, educational therapists have grown in popularity since the pandemic in the moneyed and high-pressure circles of coastal private schools, which don’t have the same legal obligations to serve students with disabilities. Parents are often encouraged by schools to seek the extra help—at a cost of around $125 to $250 an hour in cities like Los Angeles and New York—according to parents, school employees and those working in the field.

For families that can afford them, educational therapists teach students who have learning disabilities how to succeed in school. Families hire them for stints that last from a few months to years of a child’s schooling. 

Many specialize in literacy, using research-backed methods to get children reading when schools fail at the job. Others focus on the increasingly trendy area of executive functioning skills, such as time management, prioritization and organization.  

“I’m a child’s worst pain in the backside the first month,” said Ashley Harding, a Los Angeles-based educational therapist.

Harding asks new clients to detail in half-hour blocks how they spend their time, from the moment they wake up to when they go to sleep. As the weeks go on, she compares a family’s ideal schedule to what’s actually happening, trying to create better routines and making changes like setting up phone applications that limit time spent on nonacademic activities.

Unlike occupational or speech therapists, there is no state licensure for educational therapy, so anyone can technically take on the title and health insurance doesn’t cover it. 

“The issue for parents is trying to figure out who is qualified,” said Connie Kasari, an autism expert and professor in the school of education at the University of California, Los Angeles. There has long been a cottage industry of outside advisers for students with disabilities, she said, and the key is ensuring any educational therapist or tutor is actually helping students make progress. “When it’s your child and your child is struggling, you are in a vulnerable position,” she said. 

The 44-year-old Association of Educational Therapists has created its own certification process, which aligns in part with the coursework at a handful of California universities that offer a master’s or certificate in the field. AET’s members include around 600 active practitioners, skewed heavily toward California. 

The educational therapy industry has a reputation for being dominated by white, female practitioners. The national association is trying to change that, and to create more low-cost and pro-bono services to reach beyond wealthy families. Some educational therapists, like Harding, have created practices aimed at serving families of color.

“Every student deserves support,” said Danielle Abramson, an educational therapist in Los Angeles. At the same time, practitioners say they have to charge enough to create a sustainable career. “I feel very conflicted about it,” Abramson said of the limited reach of the profession.

Chloe Pearl, a rising senior at Ithaca College in New York, began seeing Shapiro remotely her freshman year to help her with essays. She was diagnosed as a child with mild dyslexia and mild ADHD and as having trouble with word-retrieval, all of which Pearl said can make it hard to execute the tasks necessary to finish written assignments. “My brain tends to run off in one direction or go down a deep rabbit hole,” she said. 

During twice-weekly sessions, Pearl and Shapiro would review essay drafts or map out how to spend Pearl’s time if, for instance, she had both an essay due and a memorization-heavy test coming up. “She helped me break stuff down to small bits,” Pearl said. Last semester, she did fewer sessions, to see if she could succeed in writing on her own. She said she plans to attend graduate school, with Shapiro’s help.

Educational therapists say the majority of their clients come from private schools, which have historically not been as accommodating to those with disabilities—an attitude that families and educators say is slowly changing. 

Federal law mandates that public schools, in contrast, offer all students an appropriate education, and that students with learning disabilities have documented learning plans. Nationwide, around 15% of public-school students receive special education, according to the Education Department. 

“In independent schools, there’s been this idea that children teach themselves,” said Elizabeth English, the head of the Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles, which costs more than $50,000 a year in tuition and fees. She disagrees with that mentality, and in the perceived need for families to hire a phalanx of outside help. “If your kid is in tutoring for hours on end after school, the school is doing something wrong,” she said. “And you’re torturing your child.”

Many children who see educational therapists have received a neuropsychological evaluation, which can cost $8,000-$10,000 or more. The complex reports diagnose learning disabilities and are often used to get extra time on tests or other accommodations. 

In the Watts neighborhood of South Los Angeles, the Kaiser Permanente Watts Counseling and Learning Center is a rarity in offering free educational therapy to area youth. Jose Chavez, an educational therapist and leader at the center, said his team expects to serve 75 to 100 students in the new school year, with others on a wait list. 

“We offer that extra layer of support, by demystifying and enhancing their understanding of their child’s learning,” Chavez said.

Write to Sara Randazzo at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Copyright ©2023 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8
Appeared in the July 21, 2023, print edition as 'Parents Turn to $250-an-Hour Educational Therapy for Help'.


Read the original article from The Wall Street Journal by clicking here.

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