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 February 29, 2020 from Davis Dyslexia Association International. Dyslexia the Gift website:

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  • Sabahat

    I’m 20 year old I think I dyslexic because I have poor spellings and difficulty in reading. …

  • Michelle

    My 15year some had been complaining about seeing the letters switching when he reads. He has had a hard time through out school , especially in language arts and math . What should my next steps be in getting him the help he needs ?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Michelle, here are your options:

      1) You can seek testing through your son’s high school. This could be a smooth process, but it could also be something of a battle with the school–it really depends a lot on where you live and local policies and practices. (In the US, federal law does require that schools test for learning differences when appropriate, but there can be a big gap between what the law requires and what actually happens). The advantage of testing is that if your son is formally diagnosed with dyslexia, he may qualify for services including an IEP or 504 plan; and this may also help him qualify for extended time on exams. For more information about that process, see: School Testing for Dyslexia

      2. You can also arrange for private testing from a psychologist or other qualified professional. This diagnosis can also qualify your son to receive accommodations in school and in other standardized testing; however, testing can also be expensive and usually is not covered by insurance. For more information, see Who Can Diagnose

      3. If you would like to arrange help for your son to overcome his problems, you can also consider consulting with a Davis Facilitator about your son’s needs. A facilitator can provide screening to determine whether your son would benefit from a Davis program. Davis programs involve short-term, intensive one-on-one work with a facilitator- with followup work that can be done at home with the support of a parent or tutor. A Davis program often results in dramatic improvement — and would definitely help your son overcome his reported problems with letters switching, as well as the reading fluency and comprehension problems that are probably causing him problems in language arts. There is also a Davis program for math. To find a Davis Facilitator, you can use the directory here:

  • Rob

    So all of my life I’ve been called stupid or slow and even I believed cause I couldnt think of anything else. I think I have short term memory, mixing up of letters or adding a extra letter, I say “what” or “huh” a lot and also people say the same when I talk, I freeze up when I talk mostly because cause something distracted me or something like that and forgot what I say( this happens a lot ). It really takes a toll on me on trying to pick a great career for me. On the side I have high anxiety problems, mostly Socal anxiety.

  • Rachel

    My boyfriend and I work on homework together on Google Docs and he has noticed more and more that I will consistently switch letters no matter the word. I’ve always had trouble with comprehension and my PSAT/SAT scores didn’t truly match with my GPA (3.25). I also never got the hang of higher math. But, I’m 19 and finishing my freshman year of college, is it normal to really see the symptoms this late in my teen years?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Yes, dyslexia impacts adults as well as kids. It sounds like you probably have some dyslexic tendencies but have compensated well over the years. But this very well could explailn your difficulties with reading comprehension and with standardized tests.

  • Sam G

    I feel like i am dyslexic, but i have pretty much one no to turn to. i have isuess with adding e at the end of with (withe) . it only happens when i dont catch it. i often do stuff backwards. wehn i play piano i often get the song backwards. i sometimes read things and backwards wehn i try to write things for reading class often get bad grades because of speeling errors, switched words, ect. i feel like i have one no to turn to but in thought about talking to my counselor tomorrow with a few friends becuase i am afraid of people thinking im doing it for attention, I am so afriad…

    • Mia

      I think you should definitely talk to your councelor about it. There’s nothing to be afraid of, it’s very brave of you to recognise it and take action. Good for you for taking control

  • Natalia

    i live in england and i think i might be dyslexic. i don’t want to talk to my parents about it because they will just say i “need to concentrate more” or “that it’s because of my phone” but i would like to be tested so that i can no for certain if i need extra support or not

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Natalia, can you talk to a teacher or the SEN coordinator at your school? The SEN coordinator would be able to tell you what the process is for getting help at your school.

      • Natalia

        The only kind of support we can get at our school is the school nurse and i asked her about it and she said i should get “dyslexia screening” is that what you mean

  • Cole

    I’m a 17 year old Junior in high school and I am a genious at math and scirnce but readimg amd writtiny arent my stroug suits. I am not able to read novels for some reason and it take me a long time to take notes for class. I tend to make a lot of typos and I cant spell very well. Thank god for autocorrect. Also my handwritting is terrible and illegible to anyone besides me at times. How come I’m able to do Calculus, Physics, Chemistry, etc without any diffucity at all yet I dont do well at all at english? I dont mix up nunbers but I struggle with words. Also, you may have realized reading this that I’m not exactly and eloquent speaker and my thoughts get stuck inside my head, so I often just talk in circles…

  • Casper

    I’m 17 and I think I might be dyslexic. When I was starting elementary school, my parents put me in a year too early, making me younger than all of my peers. At first I could keep up, though I had a lot of difficulty spelling, writing, and reading. My teachers told me to “sound the words out” so I could spell them, but I’d end up finding creative ways to spell things. Eventually they took me out of my classes and put me into a separate class specially made for me to learn how to read, write, and spell. My dad said that they also did tests on me to find out if I had a learning disability, and the results were that I didn’t (I was 4-6 years old at the time).

    My grades have always been great, but my test scores are awful because I don’t have enough time to read the questions. I find myself getting stuck on simple sentences, having to re-read them at least 5-7 times before I either get it or give up and move on. Lately my grades have been dropping. I’ve been getting frustrated a lot and it makes it so much harder to focus on reading.

    Other things I’ve notched is that when I have to write something that ends in “-ed” I tend to write “-ing”. I’ve also noticed that I mix up words such as “on” and “of”, “me” and “my”, “you(r)” and “our”, “take” and “make”, etc. I also repeat words without noticing, and I often ask others to read it out loud to me so I can understand. Even then, I ask for them to repeat it multiple times so I can understand it. I hate reading out loud and whenever I bring these issues up to my dad, he just tells me I’m a bright, intellegant kid who gets good grades when I try hard enough. It’s so frustrating because I’ve been trying SO HARD lately, yet every word just blends together. I’ll read a common word like “don’t” and I’ll have no clue what it means. I’ll spell something correctly but it just looks wrong. Sometimes when I read sentences it feels like a connect-the-dot puzzle that I just don’t understand.

    My dad has convinced me that I’m making this all up to add to my other mental illnesses (I have depression, anxiety, eating disorder, and some behavioral issues that haven’t been specified yet). Because I enjoy reading, writing, and I talk a lot, I feel like he’s right? I’m trying my best to not squeeze myself into a role that i don’t belong in, but i can’t help but wonder if i have a problem or not.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      I’ve also noticed that I mix up words such as “on” and “of”, “me” and “my”, “you(r)” and “our”, “take” and “make”, etc.

      This is very commmon and the Davis Dyslexia program is designed to directly address that problem.

      It is very difficult to get valid test results for dyslexia with a child under age 6, so whatever testing you had as a very young child would not be reliable at this point.

      I’m sorry that your father is not supportive or understanding. As you say that you enjoy reading, I would encourage you to read the book The Gift of Dyslexia and decide for yourself whether the book explains or describes the problems you are feeling and experiencing.

  • Josh

    I think I have dyslexia. I eventually told my mom but we can find testing. Something about insurance or the school wont call back

    • sam

      Schools don’t want to give dyslexia a label as a disability so trying to get help at school is very limited, if that. