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Orton-Gillingham & Gemm Learning

O-G alternative or O-G prep program

“In our experience, a child with APD will likely make extremely slow progress or no progress at all on Orton Gillingham… The auditory issues must be corrected first.”

WNY Dyslexia Specialists, Orton-Gillingham providers

Orton-Gillingham is a multi-sensory approach to teach children with language processing disorders how to read. Each phoneme (there are 40+) is taught in isolation and then built upon using highly repetitive exercises, one at a time. It is methodical, but also time consuming. And because it generally requires a tutor, it is expensive.

Gemm Learning versus O-G
Where O-G helps a student work around language processing delays to learn letter sounds, Gemm Learning works on the underlying auditory delays to help the children process and learn letter sounds naturally like good readers.

And whereas O-G typically requires visiting a center for 12 months or more, Gemm Learning is home-based and takes a lot less time.  Gemm Learning could be an Orton-Gillingham alternative or a pre-Orton-Gillingham intervention, O-G prep.

Orton-GIllingham Developed in1930’s

Orton-GIllingham was developed at a time when very little was known about the brain. For instance, back then there was no knowledge of brain plasticity. It was thought that learning skills were fixed.

And so the only way to teach reading to a child with a language processing disorder was to teach sound by sound.

It was a brilliant idea. And while this is still a reliable way to teach reading, if a child really can’t hear the sounds – if |ba| and |da| sound the same — learning the written language sound by sound is a long and tedious exercise.

In the 1930’s there were no options to help language processing. Today there are solutions.

The Language Activity Gap

orton gillingham fMRIIf founders Orton and Gillingham had been able to look at an fMRI image of the brain while reading – as seen here — they would have seen that their research was right! In most cases,  reading is a language processing problem.

This functional MRI image of a brain reading tells the story. Average readers rely on the language regions of the brain, their auditory word memory. Every word they read has a corresponding word in their auditory memory.

Struggling readers do not have a reliable auditory memory because their language processing makes it hard to hear the sounds — the words are muddy, heard like sound through water. And so when they see a word like tent, chances are they have never heard the last |t| and so the word is not in auditory memory.

You can see in this fMRI image that the struggling reader is using a lot more of the brain, engaged in work around strategies – guessing, getting clues from pictures, etc. This is the signature fMRI of a dyslexic.

Since the advent of the fMRI in the 1980’s, scientists have been analyzing the impact of language processing on reading.  They have also been able to test and take advantage of brain plasticity, the ability of the brain to change.  Put the two together – using fMRI’s to check if certain exercises can impact brain patterns, most specifically activate language regions of the brain for struggling readers — and you have a 21st century solution to reading difficulties, including dyslexia.

Targeting Language Processing is Faster

Gemm Learning — founded in 2006 — takes advantage of this science to provide a 21st century solution. It uses online software – supported with individualized service — backed by science to identify and target the source of difficulty. Our rapid-fire, repetitive and adaptive exercises provide an intensity of experience that a tutor cannot replicate. This is kind of intensity required to move the needs, to improve language processing and the related skills that cause reading difficulties, including dyslexia in just a few months.

If you can resolve language processing delays, in many cases, there is often no need for Orton-Gillingham. Once your child can process the phonemes, her brain will start mapping the sounds in auditory memory like average readers do from the outset.

This is a much faster way to help struggling reader. Not to mention, it could save you the cost, time and effort required to complete an Orton-Gillingham program.

Orton-Gillingham, If Needed

Don’t get us wrong. While we see ourselves primarily as an Orton-Gillingham alternative, O-G is still a wonderful approach that has helped many thousands of children with reading. But it works around the underlying language processing delay.  We are often able to get far quicker results by targeting that actual delay.

However, sometimes our program is not enough, even when the impediments to reading are clearly language-related. In those cases, an Orton-Gillingham course is an excellent next step. We have a few tutors we recommend, although since it’s best done in person, you are best off finding a tutor in your area using another 21st century tool, Google!

Gemm Learning uses Fast ForWord software at home to build essential language processing and pre-reading skills, and then reading comprehension.

After receiving the news that her daughter had improved 4.7 years in reading within one year, mom shared, “On the final report card for last year, she was up in every class and all her teachers noted enormous improvements in her academic abilities! There’s still room for growth, but it seems natural age and behavior type growth like focusing on the quality of our work not the speed.”

Alicia L.

Parent of 4th grader, struggling reader


Online reading test


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