Multisensory Structured Language Programs

The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) works diligently to provide information to the public regarding informed, evidence-based reading instruction and professional development for teachers and intervention specialists. IDA fully supports the work of The Alliance for Accreditation and Certification of Structured Language Education, Inc. (The Alliance,, the International Multisensory Structured Language Education Council (IMSLEC, and The Academy of Orton Gillingham Practitioners and Educators (AOGPE, These organizations represent institutes and agencies that design and provide instructional materials and training regarding language-based learning problems. IDA’s Board, in turn, includes the Professional Development for Informed Practice (PDIP) Committee, which supports informed instruction of children and adults who experience difficulty learning to read and write. IDA intends to help school decision-makers, practicing educators, and parents gain access to one or more of the many effective sequential, multisensory, structured language programs.

These programs have a long history of use in clinics and classrooms. Over many years of development in clinical and classroom settings, these programs, when properly implemented, have been successful in teaching students to read, write, and use language. Each program has been repeatedly tested by practitioners who have met the training standards required for implementation. Each has been refined over many years of clinical and classroom use. Each embodies similar principles of instructional design.  And each places strong emphasis on the necessity for teacher knowledge and teacher training. Programs vary, however, in the extent to which they have been included in scientifically conducted intervention studies. 

Current policies regarding the allocation of instructional resources in schools are promoting the idea of a “three-tier” system of instruction. In the three-tier system, students who are falling behind are placed in small groups for remediation (tier two).  After progress monitoring, those who are not responding well to classroom or small group instruction are considered to be “treatment resisters,” or students with potential learning disabilities (tier three).  
Approaches identified are those used at every “tier” of student ability. Some are designed for whole class instruction and are used preventatively to keep children from experiencing academic failure (tier one). Some are designed for small group intervention (tier two). And some provide more intensive instruction and are favored by clinicians who work with students with severe reading disabilities.

Are These the Only Programs for Treatment of Reading and Language Problems?
This list of widely used programs does not include all of the programs that have been proven effective in remediating reading disabilities or preventing reading problems in “at risk” children. Research on early intervention and prevention of reading disabilities has been conducted with many other instructional materials and programs that are not included in the list (see references).  Additional reviews of instructional and intervention programs can be found on the website of the Florida Center for Reading Research (

Are These Programs Research-Based or Evidence-Based?
The best studies of program effectiveness report the characteristics of the students in the study, the duration and intensity of the intervention, the training and skill of the teachers, the fidelity of program implementation, and the exact methods that were used. They also measure student outcomes multiple times during intervention with several valid, accepted assessments. Such research is expensive and complex, and many effective, clinically tested programs exist that have not been included in rigorous comparison studies. Some programs in the list are in that category. Other programs, not listed, have been proven effective for teaching specific skills to certain kinds of children at particular stages of reading development, but do not identify themselves as MSL programs. Each program will provide the existing evidence for effectiveness on request. In summary, the effectiveness of some of the programs listed is established by scientific standards, and the effectiveness of others is established through clinical use over time. The list does not include all programs with demonstrated effectiveness.

What Program Characteristics Are Most Important?
Intervention and remediation researchers report over and over that the most effective programs of instruction, at all ages, explicitly address multiple components of oral and written language learning in an integrated manner. These components include: phonological awareness; vocabulary development; reading comprehension skills and strategies; beginning and advanced decoding skills, with spelling included; reading fluency; handwriting; grammar; written composition; and strategies for learning.  Certain programs that have been validated by research target some of these components, but the strongest contain lesson formats in which these components are interrelated and taught in parallel strands. In addition to teaching the content strands, effective approaches are explicit, systematic, multisensory, and cumulative.  Interested consumers should contact program websites or program offices for specific information on research supporting the approach, and for other key information. Many of these programs provide websites, videos or DVDs explaining their unique characteristics.


Alexander, A. W., and Slinger-Constant, A. (2004). Current status of treatments for dyslexia: A critical review.  Journal of Child Neurology, 19 (10), 744-758.

Birsh, J. (Ed.) (2005). Multisensory teaching of basic language skills, 2nd edition. Baltimore: Paul Brookes.

Fletcher, J.M., Denton, C. A., Fuchs, L., and Vaughn, S.R. (2005). Multi-tiered reading instruction: Linking general education to special education. In S.O. Richardson and J.W. Gilger (Eds.), Research-based education and intervention: What we need to know. Baltimore: International Dyslexia Association.

Graner, P.S., Faggella-Luby, M.N., and Fritschmann, N.S. An overview of responsiveness to intervention:  What practitioners ought to know. Topics in Language Disorders, 25 (2), 93-105.

Lyon, G.R., Shaywitz, S. E., and Shaywitz, B. A. (2003). A definition of dyslexia. Annals of Dyslexia, 53, 1-14.

Schatschneider, C., and Torgesen, J.K. (2004). Using our current understanding of dyslexia to support early identification and intervention. Journal of Child Neurology, 19 (10), 759-765.

Shaywitz, S. (2003) Overcoming dyslexia. New York: Knopf.

Note: The International Dyslexia Association is grateful to Marcia Henry, Ph.D., past president of the IDA, for preparing this matrix and thank all those members of the IDA board for their comments.​