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 websites 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.

Citation Information
Marshall, A. The Undiagnosed Teenager with Dyslexia. Retrieved December 15, 2019 from Davis Dyslexia Association International. Dyslexia the Gift website:

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  • Jenn

    I’m a Sophomore in high school and have recently been finding an increase in trouble reading. For example, I will try to read a series of numbers or words and, while believing I am reading left to right, will have actually read up and down or right to left. If I realize I have done this it is only after re-reading, and I often do not realize it until after I get a question on a test wrong because of this problem. I also have trouble with spelling words that have double letters where I switch which letter that is doubled (like beggining or begginning instead of beginning). I have also noticed that I tend to stutter when nervous or speaking in front of a large number of people, often confuse right and left, and tend to lose focus when reading (going off into a completely unrelated train of thought). I have never been considered as dyslexic in the past – is it still possible that I might be dyslexic or have developed dyslexia (I underwent chemotherapy when I was little)?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Yes, it is very possible that you are dyslexic. Dyslexia symptoms such as the ones you describe are very closely tied to stress levels and other life influences. So it is quite posssible that the extra demands of high school are causing you to experience symptoms for the first time. You might find this article about dyslexia, disorientation, and the threshold for confusion helpful to understand what could be happening now:

  • Sarah

    Hi my daughter is 12 years old. I feel she is struggling with school work. She seems to be shown something like maths then completely forget the method a few days later. She can read well but finds sounding out some words difficult. She finds if difficult to get answers from a passage in English and put in her own words even if the answers are obvious. Spelling is not too bad. She lacks confidence in school.
    Can you see anything here I should get her tested for.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Sarah, Davis Facilitators regularly work with kids like your daughter. I would encourage you to explore that option for getting help for her. It sounds like she may need help with reading comprehension skills — that she is reading the words but not making the connection to word meaning. A consultation with a Davis Facilitator would help shed more light on the source of these problems. You can use this link to find a facilitator near you:

  • Nick

    I am a junior and college and for a while now I’ve been thinking I may be dyslexic but I have always performed very well in school. I just switched from a tech school to a liberal arts school so I have been taking more writing classes and it’s brought my concerns back into the forefront of my mind. Is it possible to have good grades and perform well in school and still be dyslexic? I have always had trouble with reading and writing and I gonever got beyond freshman level Spanish in highschool because I struggled so much with languages. I also stumble over my words when I speak even if I’m not reading something. Is that part of dyslexia?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Yes, it’s possible to do well in school and still be dyslexic. Dyslexia is related to the way the brain processes language. Trouble with reading and writing, difficulty learning foreign languages, and stumbling over words when speaking are all common symptoms.

  • Marcy

    Hey, I’m 17, and I’m not sure if I’m dyslexic, but I had a lot of trouble learning to read when I was younger. Somehow the words just didn’t stick in my mind. I still have a hard time reading out loud, I stumbled over words and mix up the orders of things. Pronounceing unfamiliar word is a nightmare to me, and I usually end up saying the letters out of order. I also have never understood spelling, and I’m very bad at it. The thing is though, I love to read and write, because I love stories. and I usually do really well in English, because I’m good at putting together sentences and paying attention to the flow of language. Yet somehow, the actual letters and written words completely confuses me. Could I still be dyslexic, or is this just not something I’m good at?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Yes, Marcy –you very likely are dyslexic. All of the symptoms you describe are consistent with dyslexia, beginning with having trouble learning to ead when you were younger. Being dyslexic doesn’t prevent a person from becoming a reader or writer, it just is a difference in the way your mind works that makes it more difficult for most children to learn to read, write, and spell. But the symptoms of dyslexia are quite variable from one person to another, and all children are capable of learning — so in your case you clearly have managed to overcome some of problems, but still are experiencing others.

  • Mrs Christine H

    My grandson 14 has been telling his school he has Dyxlexia but they take no notice . He has set his heart on coming a Maths teacher and is really good at maths . But because of this he didn’t get very good grades . And he feels he has let us down bless him he hasn’t and we don’t know how to nelly him . What can we do he is really down about it . Thanks for listening .

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Please consider having your grandson work with a Davis Facilitator. You can find listings in your area here:

      It is obvious that your grandson isn’t going to get help from his school at this point. But if your grandson is motivated, then a one-week program can turn things around for him and put him on the path to success. He can realize his dreams, but he also needs help.

  • Chloe

    I had a dyslexia test last year but it came back and said that I don’t have dyslexia.
    However I have problems with spelling simple words and spell them how them are said.
    I also have to re read questions and book several times to understand the information. I am also a very slow reader and hate reading out loud in class as I often skip words or lines – which I find embarrassing. My work often lacks depth and has many grammar errors. Even when I use word check the correct word does not come up as my spelling is wrong. I struggle with their, there and they’re ect.
    I regularly mix numbers around when speaking and writing down leading me to get the answers wrong. I find it very hard to spot mistakes in my writing as I read it as correct.
    I also find it very hard to express and write down what I want to say and find it difficult finding a specific word when writing.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Chloe, if your parents are supportive, I would suggest making an appointment with a Davis Facilitator -you will find listings for your country here:

      Dyslexia stems from differences in the way you brain is wired. Very often, smart or highly motivated students manage to cope with the differences well enough that they don’t test badly enough to qualify for an official dyslexia diagnosis, because the diagnostic tests are all designed around looking for deficits. This has sometimes been called “stealth dyslexia” because the dyslexia is real, but the tests used for diagnosis are only looking for superficial symptoms.

      All the problems you listed are common symptoms of disorientation and dyslexia, and the screenng for a Davis program includes looking for positive talents associated with dyslexia. In any case, it doesn’t matter what it is called– what matters is that you have a problem and you want help – and from what you have written, I am confident that a Davis Facilitator will be able to give you the tools needed to overcome all the problems you have listed. A appointment for screening and consultation is not expensive, and is also a good step to get more insight and understanding of your learning style whether or no you decide to go forward with a program.

  • Georgia

    My 12 year old was tested and said to be a severe dyslexic. He is in the 6th grade and has always made good grades. As long as his work is read to him. He is reading on a 1st to 2nd grade level. Is there a chance he just might not ever be able to read?? He has a tutor and he works hard but seems to forget how to sound easy words out? Is there kids that just can’t learn to read??

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Georgia, we never say never. Very often Davis Facilitators work with kids who were said to have the “worst” case of dyslexia and whose special ed teachers said they would never be able to read — and these kids then turn out to be the ones who have astounding results, such as jumping 5 grade levels in reading ability during the program week. There is a very simply reason that this happens — the child has simply been taught by methods that never were going to work. Rather than change approach, the teachers double down and simply intensify the methods that aren’t working. This only makes the situation worse, as it increases frustration level for the child and that in turn usually magnifies the symptoms of dyslexia.

      We generally see this with phonics-based remediation approaches. Studies show that 20-40% of children cannot benefit from phonics-based teaching – they are characterized in the research as “nonresponders”. But studies also show that the best predictor of whether an older child like your son will learn to read is the ability to develop alternative, right-brained strategies for reading. The research labels these as “compensatory” strategies, but the fact is that dyslexics who read well do so using mental strategies like the ones we focus on with Davis programs. We believe that all dyslexics are fully capable of learning to read well, but do best with a strength-based approach geared to their mental strengths.

      Your son should not be “sounding out” easy words at age 12 — those words need to be in his sight vocabulary. Usually the “easy” words are the same ones that we call trigger words, and which are addressed through Davis Symbol Mastery.

      Here’s a good article to start with to learn more: When Phonics Doesn’t Work

  • Phoenix

    I am 14 years old, and I think I might have dyslexia. When I read I mix up words and replace them with words that I have read before without knowing. I never notice it until I reread. Im good at grammer but not so much spelling. When I spell something it always looks wrong and I have to try to figure out how to spell it even thought it may be right in the first place. (My mom and I have the same problem). I cant recognize words off the top of my head when I read so it makes it difficult for me to pronounce or write them. When I am writing by hand I still mix up the letters B/D, N/M, and U/V.

