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 September 24, 2020 from Davis Dyslexia Association International. Dyslexia the Gift website:

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  • 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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