Health & Psychology

Educational therapy, the missing gap between school and psychological therapy

What is educational therapy? 

Educational therapy is provided most of the time outside the school setting on a 1:1 basis and is different from tutoring. An academic tutor will focus on the academics of the student while an educational therapist will use a broader method to include neurodiverse children with learning difficulties and thinking differences. In other words, an educational therapist teaches skills and strategies that go beyond the package of a regular tutor. 

Therapists can be teachers, SEN teachers, occupational or speech therapists, or others who have specialised themselves in Education and at least in one another subject, such as learning difficulties, dyslexia, autism, etc… It is important to find the right therapist for your child. 

The ideal therapist should have: 

• Expertise in one or more academic subjects.
• Know how to work with children from different backgrounds and ethnicities.
• Be familiar with learning difficulties and thinking differences. 

But most important is that the educational therapist understands the behavioural and emotional issues that can impact the student in school and amongst peers. 

The missing gap 

Educational therapists provide psycho- educational services to children with neurodevelopment disorders whether they are diagnosed or not. Those can include ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, any of the DYS- learning difficulties. Traditional tutors or teachers may not fully understand the child’s learning difficulties although schools these days are doing their best to accommodate the child’s learning difficulties. On the other hand, psychologists and psychiatrists can meet the child’s difficulties on a psychological level but are not trained to meet the academic difficulties. Here the educational therapist can fill in the gap. Emphasising filling the gap and not replacing one or either. 

The educational therapist will use a multi-sensory approach that follows the Universal Design for Learning (UDL). This allows children to engage in learning in more than one way. Educational therapists are specialised in one or more areas depending on their background and that is another reason to make sure you choose the right educational therapist for your child. 

Let’s give an example

An 11-year-old student is struggling in math and has been since Yr3. The parents have been through the process of diagnosing their child. The child has dyscalculia and has developed math anxiety over the last 3 years as he cannot follow his peers during math class and is afraid to give the wrong answer. 

The parents tried to help their child by hiring a private tutor. This tutor was going over the math curriculum again, but the child was getting upset and frustrated because he had to do even more math, which he now clearly dislikes because of his difficulties. 

This child did not make any progress with the private tutor and to make things worse, the child was also acting out in school. So, the parents went to the psychologist to find out why he was behaving out at school. Here, the psychologist was able to explain to the parents that he had math anxiety and just thinking about math causes him to shut down or to act out. While the psychologist worked on his anxiety, his parents were referred to an educational therapist at the same time. 

Only when the parents were able to find an educational therapist, things got better as the therapist understood the diagnosis of dyscalculia and noticed that the child was struggling with the number sense. Number sense is a key ability within math. It defines a quantity and relates a written symbol for example 5 to the quantity of five. This is an important part of math as number sense and place value are the basics abilities where every other math function is based on. Going back to place value and number sense using a multi-sensory approach allowed the child to gain a better understanding of these basic functions. The parents remained reluctant at first to go back to grade 1 math but once explained why it was necessary to take this step back and allow the child to gain a better understanding, they understood the importance of doing so. 

In addition to reinforcing the basics of the math curriculum, the educational therapist will also approach the math anxiety by teaching the child coping strategies in addition to the work done with the psychologist. This example demonstrates the importance of the work done by an educational therapist as it increased the child’s self-confidence, self- regulation, and academic results. 

So, what else can an educational therapist do? 

• They can identify behavioural or emotional issues which can be caused by an underlying learning difficulty.
• Teaching coping skills and strategies to improve good academic and school habits. • Teach time management and organisational skills.
• Help the parents to understand their child’s ILP (Individual Learning Plan) and make sure that the goals on the ILP are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-oriented, and Time-bound).
• Can be the link between school and home for both parents and child.• Coaching of parents to continue the work at home. 

Author Bio

I am Samantha Bulens, an educational therapist, working at Auticoach in Geneva which provides psycho-educational services. 

My expertise lies in educating children with neurodevelopmental disorders in particularly Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD) to increase their understanding of their OWN minds and bodies using evidence-based approaches that will increase their overall well-being and happiness. 

I am specialised in teaching the interoception curriculum which teaches the childhow their body is feeling, connecting them to the right emotions, and act accordingly to self-regulate independently. Besides the interoception curriculum, I also teach life skills, independence training, and educational kinesiology whilst coaching parents and families. 

Furthermore, as a licensed H.A.P.P.Y coach I provide happy plans for the well-being and happiness of people with ASD. Being a mom of three neurodiverse children, I can personally relate when it comes to learning difficulties at school and the personal struggles at home. 

For more information about me, visit my website at 

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