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 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 May 12, 2021 from Davis Dyslexia Association International. Dyslexia the Gift website:

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  • liz z

    This article mentions that dyslexic students could have problems with standardised tests – can someone please tell me whether this would include the ALIS test used as a grade predictor in many secondary schools?

  • Jane

    I remember, when I was in primary school. I got bullied because I can’t distinguished the difference between b and d. Also, I decided to write t without the tail and just like cross because I always forgot where to put the tail. I can sometimes write J L 3 5 S C in their mirror image. Then I always shuffles the syllables when reading that’s why I don’t like reading in front of the class. Like Yabag but I read it a loud as Bayag. I also shuffles numbers. I don’t know the right or left. I don’t have specific penmanship. I can’t volunteer on reading a loud in class. Spelling is my weakness. I don’t like writing the process in answering math, but I love math because I have lots of tricks in solving. I don’t like taking notes or writing. I can feel that I am moving although I’m not. I can’t focus on reading because it gets blurred easily. I can’t understand the instruction verbally. And more.

  • Asha

    i am 15 and I’ve struggled with reading and spelling my entire life as well as math I don’t know to deal with it and I don’t if a have dyslexia.

  • Jordan

    Hi! I am 17 years old and a senior in high school. I have struggled with spelling and reading my entire life as well as math. The first time I noticed something off about my reading abilities was in early elementary school- I mixed up the letters b and d in the word “bed”. I also have a tendency to skip lines or even multiple lines when I read. (This is partially due to a convergence insufficiency I have in my eyes). Reading words that look similar to other words has also been an issue for me because I often read them as a word that is not actually on the paper. When I’m reading I often need to re-read the content 1 to 3 times before fully understanding it. Hand-writing material gives me anxiety because grammar and spelling is often lost on me. My writing is also never consistent and I misspell words in different ways frequently even if I knew how to spell it an hour beforehand. When I’m writing or typing work I have a tendency to leave out portions of the sentence I’m trying to write ( ranges from one word to like half the thought I was making). Reading out loud in class is something I try to avoid at all costs- it gives me extreme anxiety because of the symptoms I mentioned earlier( skipping lines, misreading words, incorrectly pronouncing common words,). Despite the aforementioned, I have been able to excel in school and have been an almost straight A student and even was in the gifted program since 3rd grade. However, I’m frightened by how everything I mentioned before might impact my experience at college. Is there a chance these issues could be a result of having dyslexia?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Jordan, these problems are common traits of dyslexia. If you feel that they are problems for you, the problems can easily be addressed with Davis techniques. You can learn more from the book, The Gift of Dyslexia, or by arranging a consultation with a Davis Facilitator.

  • Paige

    Hi. My names Paige im 17 and all my life ive been told i have a possibility of being dyslexic (is that how you spel it). Ive never been tested. Ive struggled with learning all through school. Ive never kept up with my school work as i find it difficult. If researched dyslexia and symptoms among other things.
    I wish to be a nurse and got to uni but i cant if i cant catch up with with the rest of my peers. I can fund the concentration all the time to do it. Ive also taken to reafing online instead of books as words jump around if that makes sense whereas online i can chance font size and colour to make it easier and i tend to stay away from reading out loud as i stutter over words. I want to make ot easier for myself to complete things but i dont now how.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Paige, I would suggest that you talk to a Davis Facilitator about how our program can help you. It doesn’t matter if you have a formal diagnosis; you are describing the types of problems that we can help with. A Davis program would do exactly what you want – provide a way to make it easier for you to complete things. You’ll find listings of facilitators here:

  • rk

    Could you suggest me If I need to take my son to Dyslexia testing?
    My 14 year old son gets decent grades in school and does pretty good with Math . He is a slow reader like literally pauses in between to read certain words and move on with reading once he gets that word. He easily understands very complex concepts in math and coding yet struggles to comprehend simple things at times.
    One very consistent feedback from all of his teachers so far is he is much more intelligent than his grades and The way he interprets concepts and post questions in the class room is pretty amusing.
    As he is getting into higher grades and getting more writing assignments, I see him becoming more reluctant to write . He always answers in one or two lines if possible in words. Frequently needing reminders to do his homework on time.
    Another thing is he spells brite for bright , fo for of. Although he quickly realizes his mistake and corrects it , he often fumbles at those simple words like the , of ,this etc..


