The Undiagnosed Teenager with Dyslexia

by Abigail Marshall.  Excerpted with permission from Chapters 2 and 3 of The Everything Parent’s Guide To Children With Dyslexia
© 2004 F+W Publications, Inc., a division of Adams Media.

teenage girl studyingOften, very bright children are able to compensate for their dyslexia in the early school years, but cannot cope with the greater intellectual demands of secondary level schooling.

Some common signs that your teenager may have dyslexia are:

  • Your child must repeatedly read and reread material in order to understand it.
  • Your child has extreme difficulty managing and keeping track of homework assignments and deadlines for his various classes.
  • Your child repeatedly reports that he was unaware of assignments and deadlines because the teacher “never told” him what was required.
  • Your child has unexpected difficulty with learning a foreign language.
  • Your child struggles with higher math, such as algebra.
  • There is a significant discrepancy between your child’s school performance and scores on standardized tests, including college board tests such as the PSAT.

If your child shows significant problems in any one of the above areas, it is a sign that he may have a previously undiagnosed learning disability. You should discuss these issues with him and also talk to parents of his classmates to find out whether their children are also having problems with the same subjects. Sometimes a problem with a math class or the first year of a foreign language can simply be the result of a poor teacher; poor grades in any subject can also occur with a teacher who is unusually strict in grading practices. If it is a “teacher” problem, usually other students and parents will have similar complaints.

However, if the problems seem to be unusual or persistent, you should seek an evaluation for dyslexia or other learning barriers. The guidance counselor at school may be able to help arrange such testing, as well as to help plan your child’s course schedule to better meet his needs.

When an Older Child Asks for Help

In some cases, your older child or teenager may be the one who asks for testing. Your child may find the academic demands in middle school and high school overwhelming, at least in some subject areas. He may have learned about dyslexia on his own, through Internet websites or by talking to other kids. In any case, he knows that he is struggling with material that seems easy for his peers.

Your teenager may be afraid to bring up the subject of dyslexia at home. He may be embarrassed to let you know just how poorly he is doing at school, or he may be afraid that you will be angry or upset.

It is important that you listen to your child and try to understand the reasons he feels he needs extra help. You might want to take a list of common dyslexia symptoms and ask your child to show you which problems on the list he feels apply to him.

You may be surprised to learn that your child has been struggling for years, but has managed in the past to hide his problems through sheer determination and hard work. Your support and understanding is crucial; for a child who has previously done well academically, an appropriate diagnosis can be the boost he needs to excel in high school and gain admittance into the college of his choice.

Citation Information
Marshall, A. The Undiagnosed Teenager with Dyslexia. Retrieved October 14, 2019 from Davis Dyslexia Association International. Dyslexia the Gift website:

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  • Annette R

    Hello – My son has an IEP and was diagnosed with a SLD in reading and writing expression. He struggles in math and I am works really hard in school. He struggles with comprehension and writing essays. I am sure that he is dyslexic. How will a formal diagnosis help him if he already has an IEP i n place? If it is helpful how do I go about getting a formal diagnosis of dyslexia and not a generic SLD in reading and written expression.

    Thank you!

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      For purposes of getting school services the diagnosis of “SLD in reading and writing” is essentially the same as dyslexia. The focus for schools services or accommodations needs to be on the actual problems your son has, not on the label attached to it.

      However, if your son is struggling you might keep in mind that there are other options that might help more than the school-based services he has been given. As you have come to our site, you might want to consider a Davis Dyslexia Correction program or Davis Math Mastery program. Because our techniques are keyed into dyslexic strengths, progress tends to be much more rapid than with traditional school-based teaching. A formal diagnosis of dyslexia is not required for a Davis program — again, the focus always should be on individual needs rather than the diagnostic label or category.

  • Magen

    We do not attend a public school. Who should I contact for testing, a licensed professional counselor, or psychologist?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      A lot depends on your goals in testing. A formal diagnosis is not needed to get help, such as working with a Davis Facilitator. And if you are in the US, you can request testing from the local public school district, even if your child is enrolled in private school. If your goal is to qualify for accommodations on standardized testing (ACT/ SAT) then you should find out from the testing agency what type of diagnosis they will require. More info is here:

  • Rhonda M

    My son is 16 and has a big problem in math he failed algebra in 9 and 10 grade he has a hard time with school period but he didn’t before I thought maybe he couldn’t see so I got him glasses something told me ask him how he sees things just a gut feeling and now I’m thinking it’s a real problem

  • Martha A

    My grandson is making failing grades, primarily because he won’t do any of his homework. He does have some of the symptoms that you have described .
    Could this be related to Dyslexia?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Yes, your grandson could be dyslexic. It could be extremely difficult for him to keep up with the reading and writing required to complete his homework.

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