The Undiagnosed Teenager with Dyslexia

Author
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 she was unaware of assignments and deadlines because the teacher “never told” her 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. She may have learned about dyslexia on her own, through Internet websites or by talking to other kids. In any case, she knows that she is struggling with material that seems easy for her 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 she feels she 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 she feels apply to her.

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 19, 2021 from Davis Dyslexia Association International. Dyslexia the Gift website: http://www.dyslexia.com/?p=2323.

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167 comments

  • Debbie

    My son is 16 and was recently diagnosed with dyslexia by his eye doctor. He has always had good grades and is an artist. Somewhere into 8th grade he started slowing down with his reading and getting way behind in his work. I had him tested in 9th grade by the school psychologist and it did not show up in the evaluation. It sounds like it is not unusual for this to be missed in the younger years because they do compensate. This diagnosis sounds just like my son. He has a 504 plan, but shouldn’t he also qualify for an IEP?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Debbie, a diagnosis of dyslexia by itself will not qualify a student for an IEP. To get an IEP, there must be a finding that the student is in need of special education services, as well as having a learning disability. If your son is doing well in high school (“always had good grades”) he might not meet the standards at his school to qualify. Also, the school would need to do its own evaluation — the diagnosis by the eye doctor would not be sufficient. Here is a page on our site with more information and some links to helpful resources: https://www.dyslexia.com/question/school-testing/

      You might consider consulting with a Davis Facilitator about your son. You can find listings here: https://www.davismethod.org/

  • Deana M

    I believe my 13 year old has dyslexia, she shows most of the signs. Her school told me her PCP has to diagnose it, her PCP told me the school has to diagnose it. And on the meantime she is feeling more ans more stupid. Where can I go to fet her tested so we can come up with a plan? We live in the KC KS area.

  • Ayzah G

    Hi I’m Ayzah and I’m 14 years old, Throughout Primary School i found it difficult to read especially out loud. Whenever i read i miss out small words such as “a” or “the” and replace them with “and” and “then”. I always repeat the same line twice or miss a line if I’m not using something to help me track it. It’s been happening for some while now but never thought of it deeply till now. I can write completely fine its more the reading and understanding what the passage means to me.
    I’m Not sure if this is normal?
    Thank you

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Skipping over or substituting small words with reading is a very common problem with dyslexia. That is why the Davis program is built around modeling the meanings of the small words in clay, together with their spelling. These words tend to have abstract or ambiguous meanings — they mean different things in different contexts and because dyslexic people tend to think in pictures rather than words, the mind draws a blank when these words are seen in print. (What is a picture of an “a” or a “the”? Of course, this also gets in the way of reading comprehension — so that is why it is so helpful to master the meanings of all the words.

  • Ryan C

    Hi my name is Ryan and I’m 14 years old. I have been really struggling in most math and English areas. My grades from the age of 5 and a half to 11 where extremely high, when I was 11 and a half through to almost 13 my grades slipped massively and put me at average and now I can barely scrap enough together to even get a passing grade. I have never been able to simple English or maths for example I still struggle to spell things like “reason” and instead of writing “who” I will write “how” and vice versa and I have to continuously reread a sentence just so it makes sense or so that I can understand it. I really struggle with recognising numbers in math it will take me 5-10 minutes on a good day to actually register what the number is and how to write it down. Is this normal or am I dyslexic?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Ryan, the symptoms you describe are consistent with dyslexia. The fact that you did well when you were younger is an indication that you are probably extremely bright and you were able to compensate early on, but as the academic demands have gotten harder, you have become overwhelmed. I hope you can share your concerns with your parents — some of the techniques that are used in Davis programs would help resolve some of your feelings of confusion very quickly, and make it much easier for you to work on the underlying areas of difficulty.

