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Living with Dyslexia

Parents and students share about their personal journey in growing, learning, and finding success with dyslexia.

Parent Testimony - Living with Dyslexia

Dear Total Learning Centers,


At the age 16 years, Brandon credits Total Learning Centers for putting him on the “right path” academically and emotionally. Brandon started at TLC when he was 8 years-old for weekly tutoring for his dyslexia.

Bullied by teachers at his public school, Brandon quickly lost confidence in himself academically and became emotionally withdrawn. He regularly spent his days getting in trouble for not keeping up with his peers and fighting with his family and friends.  Determined to help her son, Brandon’s mother got the staff at Total Learning Centers involved to enroll him at Total Learning Academy, for middle school.

“All the teachers and students wanted to know me. It was a dream come true,” Brandon says of his first day at Total Learning Academy.  Over his time there, Brandon says he made lifelong friends and learned how to be a leader.

Total Learning Center’s teachers and staff helped Brandon rediscover his confidence. “Ryan taught me how to be a better person. Diane always tried to get us involved and make us more independent self-advocates. Dr. Joe helped me with all of my problems, and I always left his office feeling great. And Dr. Carol understood exactly what I was going through. She has helped so many kids to rise above their disabilities.”

Now in high school Brandon helps to manage the football team at his new high school in California. Brandon is proud of the leadership skills and independence he gained at Total Learning Centers, “My mom has seen me grow, and she trusts me to make the right decisions. I love it.”

Brandon is confident that his future looks bright thanks to Total Learning Centers. “I no longer feel like my dyslexia is an obstacle, it is a gift. I could not have done any of this on my own, so thank you TLC for making my dreams come true.”


With much appreciation,

Dianne Courtis, Parent

Brandon’s Story in His Own Words

I am sixteen years old and the TLC is the best thing that happened to me.  It put me on to the right path. The reason I went there is because I have dyslexia, I was embarrassed to say I had it but, now I am comfortable with what I have. I was in such a bad place, I was angry that I could not do anything that other people could do. Because I was angry, other things fell into how I felt about everything. I didn’t trust anyone.  I was fighting with my family and friends physically and mentally. Most dyslexics get bullied by classmates well I was special, I got bullied by teachers.  My classmates were nice and were trying to help me. I had been tutored by the TLC since I was about seven or eight but it was an hour drive from my house.  I could only get there once or twice a week during school season.  We tried to go more in the summer but it wasn’t enough to help my severe dyslexia. I was going down and down in school and out of school. It got so bad that my mom had to do something to put a stop to this endless battle. What my mom did was get the TLC involved and man, they did so much!

When we thought the endless battle would never end, it finally did. The nightmare ended when I started the TLC for 7th and 8th grade.  I still did not trust anyone there, but by the end of the first day, I was talking to new people. The first time in a long time I did not get bullied by teachers. Usually when you go to a new school, you don’t get invited to a group, but not this school. All the teachers and students wanted to know me. It was a dream that came true.

Everyday was different and fun. I made a lot of lifetime friends. The biggest thing I learned was how to be a leader and why not to be a follower.  At my old school a regular day was very hard and I seemed to always get in trouble for not keeping up with the others. I spent my days hating the classrooms and not trusting teachers. Each year got worse then the year before.


These are some specific people who positively impacted my experience.

Ryan- taught me how to be a better person. He taught me life lessons and skills. He taught me how to face up to my fears.

Quentin- he made the work fun. I learned more in math in the two years at TLC then I did in 6 years at my old school.

Dr. Joe- what can I say about Dr. Joe… the first time I meet him he made me feel like I was worth it. His caring ways and sense of humor allowed me to express myself and learn the meaning of trust every time I stepped into his office for support.  Dr. Joe helped me with all of my problems and I always left his office feeling great.

Dr. Carol- she understood exactly what I was going through.   She has helped so many kids to rise above their disabilities.  Dr. Carol was able to help us find our true gifts and talents.

Diane- she always tried to make us more involved and more independent to deal with our problems. She listened to our ideas and worked with Dr. Carol to help kids rise above their disabilities.

Once I left TLC, my family moved to California where I was born. I grew in so many ways and become more independent. I joined the football team and became team manager after having some injuries.  I’m in charge of keeping the team in order, working side by side with my Coach and even filming football plays.   My mom has seen me grow and she trusts me to make the right decisions and I love it. As far as I know, my future looks bright. So bright that I need to wear sunglasses at all times.  I no longer feel like my dyslexia is an obstacle, it’s a gift. I could not have done any of this on my own, so thank you TLC for making my dreams come true.

Your Bestest and Most Favorite Student that you have ever had!

