Educational Therapy: What You Need to Know

By Alexis Clark, MA, MS
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At a Glance

  • Educational therapy is a general term that refers to when an educator works one-on-one with your child, typically outside of school.

  • Educational therapy is not the same thing as tutoring.

  • Qualified educational therapists can teach kids skills and strategies to help them manage their learning or thinking differences and improve schoolwork.

If your child struggles in school, someone might suggest educational therapy. But what is educational therapy? And how can it help kids with learning and thinking differences?

Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Educational Therapy

Educational therapy is a general term for when an educator works one-on-one with your child, typically outside of school. This can cover a lot. It could mean a reading specialist who works with kids with ADHD. Or a counselor who helps kids learn study and organization skills.

If educational therapy sounds very broad, that’s because it is. There isn’t a strict definition of educational therapy. And there is no state licensing for educational therapists. This makes it different from more specialized areas like occupational therapy.

Educational therapy isn’t the same as tutoring. Traditional tutors focus on academics. Educational therapists use a broader approach. And educational therapists may have more experience working with kids with learning and thinking differences.

For example, if your child has dyscalculia and math anxiety, a tutor might practice math problems over and over. An educational therapist, on the other hand, might see that your child struggles with number sense. She might teach your child strategies for recognizing basic number facts, or suggest accommodations. She might also teach your child coping skills for anxiety.

Educational therapists help build your child’s academic skills and self-confidence. The work they do can be quite varied. And they come from a wide range of professional backgrounds. They may be:

Educational therapists tend to specialize in one or more areas. It’s common, for instance, to have therapists who focus on multisensory reading instruction. Some also work with students of a certain age, like grade-schoolers. Sometimes, they work with kids who have a specific issue, like ADHD.

How Educational Therapy Can Help Kids With Learning and Thinking Differences

Since your child goes to school, it may not be clear to you why you’d need to work with an educational therapist, too. After all, schools are supposed to teach kids academics. And kids with IEP or 504 plans often have special education services to help them in school.

The answer is that the instruction at school may not be enough for your child. There also may be a lack of understanding of your child’s issues. Or the school may not be helping your child with a specific skill, like studying or writing papers.

In these cases, you may want to supplement with outside services. A traditional tutor may not understand your child’s learning and thinking differences. A professional like a doctor or a psychologist isn’t trained to meet academic needs. An educational therapist can fill the gap.

Educational therapists teach skills and strategies that help kids manage their issues and improve their schoolwork. They can help kids with almost any learning or thinking difference.

The specific strategies and treatments used by an educational therapist will vary. It depends on your child’s issues. Here are just a few examples of what therapists may do:

  • Help identify behavior issues that may be caused by underlying learning and thinking differences

  • Teach strategies to improve focus and work habits

  • Teach time management and organization skills

  • Develop an educational plan by giving assessments, tracking progress and adjusting as needed

  • Provide a safe environment for your child to talk about school and learn how to self-advocate

  • Act as a link between home and school

An educational therapist can also act as a case manager. The therapist can help coordinate with tutors, specialists and teachers.

Educational therapists can also review services the school is providing through an IEP or a 504 plan. They can help ensure that what’s happening outside of school complements in-school services.

How to Find an Educational Therapist

Educational therapy isn’t usually available in public schools. Therapists mainly work in private practice or in learning centers. But some therapists may have a day job in a school. They may practice therapy part-time or on the side.

Insurance typically doesn’t cover educational therapy, so you’ll have to pay out of pocket. Your child might have therapy once a week or more often depending on your child’s needs. This can get expensive.

If you decide to move forward with educational therapy for your child, you’ll need to take time to look for the right therapist. A common way to find one is through a referral from one of your child’s specialists. You can also ask other parents for recommendations or research online.

The Association of Educational Therapists (AET) is a good resource for finding educational therapists. AET offers a certification program. To become an AET member, a professional must complete specific training in special education. They must also meet continuing education requirements.

Because educational therapy can be so broad, it’s important to look at a therapist’s qualifications. The therapist should meet your child’s needs and have the right training.

A qualified educational therapist will:

  • Be familiar with learning challenges

  • Know how to work with kids with learning and thinking differences

  • Have expertise in an academic subject area or skill, like reading, math or organization

  • Understand how emotional and behavioral issues can impact a child in school

For more tips, explore this list of 10 things to look for in an educational therapist.

Learn more about skills educational therapists work on. You may also want to read about various tutoring options. And find out what to do if your child’s IEP doesn’t seem to be working.

Key Takeaways

  • Educational therapists can work with kids in many ways—from helping them build key skills to acting as a link between home and school.

  • You can find an educational therapist through specialist referrals, recommendations from other parents and organizations like AET.

  • There is no state licensing for educational therapists, so be sure to look carefully at qualifications.

About the Author

About the Author

Alexis Clark, MA, MS 

is a freelance editor for Understood and an adjunct professor at Columbia Journalism School.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Ellen Braaten, PhD 

is the director of LEAP and codirector of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, both at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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