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 December 9, 2022 from Davis Dyslexia Association International. Dyslexia the Gift website:

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  • ND


    I’m a 17-year-old girl, I’m a junior taking on senior classes in order to graduate early. I am currently learning virtually due to medical issues. The program I’m currently doing involves a lot of reading & writing which isn’t exactly my strong suit and I have been struggling even more with it than I usually do. I always thought I had problems, but it’s been worse lately. I have also scored low on standardized tests for college due to vision issues and have been thinking recently that I might be dyslexic. I’m worried that it might affect my performance for college and the career I’m interested in doing which is child psychology. I would like to know if there’s a possibility I might be dyslexic, If so I wanted to know how I could cope with it or where to seek a diagnosis.

    Here are some of the issues I’ve struggled with throughout my life:

    I started talking when I was about four and a half which was pretty late. I wasn’t able to form or learn words at that age. I had to receive speech therapy for several years for the speech delay and mispronunciation and grammar. I still have problems speaking, always confusing words or making up words and have a hard time reading. I have to read something multiple times before I fully understand it and I’m insecure about reading out loud because I have trouble with it. Every time I read something I tend to have double vision and skip sentences or see different words. I try to avoid reading due to these issues. I’m supposed to see a neuro-ophthalmologist due to my vision issues in a few months. I also use multiple grammatical errors tools when writing because sometimes what I write doesn’t make any sense and I have poor spelling. I remember doing mirror writing sometimes as well when I was younger, but grew out of it. Everyone thought I just had problems speaking because I’m bilingual. In my second language you say everything backwards than you would in English and sometimes I would confuse the two and talk backwards or jumble words together. I still sometimes have the habit of doing that. I was also diagnosed with adhd at a young age due to my concentration and memory problems which interfered with my school work. I had to learn to cope with my inattentive issues. I sometimes feel dumb for the issues I’m experiencing because everyone my age don’t necessarily have these issues and have to think a lot about what I’m trying to say when I communicate otherwise I will get strange looks which has given me anxiety. I also have a hard time understanding what people say sometimes and it’s been difficult to communicate when I don’t understand what people are saying. My brother also had speech delay and was taught sign language but now he speaks so easily and loves writing and reading. I sometimes get anxious when talking to him since I know he will try to correct me every time I speak and make fun of me. One word that I mispronounced once that he always brings up was “intellectual” and I said something like “intelecual”.

    I try to not let these issues bother me, but it’s been hard to cope with them and I want to figure out what’s going on. I wanted to know if there’s a possibility that dyslexia is the cause of these issues. I also have many medical issues both physical and mental and I’m nervous to bring up the possibility that I might be dyslexic to my parents because we’re still dealing with other issues and it has been frustrating for me, but I know it has been for them as well. I would also like some advice on how to deal with that if I might be. Please let me know whenever you can.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Generally, you would need to get an evaluation from an educational psychologist to get a formal diagnosis. This can be particularly valuable at your age, because you may qualify for accommodations such as extra time on exams at a college or university.

      Whether your problems stem from dyslexia or not, we do have effective techniques for addressing and resolving them. If you are interested in learning more about Davis programs for dyslexia and attention mastery, you can ask your parents to help you set up a consultation with a Davis Facilitator — you will find listings at

  • Nikky

    Hi, my name is Nikky, I am 16 years old and I believe I may have some form of dyslexia. I have always been a slow reader, I sometimes need to reread things to fully understand what I read. I have a very hard time learning new words, especially if the arr longer words. Know I use my finger to read, and I have realized it was very helpful. I also have a hard te spelling. I have started asking others if I spell simple words correctly. Recently, I was doing a test and forgot how to spell the word poison. I wrote poision instead, because that is what looked right to me. On the other hand, I excel in math, but my I have a hard time using materials I learned previously in math. I only focus on what I am currently learning. I also took a test for dyslexia on online recently, that said I read at a 6th grade level though I am in 10th grade. I also did terribly on the z screener, I scored a 38%. I don’t know if I am overly thinking this or I truly have dyslexia.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Nikky, dyslexia is a difference in the way a person thinks and learns. It occurs along a spectrum — each person is unique and will have their own variations. Dyslexia is not a disease that a person either has or doesn’t have, but instead a description of a more general pattern or set of characteristics. When a person is “diagnosed” with dyslexia it just means that formalized testing shows that they have learning traits that fit this pattern.

      The problems you describe are all common with dyslexia. If you feel that they are creating problems for you with your schoolwork, then you might want to ask a school counselor or your parents about getting further testing, as it could qualify for you some types of support at school.

  • Ellie

    Hi, I’m Ellie. I’m a 15 year old. I’ve been wondering if I have dyslexia lately, considering it’s difficult for me to read aloud, I have to reread sentences and paragraphs, I have trouble keeping up on schoolwork, I am terrible with understanding math (such as algebra), I miss out on school work because I wasn’t told about it, and I consistently accidentally write the wrong letters in words, like I somehow put an H into the word “and”. I am a good reader though, and started reading high-school level books when in 4th grade, maybe even college level. Thank you for your time.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Ellie, the symptoms you describe are all consistent with dyslexia — for many people, the symptoms only show up when there is more pressure — so the homework demands of high school might be a reason you are first noticing these symptoms now. Here’s an article that explains more about that:

  • Ted

    Hey, I am Ted, I am a 14-year-old boy from Australia. I have always have had severe difficulty with my spelling and i wonder if I am dyslexic. My spelling is probably comparable to a 9-year-old and I have had problems with it since a young age. I think my reading ability is on average but I do have difficulty reading out loud. But in the contrary, i do have good grades and I think that I have a large vocabulary for my age. Is there a possibility i have it?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Problems with spelling are definitely a sign of dyslexia, and those problems are also often the most persistent. So the pattern of being able to read but struggling with spelling is common, especially in English because of the irregularity of English spelling.

  • Cathy

    My daughter is 16, she always had problems with retention and memorising information. She can read very well and has been above her age for reading, however she doesn’t comprehend what she is reading. She always gives unrelated description to a question and not using information that taught minutes from asking her the question. what is your diagnosis to this?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      We can’t give a “diagnosis” online, but the comprehension problems you describe are common with dyslexia and are caused because her mind cannot make sense of the words she is reading. In our work we find that it is usually the small function words of the language — words like “it” or “of” or “from” – that are the source of confusion. You can learn more about how we help individuals overcome this problem here:

  • Waseem zahir

    Hey, my nephew is 14 and he’s still mot been able to read or write a single sentence.
    He has no mental and physical problem and he is socially normal. The only thing that he can’t do is reading.
    His parents are very concerned about him. They think if he can not read or write he can’t excel in any career.
    Can you plz tell me what is his problem? Is he dyslexic?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Yes, you are describing classic signs of dyslexia: a person who has been unable to learn to read or write despite no other mental or physical problems. If your nephew would like to learn to read, it’s very likely that a Davis program can help him. Our program works when others don’t because rather than trying to teach or reteach the same strategies that have already failed, we work with a person’s strengths and give them a different set of tools to work with than the ones that have already failed. You can find listings of all Davis Facilitators worldwide at

    • Katie

      I’m a 13 year old girl and I have some symptoms of dyslexia. Like I have trouble reading, understanding, staying focused, and I’m constantly fidgety and I don’t know why. I haven’t told my parents but I think they know that I “sometimes” have trouble reading

      • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

        I hope you will be able to share your concerns with your parents. Your school work will get more difficult as you reach high school, so you may find you need extra help. Keep in mind that with the right help you can succeed!

  • 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:

      You might consider consulting with a Davis Facilitator about your son. You can find listings here:

  • 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 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.

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