Brandon Courtis, Student

Danny Was Reading at the 2nd Grade Level

Danny is in the 9th grade and was reading at the 2nd grade level. He was in special education classes for 7 years and never improved. Finally we demanded he be tested for Dyslexia. As we had requested for 7 years. Danny was finally tested by the school. Danny was finally tested by the school after 7 years of special Ed and they said he was determined to be beyond helping and at best “he has diminishing returns” that according to the Pittsburgh Public School District Experts. They that he was hopeless and needed to be instructed now as to what he was going to do for the rest of his life.

As you all know, he has been attending the Total Learning Centers since January and getting the proper instruction we asked for 7 years. After we had to hire a lawyer and took them to court. I have been waiting to see real results from this and I saw them last night. Danny raises Hamsters. One got sick and had bowel problems. We took Danny to the pet store he got the proper medication for his pets and them without being told he read the dosing instructions on the back of the package. I watched him on of the side of my ete. This was the test, could re read it and then figure out the instructions without being told how to do it? I waited. I pretended to be watching TV. I looked at his body language. I watched his face and eyes. Was he reading these instructions? Finally he read the instructions out loud to me. He had some problems with big words. I know ever adults would have problems with. But he was trying to sound them out and almost got them. I told him what the words were but not their meaning. Could he put it all together and follow the weight and size instructions and then figure out the proper dose without my help? The kid who according to the Pittsburgh Public Schools is beyond help.

With only 3 months of proper instruction and as we requested one to one tutoring he did it. He did not wait for me to tell him, he went upstairs and does the hamsters. I later asked him how much medicine he gives them? Danny told me 16 drops. I asked why 16? He told me for their body weight that was the proper does for them. I check the label after he went to bed. He was right.

This is the kid the school wanted to throw away and said he would never be able to do any complex tasks. All my wife Cheryl and I ever asked for was that he be tested for Dyslexia and pulled out of regular class rooms, but we aren’t so called experts. So they thought! They knew better. This is why we need school choice and this whole story of Danny and us fighting 7 years for him is a microcosm of a greater problem. We keep putting money into a completely failed system.

Cheryl and I road out today to the Total Learning Center. I took the container with us with the instructions printed on the back and met with the whole staff out there. We went unannounced. I told the receptionist what happened. They called a staff meeting and had us tell what Danny did. Some of them were crying by the time we were done. This from a throw away kid. I see people who say to me my kid won’t listen and just throw up their hands and walk away. They really never started trying were always looking for a reason to quit all along. Try fighting with an entire School District for 7 years. Then they tell me you tried. But my reply to you will be your life’s work is being a parent to your kids. You never quit on your kids. Even if so called experts left you otherwise. Remember they are probably looking for the easy way out. Your son or daughter matters nothing to these people. So you better be there or no one will.

Mary and Cheryl Engbert, Parents

Testimonial from a Professional

It is with immense gratification to write a testimonial for Dr. Carol Utay and the staff at Total Learning Centers. (TLC) Dr. Carol and husband, Dr. Joe Utay have worked tirelessly to create and develop brain based learning programs for children who struggle with executive functioning, attention, emotional issues, Dyslexia and other academic disabilities that interfere with learning processes.

I first met Dr. Carol at a student’s Individual Education Planning team meeting in a local school district. I was the Education Advocate for this student and Dr. Carol was the Instructional Advisor to the team. I advocated for the student to receive intensive multi-sensory, systematic, scientifically based Orton-Gillingham curriculum and Dr. Carol’s center was able to provide the one-on-one instruction this child needed to learn how to read.

TLC’s programs were the first in this area to teach about “Brain Plasticity” and how the students’ were not utilizing the parts of the brain that needed exercise to move the area of the brain along. I was so impressed with the programs that improved processing, working memory, hand writing for children with Dysgraphia and especially my passion; reading for children with Dyslexia.

I define Dr. Carol and Dr. Joe as relentless educators, always learning, always creating and researching new and improved methods of teaching children and adults to learn. As an advocate, it is hard enough to provide effective advocacy strategies to children with disabilities. However, as a professional advocate, if I don’t have effective programs to offer to the school districts and the school districts do not offer the intensive programs necessary for student success, then the family, student and society loses. Working with the Utay’s, I don’t have to worry “if” the program exists.

I have collaborated with the Utay’s for over ten years. I know first hand the research, thought and effort that they put into each program developed at the Total Learning Center. I have had faith in these programs and not once have they ever disappointed any student I have referred. Every one of them has made progress.

I could continue providing the reader many individual success stories. I probably have advocated for and referred over 100 children to the TLC.  I maintain my faith in their ever growing researched based programming and I look forward to learning from them everyday.

Jeremiah Started Reading!

Dear Dr. Carol –

The other night Jeremiah came to my room with Harry Potter in his hand and said, “Mom, what is this word?” I should have been angry that he was reading when he was supposed to be sleeping, but instead my eyes welled up. Jeremiah was reading – on his own with no prompting, no arguing, just for the joy of it! I was far too happy to care that it was 10:00 at night.