  • Max

    I think i might have dyslexia but im not sure. I am hesitant to tell my prents because i get very good results and they wont believe me. To start off I have a lot of trouble with english. I am very bad at spelling, grammer and i often repeat myself when writing essay most often ill repeat a sentence staright after just saying it or i might repeat the same word againn straight after. My teachers also tell me that My sentences are often incoherent and I wont understand why. I also find it very hard to spot mistakes in my work when proofreading regardless of how many errors i make i won’t spot them no matter how many times i reread what i wrote. This is starnge as i am very good oraly at english and on the school debate team. I also find it very hard to study materils that look poor visually, for some reason. i will misread words and unconciasly sub in simpler words for more complex words withouht meaning to when i read it. I also read question incorrectly in maths and find questions with lots of words in them difficult to understand. Also not sure if this is related but i often space out in clases and my vision gets kind of blurry and i wont be able to concentrate ony anything. Regardless of all this I am 17 and very late in the school cycle do you thik that if i even have dyslexia it would even be worth getting a diagnosis so late on in my school life?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Max, you have described problems which are common signs of dyslexia. I do not know what, if any, services might be available in your country through the school system or whether you might quailify for accommodations at university with a formal diagnosis. The Davis program for dyslexia is effective at any age and would give you tools to address disorientation (spacing out, difficulty with concentration) as well as issues with spelling and writing. Your parents can find listings of Davis Facilitators here:

  • Gloria

    Hi, I’m fifteen, and I’ve always been really bad at spelling, and I could never finish a book, I managed to read on book and I’m really slow at reading, it also gets me really sleepy. Also it also feels like the words are moving around the page, and i often find myself just following the words and not actually reading them, but instead thinking about something different. I often find myself daydreaming in class, and I really struggle to concentrate on what the teacher is saying, and they often don’t even notice that i’m not paying attention, because i might even be looking at them, but then not acutely paying attention, but just thinking about something off subject.

    I also really struggle with doing homework, and even studying for tests because I procrastinate a lot, and I also find it hard to understand articles for my level, because often when I come across a new word (or even just a really big word) I just can’t read it, I read half way through the word and then ignore the rest. Also i’ve noticed i mess up pronunciation and mix up words when speaking, and this happens on a daily basis.

    Also I really struggle in math, and understanding it.

    Another thing, I live in a german speaking country and have been learning german for 9 years now, and I’m still not even close to being fluent (I go to an english school).

    I also really struggled whilst learning the time tables and only managed to master it two years ago, and sometimes i still mess up the numbers, because, i don’t find it logical, its more just memorisation. I also can’t read the clock, and my mom gets really mad, and once i stood infant of the clock for five minutes until i managed to read the time, because my mom wouldn’t let me go until i read it.

    I also feel super overwhelmed with everything- including school, and its really hard for me to remember assignments. Also I’m socially awkward, I avoid unnecessary conversation, and overthink every thing. Sometimes I try to say something- like an idea, and then i literally can’t express it in words, and then i just can’t express it in anyway- not even with speech, because it wouldn’t make sense.

    My mom just thinks I’m not trying at school, but I’m really struggling, and I told them when I was 10 that the words move around, and I have constant headaches (at least one headache a week) since the age of ten. They also know that since last year my grades haven’t been the best and that I miss my deadlines (but thats because I forget to do the work, or the task was confusing, and sometimes its just that i can’t concentrate) but they just think i’m not trying, they never ask why it’s happening, but they just shout at em and get really mad, and I really try to finish the tasks for school, even if its just for the sake of not being shouted at by my parents.

    Also I would ask my parents to get checked if you recommended so- also its cheaper to do it in europe rather than america.
    Sorry if this turned out like I was being rude in anyway- that often accidentally happens :/
    Thanks again :))

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Gloria, everything you describe is consistent with dyslexia. I do not know what the cost would be for formal diagnostic testing in Europe, but a consultation with a Davis Facilitator is not expensive. You can find listings for your country here – – you’ll notice that the languages spoken is noted at the top of each listing, and about half of the facilitator in your country offer services in English as well as German.

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