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 web sites 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.

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  • Kaysi

    Hello I am a college freshman and I am always forgetting instructions and due dates i fi dont write them down. I also have a hard time reading because I lose focus and forget what i was reading and have to start over sometimes 5 or 6 times. I also write letter or numbers backwards without noticing. I have a hard time spelling simple words and I usually leave out letters or put to many in words like assume (like i’ll forgot the second s). I have never been diagnosed with dyslexia but I think I might have it. I am 17 though and have gotten good grades al throughout school so I’m not sure if i’m just overthinking things. I started reading and talking at a very young age so that is something else that makes me think I dont have it. But I have to put my pencil under words when I reading out loud or else I will forget where I was and have to start over or start reading the wrong word.

  • warisha

    hi i am 17 year old i have dyslexia problem which i came to know now from many year i have problem in reading process like i can not read properly i have so much difficulty in reading and also writing words correctly special when its come to write spelling of some word some time i forget a spelling of a simple word and when sometime my teacher say to read when i stand up for reading i can not see word clearly and it so difficult for me to read due to stress of not reading well i got headache plz i request u to tell me how can i get out of this problem

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Warisha, the emotional stress you feel also will cause distorted perceptions, so that is one reason that it becomes more difficult to see the words when you are nervous. We always start by teaching easy stress relief techniques. This article explains how the cycle of confusion and stress makes things worse:

      • warisha hayat

        thank u for guiding me but if there is any treatment that can fully remove dyslexia problem because i have not told any person including my family members that i have this problem and it is so hard for me from suffering from this condition alone and without any help

        • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

          All the problems associated with dyslexia are fully correctable with our methods – but it is does require work to learn and practice the tools and techniques we provide. However, there are not any Davis providers in your country. Our basic techniques are explained in the book The Gift of Dyslexia – and that book can be purchased from any major internet bookseller, in ebook form as well as print — but you would need a tutor or friend who could read the book and work with you. So the first step for you to get help is that you need to talk to a someone who can help. Usually that would be a family member, but it could be a teacher or another adult that you trust.

  • KaraBeth

    Sometime I forget how to spell the simplest of words like of.I will sometimes read numbers backwards.I will mess up on making change.I will stutter and stumble on words.I do fine in school but,I am not that good at spelling and write things twice when write stories.I will read things normal but,I say them wierd like,I got the answer right in math it was 64 and I said 46 out loud.Is this dyslexia or am I just weird?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Kara, the problems you describe can be symptoms of dyslexia. If it happens often and is a problem for you, then it would be a good idea talk to your parents or to a counselor at your school about the problems you are experiencing. If it only happens once in a while and does not bother you most of the time, then it could also be caused by stress or fatigue. Dyslexia is not a disease; it is just a variation in the way that the brain processes information. Everyone makes dyslexic-type mistakes once in a while; it is only a problem when it happens frequently and interferes with your ability to read, study, or participate in class.

  • Annabelle

    I’m a junior in high school and I have always struggled with math. I still count on my fingers and struggle with my multiplication tables. I sometimes say numbers backwards and often mix up direction such as left and right.
    When I read I can’t concentrate and my eyes go in and out of focus. I was prescribed bifocaled glasses for reading and distance in fourth grade. I never use the reading glasses part of them because it looks the same as not wearing my glasses and reading. It doesn’t look blurry. I’m not sure why I need reading glasses.

    I also struggle to read aloud and stutter over words. I can see words from the top of the page to where I was reading and stretch or squish words when reading. I skip over words, add words that weren’t there, or reread and skip over whole lines.

    I rarely mix up my b’s and d’s but it happens. I can’t ever figure out how to express what I want to say or write, such as right now while writing this. My spelling is okay, I guess, but I feel I have a limited vocabulary and new words don’t stick.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Annabelle, everything you describe could be a symptom of dyslexia (or dyscalculia, for the math difficulties). I hope you feel comfortable talking about this with your parents, as you can get help. If you are planning on attending college, it would help you to seek a formal diagnosis, as that might qualify you to receive accommodations on college admissions tests, as well as getting extra support later when you are in college. Of course the symptoms you describe can also be addressed with a Davis program.

  • Annika

    I do well on all my tests but have trouble with things I know are easy for me. I didn’t have these problems before my concussions and know that I didn’t have dyslexia before. I got at least 2 F’s and hardley got them to A’s and/or B’s by the last day. Before the 2015/16 school year I had never had anything less than 100% and then in 6th and 7th grade I suddenly have trouble with everything that makes me me? Reading? Now I’m slow, the words move, the letters change places, and my head hurts. Writing? Spelling and comprehension is hard now. Need I go on? What should I do? I don’t want to nearly fail (a) class(es) in 8th grade. Is it possible to get dyslexia after concussions?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Annika, it is definitely possible to get dyslexia after a head injury, but this is a different type of dyslexia called “acquired dyslexia” — so some of what you read about dyslexia might not apply in your case. I hope that you are getting continuing treatment from a doctor and that your doctor knows about these problems.
      The methods that are describe on this site might help, but recovery time from concussions is extremely variable.

  • kiara d

    hi im 15 and i hav trobule in math and i can spell but not right down like i can tell u wat i mean but it takes me longer to write it my mom tells me to try harder and i do try but nomater how hard i try i always falie

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Kiara, it sounds like you could use extra help. I’d suggest that you talk to your high school guidance counselor about your concerns- she may be able to arrange for testing through your school, or help you talk to your mom about steps to get help. It’s important now, because if you do have a learning difference that can be diagnosed, you may be able to qualify for extra time on tests or other school services. And yes you definitely can overcome your problems, but you do need to learn to use strategies geared the way you think and learn.

  • Diana

    I am in middle school, and In the advance program, and I at first didn’t think I had dyslexia because I thought dyslexia was seeing letters and words in a different order. I can perfectly see a word or phrase and I know what it is suppose to look like but sometimes I switch the letters to making me say the word different like the word ‘foal’ i can see the word and know its spelled f-o-a-l but i pronounce it flow. In regular tests and state assessments I do okay but I reread the sentences about 5 times before I fully understand what they are saying but in writing I need to think for about 20 minutes to write words, phrases and general sentences, I also have problem spelling simple words and I can’t pronounce them right until someone corrects me. In math I do really good but I can’t write down the steps I took to get the answer and I do use my hands for math as well, when I try to remember something I always think of a picture the way I’m suppose to do something or I try to remember what I did before and the scenes that took place before hand. In all of my classes I constantly don’t remember if I have an assignment, I loose track of time always from something extremely important to the simple things. Also, On a daily basis I have to rethink what my people say to understand what there saying, sometimes I act like I am copying what there saying with my hand to comprehend what they’re saying.

    • Diana

      I also get headaches when I read and I can’t study correctly

      • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

        Diana, all of the problems you describe can be caused by dyslexia. I hope you can talk with your parents about your concerns — if you are struggling to do your schoolwork but managing to keep your grades up, your parents may not have any idea about how hard you are working. Dyslexia can be corrected — but at your age you will need to have adults to help you find and get the help you want.

  • Nora G

    Hi there,
    I’m tutoring a high school student in math and saw her naturally print a word from right to left but the word was spelled correctly and each letter was written the correct way! She’s amazingly quiet and sweet and I’m helping her gather strategies and tools to gain understanding of her course work.
    I’ve stumbled upon this website and WOW!!!

    There are so many ideas here for assisting so many students not only with dyslexia but also beginning reading strategies for tactile learners, readers who are speedy quick but miss lots…….and more. It’s definitely worth it to snoop through all of the links on here to find help for your students!

    Thank you for this site! 🙂

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