I know that I would never have experienced that moment without Total Learning Centers. It is because of you that we diagnosed his dyslexia as early as we did. It is because of your guidance that we were able to successfully work with our school to get the services Jeremiah needs. And it is because of those services and your incredibly caring, concerned and skilled tutors that Jeremiah is reading as well as he is and able to enjoy the exciting adventures of Harry Potter, Harry the Horrible, and the Magic Tree House kids.

When we came to TLC, Jeremiah was struggling in reading, his work was sloppy, and focus and organization were difficult for him.  Homework time was a nightmare for all of us. You put him in the appropriate modules to address all of these issues. The result has been unreal. So far this academic year has been beyond anything we could have hoped for Jeremiah.  We had heard about how hard 4th grade is. That it is much more rigorous than the earlier grades, that the expectations are much higher, and that the kids are expected to be much more independent and work autonomously.  We have found all of this to be true, but Jeremiah has risen to the challenge and far exceeded all expectations. He does his homework on his own without any prompting.  He is excited about learning and pushing himself and his grades reflect it – his report cards have been excellent. He is organized, focused, and even decided that his New Year’s resolution would be to improve his handwriting.

We are so very proud of our little guy and incredibly thankful to Total Learning Centers. You saw that this was an extremely intelligent child who just needed the right techniques, learning tools, and motivation to live up to his incredible potential. Mere words cannot express how grateful we are to be part of the Total Learning Centers family.


The Lyons Family

Ricky was Diagnosed with Dyslexia

Dear TLC,

Thank you so much for all the help you have given our family, especially my son Ricky. Through testing, Ricky has been diagnosed with a specific learning disability, dyslexia. However, tutoring wasn’t working due to severe processing and memory issues. He still wasn’t able to make progress even with one on one remediation in reading.

Total Learning Centers gave us hope when they started Ricky in the Executive Functioning program. Immediately his processing speed improved and he started remembering things better. The longer the Executive Functioning program continued it became obvious that it was what he really needed. Not only did Ricky start to learn  to read he was even doing better in his favorite activity, hockey!

Total Learning Centers and the Executive Functioning program gave him the confidence that he greatly needed and  his frustration tolerance has improved drastically.

Again, I truly appreciate all that the staff and teachers have done!

4th Grade Reader at Age 21

Dear Teachers and Staff of the Total Learning Center,

When I came to the learning center I was a 21-year-old dyslexic with barely the reading ability of a fourth grader.  Through the skill and expertise of the staff at TLC, I made five years worth of progress in the first six months. Over the course of the rest of that year, I made considerable progress until I could function like anyone else.  In short, they made my dyslexia no longer the primary decider in my quality of life. I am now a functioning literate adult of 23.

Thank you everyone at the Learning Center.  For those of you reading this, if it can happen for me it can happen for you.

Michael Cornell, Student

Happy Student who Loves to Learn

Maggie is so happy Carol! I can’t thank you enough!  She has waited for so long for teachers who understand and are prepared to help her catch up and learn what she has missed. It is like a huge weight is being lifted off of her shoulders. She hopes that history will be like math and take her back to pick up the missing pieces that the elementary school children she babysits for know and she doesn’t. She is so excited about the terrific way  her teachers have for memorizing the presidents for example.

It makes me cry Carol. She loves learning so much! It was all I could do to patch the leaks and keep the boat afloat until someone came up with a life-line to throw us. It makes me crazy that no one has figured out a way to deal with the problems of dyslexia in the school system.

Why was Learning Hard?

From the day I moved up to Pennsylvania, I have been searching for that one school that I could really connect with. Leaving my old Prep School, Grace Prep Academy. I was absolutely heart broken. That was the school into which I put my whole heart. None of the new schools up here were quite like Grace. It seemed like nothing would suit my needs. Then my younger sister began her learning career with Ed Plus at Total Learning Center. I was still going to private school. During that time, I had such a hard time making friends, keeping up in class, and just life in general. After a while, my mother talked me into getting testing to see if I had ADD/dyslexia. Sure enough, I did. Feeling demoted and depressed about my situation I came to the realization that Total Learning Center could lend me a helping hand.

I started up with one of the teachers and after a period of time. I began to sec a difference. There was something about the people and the atmosphere at the learning center.

Overtime I began to fall in love with this school. I feel like I can do anything. The confidence from the teachers gives me confidence  in myself.

Susannah, Student

Kindergartener Learning Letters and Sounds

Dear Carol,

I am writing to relate to you the positive experience that my son Connor had at your Center. Connor was having trouble learning his letters and letter sounds .   His  school told us that he needed to know this very early in kindergarten because they were going to begin reading around Thanks giving.

We enrolled him in your Kindergarten Readiness Program the summer before he started kindergarten. 1-lis teacher

Tracy connected with him immediately. She used creative and fun techniques to help him learn his letters and sounds and without this service he would have struggled to make it through kindergarten.


The Total Learning Center provided an invaluable service to our son and I would recommend your services.


Greg, Parent

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