Reading Difficulties

A Total Approach has many years experience and training in helping children with the following difficulties.

  • Inability to make the transition from one-word-at-a-time reading to reading fluency
  • Poor reading, spelling and writing skills
  • Poor phonological awareness and decoding skills
  • Poor comprehension
  • Difficulties with grammar and syntax
  • Concentration and attention problems
  • Difficulties with letter, word or number sequences
  • Difficulties in verbal expression
  • Suspected eye tracking problems
  • Poor retention of reading matter
  • Discomfort when reading
  • Tiredness induced by reading
  • Persistent dislike of reading
  • Frequent loss of place when reading

This video gives an important message on embracing the uniqueness of all children:

At ATA we consider each intervention program from a central nervous system perspective as well as from an emotional perspective. To us, the developmental stress of our children is sometimes as strong as struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and we should not take this situation lightly.

Programs available at ATA

Reading Difficulties

  • For our little ones struggling to master the alphabet we use the Davis Clay Symbol Mastery Technique. The multi sensory experience of working with clay in a facilitated way in a one-on-one setting proves really helpful for the child. This program could be completed weekly or could be scheduled in 10-day intensive blocks, where the integration is reinforced daily.
  • The Davis Clay Symbol Mastery program is also available for older children struggling to make sense out of the sound-symbol association.
  • For children 5 to 7 years old, the Cellfield Junior Program may be a good fit to get the nervous system wired in the right “gear” for reading
  • For children 7 and up, the Cellfield advanced programs would be good to consider. There are three levels of computerized training over 10 day periods of 1 hour each day, followed by a 10-week program of one hour weekly to consolidate functionally what was gained during the first 10 days of computerized training.

Written Expression Difficulties

  • For handwriting difficulties we may need to start with the Davis Clay Symbol Mastery program and translate this into handwriting practice. This could be offered one hour weekly or in an intensive format of 10 day blocks.
  • Once the student is able to form letters, but have difficulties with legibility, spacing of letters, writing with adequate speed, he or she will benefit from an intensive therapy program that would consider the sensory and motor challenges to writing, while also focusing on handwriting practice in 10 day intensive blocks. These services could also be provided on a weekly basis.
  • For children having difficulty putting their ideas into a written essay, planning an essay, organizing their thoughts on paper, we offer weekly services or 10 day intensive blocks to assist with this complicated task.

Executive Functioning Difficulties

  • For our little ones we work through play in the DIR/Floortime model to understand beginning, middle and end of stories with focus on pre-planning, concentrated content, as well as completion of tasks. We focus on the “how” of the process and empowering the little one to organize his or her world in a way that makes sense to them and enables them to be ready for their occupation as a school student.
  • For younger children the computerized Timocco home program for bilateral integration, crossing midline etc, which sets up the body for executive functioning skills may be ideal.
  • For our school students of all ages we offer accelerated learning programs that would consist of between 2 to 5 hours daily of intense programming. The determination of the individualized programs would depend on the findings of a detailed evaluation. These programs could include OT, PT, SLP, Tomatis Training, Interactive Metronome, Reflex Integration amongst others.
  • For our students with active working memory difficulties, we offer a variety of different programs depending on the individualized needs of the student.
  • The Cellfield program may be beneficial to assist in using active working memory in the reading process.
  • The Captain’s Log program would be a good program to consider for attention difficulties with active working memory component.
  • The Cogmed home based program would be great for especially working on visual spatial working memory, with a component of verbal working memory.

Davis Clay Symbal Mastery Program

Maude Le Roux is a trained Davis Program facilitator and truly enjoys the effects of the clay portion of this program. The facilitative nature of the program is very respectful to students and their own empowerment. Maude decided to forgo her license as a facilitator due to finding the mind’s eye and ear techniques cumbersome for clients. Families were finding it hard to complete all the symbol mastery on their own for the next year after their program. Maude decided to use other programs such as Cellfield and Cogmed instead to assist with developing the nervous system to action. But as an OT she finds the symbol mastery with clay a very helpful technique to keep using in her practice. The reader needs to keep in mind, that this was Maude’s decision and is based on her opinion and not a statement that one program is better than the other. A program is only as good as the one facilitating it and the Davis Dyslexia Program has helped many children over the years through esteemed professionals working towards the good of all children.

What is the Davis Clay Symbol Mastery Program?

The Clay Alphabet resolves letter confusion

This method involves the use of clay (special clay that does not dry) in forming letters to the shape they were meant to be. Children learn experientially through their hands and integrate the information in a multi-sensory way. The approach is non-threatening while we eliminate words such as “wrong” or “right” and assist the child in self-correction through modeling.

  • The first step is to create the letters of the alphabet in clay. By molding the letters in clay, the alphabet is no longer something arbitrary but something the child (or adult) has made, and thus becomes a part of them. Through observation of how the student forms the letters, and how they react to saying the names of the letters, we can find which are ‘triggers’ for disorientation, confusion and misperception; and help the student overcome the confusion aroused by that letter.
  • The student models two complete alphabets, first upper case, then lower case. As each set of letters is mastered, the student explores and discovers the correct shape, name and sequence of each letter.
  • Alphabet Mastery is followed by similar work with punctuation marks and pronunciation or speech sounds. With this knowledge, the student is equipped to use one of the most important tools for learning that we can provide the picture-thinker: the ability to explore the meaning of words with the dictionary.