  • Zola

    Hi my name is Shanu and I’m 15 years. I’ve always had difficulty understanding academic subjects. Even today I don’t remember what I learnt in my previous grades, like the basic stuff while all the other students of my age do. I’ve never completed assignments with my own knowledge because I never understood anything, even in math no matter how many times I read the problem I have difficulty solving it. I don’t find it difficult to read or write but I have trouble remembering which is my right side and which is my left side. Now that I’m in 11th grade and I’ve been noticing that no matter how much I pay attention to the teacher and listen, I can’t understand I feel so blank when she is teaching even though I recognise the words she is saying. I’ve been trying to figure out if this is dyslexia or something is wrong with me. I’ve been having trouble understanding since my childhood but it never felt like an actual issue back then, now that I’m in 11th grade where I have to try hard to get into college, it’s freaking me out because I just can’t understand what is being taught, which also makes me lose confidence pretty quickly.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      All of the problems you describe can be overcome, and we have effective tools and strategies that you can learn. If you can discuss these problems with your parents, then you can use the website at http://www.davismethod.org to find someone to consult with to explore your options.

  • Lily

    Hi I’m lily I’m a 15 year old student I’ve been struggling with my reading and writing since I started primary school I’ve always misspelt words or add more to that word, have always add more words to my reading or have accidentally skipped the words and have always forgotten words or have seen them but forgot how to spell them. I always thought that I was dumb or that something was wrong with me because I couldn’t spell like the other kids could, but recently I overheard a family member speaking about me being dyslexic and I’ve been doing research on it for 2 months now and Nothing has helped me find out if dyslexic or not. When I usually bring things like this up to my family they try to say that there is nothing wrong with me and finish the conversation so I’d really like it if someone could help me on this, am I dyslexic or is there just something else going on with me.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Lily, these are symptoms of dyslexia: “add more words to my reading or have accidentally skipped the words and have always forgotten words or have seen them but forgot how to spell them.” Dyslexia is NOT a disease that you either have or not — it is a different pattern in the way the brain processes information that occurs along a spectrum. So if you are troubled by symptoms of dyslexia — and even have heard a family member referring to you as “dyslexic”- then that is the word that describes the symptoms you have listed.

      Please understand that dyslexia does NOT mean anything being “wrong” with you. It is simply a very normal but less common variation – about one out of every 5 people has characteristics of dyslexia. That means that dyslexia is more common than having red hair or blue eyes.

  • Sanithma

    Hi, I’m a 15-year-old girl who will be 16 by the end of September. I don’t have much difficulty when reading aloud, but sometimes I have to reread the same word to say it right. And recently I discovered that many words had been pronounced and spelled wrong by me. They weren’t even close to the actual word and some had different meanings. And I have done spelling errors like putting a single letter where it should be doubled or missing letters or using other letters. And I have to read over and over to understand long sentences or paragraphs. I love reading books, but I tend to skip long descriptions and read dialogs only. Is this normal or am I dyslexic?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Everything you describe can be tied to dyslexia. You might find it valuable to read or listen to the book, The Gift of Dyslexia. The book explains our view of dyslexia and how a dyslexic style of thinking of learning gets in the way of reading. If you feel the book describes the way you think, then the methods described in the book will help to resolve the problems you experience.

  • Adrianna

    Hey my name is Adrianna, And i am 15 i now have been questioning wether i have dyslexia or not and i dont know how to bring it up to my father, so my grades have been good since middle school and up till this freshman year with some 70’s in there and i am have been fine with math for 8th and 9th grade. but I have had trouble reading and spelling and while reading i have to reread what i am reading over and over or have someone speak it to me and with spelling i have trouble remembering how to spell words so i will mispell words a lot and it makes me mad when i cant remember how to say a word and when i read out loud it just gets worse i start to forget more words and i stutter and when writing stuff from a whitebored i cant seem to spell the words correctly after looking at it. I dont know if this is normal or not or if i have dyslexia?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Adrianna, the problems you describe are common traits of dyslexia. If you feel that you need help or support at school, the first step is to ask for it — either to tell your father that you are experiencing problems, or talk to a teacher or counselor at your school.

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