Lindamood-Bell: Cracking the reading code

Instructor Maureen Cattaneo works with student Bryson Jakins, 8, on a reading and spelling exercise at the Lindamood Bell Learning Center in San Luis Obispo.
Instructor Maureen Cattaneo works with student Bryson Jakins, 8, on a reading and spelling exercise at the Lindamood Bell Learning Center in San Luis Obispo.

For nearly three decades, Lindamood-Bell has cracked the reading code for children and adults in San Luis Obispo County and beyond.

The company’s learning centers help people who have difficulty with reading, spelling, reading comprehension and mathematics, identifying and then remediating “the underlying causes of learning difficulties,” explained co-founder Nanci Bell.

“For example, the primary cause of reading and comprehension weakness is at the sensory level, where individuals have difficulty dual coding with imagery and language,” said Bell, whose program, “Visualizing and Verbalizing” helps students develop the imagery necessary to connect to language. “Our goal is to develop the necessary sensory processing and apply that processing to reading, spelling, comprehension and mathematics.”

Students usually receive several hours of instruction five days a week for six to eight weeks, which “often results in years of gain in reading, math and language comprehension,” Bell said. Students of all ages have come to the centers, many with previous diagnoses of dyslexia, hyperlexia and autism.

Lindamood-Bell was founded in 1986 by Bell, a reading specialist, and Charles and Patricia Lindamood, a speech pathologist, who died in 2006. Each woman had been in private practice in San Luis Obispo for years and had written programs that teach children and adults reading and reading comprehension. Both were sought after by families across the country and shared a goal of reaching as many people as possible, Bell said.

It began with one learning center in San Luis Obispo and now has 50 throughout the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. In the summer of 1992, Lindamood-Bell opened two locations in Sacramento and San Diego, the first outside of San Luis Obispo.

The company employs 150 people in San Luis Obispo and roughly 700 to 1,000 throughout the rest of the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia, depending on the season.

Growth of the company has been largely due to “grassroots response to our successful intervention with children and adults experiencing learning difficulty,” Bell said. Since it began opening centers in locations outside of San Luis Obispo, Lindamood-Bell has opened where there has been demand.

With an eye toward exploring new, permanent locations, this summer, the company opened 40 seasonal clinics in cities where families have asked for instruction. Typically, someone interested in Lindamood-Bell’s program calls a center and talks to the director about his or her situation. After reviewing the background of the student, the child or adult is given an evaluation using nationally standardized tests. Based on the tests, the director makes a recommendation for instruction tailored to the client’s needs.

The cost of instruction depends on a variety of factors, including how long it is expected to last and what’s involved, but the average is $90 an hour.

The past few years have been financially challenging for the company, Bell said. While the company declined to disclose annual revenues, it is financially stable, with profit and without debt, Bell said.

It is also committed to staying on top of the latest research, working with students in its learning centers, with public school teachers and with research institutions such as MIT.

One of the keys to the company’s continued success and expansion, Bell said, is staying “true to our mission to help individuals learn to their potential.”

The highlight, she said, is the “success of our students.”

“Nearly every week, we receive a thank-you from a parent of a child who’s been struggling, or a veteran who is now pursuing a college degree,” Bell said. “To know that because of us, and our courage to expand beyond San Luis Obispo, a second-grade boy in London that was unable to learn to read now reads above his grade level, or a fifth-grade girl in Indiana has gained three years in reading over the summer and has been exited from special education, or a high school boy in New York City that was about to drop out of school can now read and understand his schoolwork ... every day, I think, lucky us.”