    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Your son seems to fit a profile we often see — struggling with reading & writing, but escaping notice from the school because he performs well-enough to get by. Formal diagnostic testing is a good option, but it can be hard to get a firm diagnosis — it would be a good idea to work with an evaluator who also has experience with gifted children.

      The good news is that your son can be helped, with or without a formal diagnosis, if he is motivated to address his problems with reading and writing. You can consult with a Davis Facilitator near you to learn more about how your son can be helped See

  • claire

    Im 15 and just recently got diagnosed with adhd and anxiety. I have struggled with reading out loud, spelling, all aspects of reading all my life, but I’m scared that the dyslexia diagnosis process will be a similar situation to my stressful ADHD diagnosis process. It was super difficult to diagnose me with adhd since I do well in school and get a’s in all honors and ap classes and was able to mask a lot of my struggles. Since I do really well in Language arts I seem like there isn’t concern for dyslexia. When getting diagnosed with adhd it was a super stressful process since no one took my issues seriously because i do well in school. And because I have always gotten a’s in my honors language arts classes i feel like no one will take me seriously when getting a dylexia diagnosis. The reason why i do well in my Language arts classes is because I work so much harder to get those grades than my peers. I reread everything, read books in short incriments, and read multiple summaries of what i read to understand the text. (this is similar to how i explained to my psychologist my situation when getting adhd diagnosis). also it seems like people cant recognize that i understand complex ideas in literature while still struggling with reading and grammer/vocab. Or that just bc i do well in my language class doesn’t mean that i cant have a learning disability since there are ways i have compensate for my struggles like creating good study habits. Lastly, i was wondering you guys had any tips for being prepared for the diagnosis process for dyslexia so i can avoid the issues i had in the ADHD diagnosis process?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Claire – Because dyslexia occurs along a spectrum, you are right to anticipate that you may encounter difficulties in getting a firm diagnosis.
      Unfortunately, the criteria for diagnosis is not standardized and you could get different results depending on the tests the diagnostician chooses to use and their judgment in interpreting test results. If your psychologist is the same person who will do the diagnostic testing, you might ask whether the psychologist has worked with 2E (“twice exceptional”) students or is familiar with the term “stealth dyslexia.” You could also read the book, The Gift of Dyslexia— is the description of picture-thinking in the book similar to the way you think and information? If you feel the book accurately describes your feelings and your thinking style, that might provide another starting point for discussion with your psychologist.

      Keep in mind that you don’t need a diagnosis to get help from a program like ours. The main benefit of a diagnosis is that it can qualify you for extra help or accommodations at school.

  • Ayden M

    I am 15, and since my immediate friend group is made up of only people with learning disabilities, I didn’t realize that subjects that I’m struggling with were not challenging at all for Nero typical kids. I’ve never been able to read aloud very well (I was always slower than the other kids, and I would miss pronounce and skip over words often), I’ve always written letters the wrong way (w’s upside down, bs and D’s switched around, l’s the wrong way etc.), and I am TERRIBLE at spelling, but I never assumed that it could be linked to a more serious problem. However now I’m beginning to suspect that I might have an undiagnosed learning disability. But, I’ve recently been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and my parents aren’t too understanding. I’m afraid if I bring up the conversation of another Thing wrong with me, they’ll think I’m doing it for attention or medication (bolth things they’ve accused other family members of). Does anyone have any advice on how to get help without confronting my parents? Or on how to bring it up nonchalantly?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Ayden, the troubles you describe are all very common and consistent with dyslexia — but these are also things that are correctable. We do NOT use or recommend medication of any sort for dyslexia. It’s important to understand that dyslexia is not a disease, or something “wrong” with you. It is basically a difference in the way your brain is wired — but the key is simply to learn the right strategies, geared to your learning strengths. The book, The Gift of Dyslexia, explains our view and the techniques we use. It is not a difficult book to read, so perhaps you can find a copy in the library to get a sense of our view. I think that if you see dyslexia in the same light that we do, you might find it easier to talk with your parents.