Three Steps to Easier Reading

To help students master the mechanics of reading, and increase reading speed and comprehension, we use a set of three techniques:

  • Spell-Reading – a method by which we go through each letter of the words in a reading text in a way that eases the flow of the eyes on the text and decreases the possibility of skipping over letters that may lead to “guessing”.
  • Sweep-Sweep-Spell – a more advanced method where we uncover words in a reading test, easing into the saccadic eye movement necessary to capture whole words for exact meaning.
  • Picture-at-Punctuation – a technique that assist the reader to picture what he or she is reading, while they are reading, considering all the punctuation marks that effects fluidity, tonality of voice and reading with meaning.

It is not natural for children with reading difficulties to sound out words letter by letter, or even track the letters of a word from left-to-right, taking in one letter at a time. As picture thinkers, they want to look at all the words at once. Their struggle to sound out written words leaves them unable to comprehend written material and usually necessitate re-reading the same text numerous times often at the cost of severe headaches. These exercises allow them a way to be comfortable with visual tracking, decoding, and comprehending written material using their creative minds.

We frequently would provide these exercises for families to practice at home and now have also added the FORBRAIN® for at home reading practice. This device directly connects the spoken word of the student to the ears, increasing processing speed and ability to receive feedback from learning.

What is Executive Functioning?

At ATA we have been working on these functions for many years. These functions are very important subsets, which enable the student to be ready to learn. As a child enters the classroom for the first time these skills are an expected norm. Yes, if the child has experienced some developmental delay, regardless of the diagnosis, these skills would not be available and is not to be found in any curriculum of teaching. Targeting these skills is fundamentally necessary for children to cope with their occupations as students.

Dr. Susan Fralick–Ball, PsyD, MSN, CH, CLNC states her definition:

  • A set of cognitive abilities from central processes that control and regulate other abilities and behaviors.
  • Necessary for goal directed behavior
  • Also the process of taking the sensory information and creating an effective response to it

Peg Dawson and Richard Guare states:

  • The use of certain thinking skills to select and achieve goals or to develop problem solutions
  • Involves planning, organization, time management, working memory, metacognition (includes self monitoring and self evaluative skills)

The following are different areas of executive functioning to consider:

Working Memory

  • Difficulty remembering and following instructions
  • Difficulty memorizing math facts, spelling words and dates
  • Difficulty performing mental computations in one’s head
  • Forget one part while working on another
  • Difficulty paraphrasing/summarizing
  • Difficulty recalling the past
  • Do not learn from past mistakes
  • Repeat misbehavior
  • Diminished sense of self awareness
  • Not easy to examine own behavior
  • Difficulty holding events in mind
  • Difficulty in using their sense of time to prepare for upcoming future events
  • Do not accurately estimate how much time it will take to finish a task
  • Live in the here and now and not future oriented
  • Difficulty projecting forward lessons learnt from the past
  • Difficulty preparing for the future

Inhibition to Impulses

  • Ability to stop, think, plan, and then act.
  • Delaying a response that may affect others
  • If able to wait to respond can “break down” the information received to better analyze it
  • Improved ability to soothe themselves without external support / reward, separate facts from feelings, and use self-directed speech to guide own behavior

Emotional Control

  • Hampered by hormonal changes
  • Frequently succumb to stress, while using pre-frontal cortex to manage emotions
  • Need support, examples of emotional control, and modeling appropriate responses


  • The ability to revise plans in the face of obstacles, setbacks, new information, or mistakes
  • Or an ability to adapt to changing conditions


  • The ability to see one’s own behavior and learn to respond to situations appropriately
  • Regulating one’s own behavior
  • Strike a balance between indifference and obsessing
  • Ability to stand back and take a bird’s-eye view of oneself in a given situation

Time Management

  • The understanding of how much time it takes to accomplish something and how to plan for allowing enough time for completion
  • Learning how to plan for interference during task completion, and remaining on task.
  • Also applies to how to allocate your time, and how to stay within time limits and deadlines

Task Initiation

  • Ability to begin a task without undue procrastination, in a timely fashion
  • Important to take up the challenge of new and novel
  • Part motivation, pre-organization, ability to see beyond the project, and non-swerving attention in the moment


  • The ability to manage current or future tasks by setting goals and developing appropriate steps ahead of time
  • The ability to create a roadmap to reach a goal or to complete a task
  • Also involves being able to make decisions about what is important to focus on and what is not important

Organization of Material

  • The ability to establish and maintain a system for arranging or keeping track of important items
  • Systems, structure, sequence, routines, supervision
  • Ability to design and maintain systems for keeping track of information or materials

Goal Directed Persistence

  • Capacity to have a goal
  • Follow through to the completion of the goal
  • Not be put off or distracted by competing interests

Sustaining Attention

  • Ability to maintain a consistent behavioral response during activity
  • Sequenced action during cognitive activity
  • Basic requirement for information processing
  • Reading a short story, newspaper
  • Distractions threaten sustained attention
  • Ability to adapt to environment in spite of fatigue/boredom plays a key role

Shifting Attention

  • Moving focused attention consciously and deliberately from one locus to another
  • Essential to develop flexibility
  • Able to hold information from previous locus to next locus of attention
  • Not to do with being distracted