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 January 29, 2023 from Davis Dyslexia Association International. Dyslexia the Gift website:

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  • Jackie

    My 17yo daughter performed well at school and achieved As in her GCSEs. Once she started A levels she fell off a cliff, academically, failing almost everything. She was screened at school last year for learning issues. Her working memory, executive function and Visio spatial put her on the 3rd centile, yet her standardised tests show she is above average, and her reading comprehension &speed are at 93rd centile – so she she did not show as dyslexic. I know she has had reading issues since the day she started school – she couldn’t do phonics at all, and needed learning support for reading. She has now left school without the grades needed for uni and she is upset and confused. Now that she’s left school there is no support. We’re kind of at a loss as to what her issues are. I was convinced it was dyslexia but the tests say otherwise. What else causes such low working memory and executive function yet is scoring high with comprehension? ‍♀️

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Jackie, we would consider your daughter to be dyslexic — probably falling either in the category of “stealth dyslexia” or “2E” (gifted with a learning difference). She’s the type of kid who also fits the description of not being behind enough or poorly enough to qualify for identification in a school setting. It’s not that her struggles weren’t real — they were. And because there is no set, agreed standard for diagnosis of dyslexia — it may be difficult or impossible to get a helpful determination from traditional, diagnostic testing.

      Rather than looking for an official diagnosis, I think it is sometimes best to simply look at the specific problems or areas of difficulty as you (or your daughter) experience them – and work toward finding the solution to those problems.

      If your daughter is motivated to work toward overcoming her present difficulties, I’d encourage you to arrange a consultation with a Davis Facilitator — the Facilitator would be able to determine whether or not a Davis program would help her reach her goals. You can find complete, current worldwide listings here:

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