  • Avery

    I am 13 years old and I love reading and writing. However, I always hated reading allowed because every time I pronounced something wrong. I also get numbers in math very mixed up and my teacher or parents have to show me the numbers or symbols. I’ve never had to see someone to help learn how to read or write though. I’ve also always stayed away from reading allowed and if I had to I would read really quietly and skip over the words I can’t pronounce. I’ve researched it and I got into many of the categories. I don’t know if I actually have it or not though.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Avery, dyslexia is not a disease, but a difference in the way a person thinks and learns. The difficulties tied to dyslexia exist along a spectrum – it can be very mild or more severe So it isn’t something that a person either has or doesn’t have– rather, it’s a way of describing a person’s overall learning profile. The problems you describe are very typical for dyslexia. If you like, you can complete a survey online to get a report that will give you a better overview of your learning strengths and weaknesses. You will find that here:

  • Rhonda

    By the time I was in 2nd grade I I was diagnosed with dyslexia. I struggled through school until my freshman year of high school I was blessed with an amazing staff at my high school. I am a 45 now and now have no sign of my dyslexi my frist child born 01 was diagnosed with a decoding disability. My second child has the signs of Dyslexia worse than what mine was. In Wyoming they don’t text for dyslexia I have to take her to a psychologist to try and get a diagnosis. Good schools here will not do it but they did do it for my eldest. My two oldest daughters have struggled when it comes to reading, reading comprehension, spelling, writing ECT.
    Thank goodness my third child has no sign of any disability.

  • Noname

    im almost 14 and ive struggled quite alot with school and concentration alot in the past few years. i think im probably quite late to this post as ive seen that you havent replied to some of the more recent comments but i might as well try anyway to see if i get a reply. im was very smart as a child, but when i got older i struggled with simple things like spelling reading and even simple math. i still cant do dividing, adding, subtracting or timsing on the spot and have to write it down or use my fingers. i revise a lot for my tests, especially maths, but i never do well and most of the time miss out like half of my test. another thing is that i just get so angry and upset all the time over things that i shouldnt be getting upset about. its hard because i just feel like i cant concentrate at all, and i always have to be doing something to listen if that makes sense. like when my teacher is talking, i have to be fiddling with a pen or somehting for me to focus. i just never feel as smart as other kids my age, and i cant do things that i used to have no problem with as a child. i dont know if maybe im just simply loosing interest and just not very smart, or if i might have something like dislexia or adhd. please can someone just give me a bit of help and advice of what might be wrong?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      You might find it helpful to complete the online survey here:
      It is completely confidential — you don’t have to log-in or provide any personal information — and it will give you a report with a good overview of your strengths and areas of weaknesses at the end.

    • No name

      If you find it hard especially in maths, you may have discalculor which is basically dyslexia but for maths (kind of) . If you look into it online it will give you more information about it.

  • Abby

    I am 13 years old and I like to read and I read frequently, but when I was in first grade, I had to get special help to learn how to read. When I read now, though, it seems like I understand most things, but I have to stop every once in a while to reset my pace. Also, when I researched common signs of treating dyslexia, my special help fits into most of the steps. When I spell, my handwriting is different every time I pick up the pencil, and sometimes I write a word incorrectly that I spelled correctly 10 words ago. I fit into more than half of the signs of dyslexia, but I don’t show signs that others see in dyslexia. Am I just trying to convince myself that I have dyslexia, or do I actually have it?

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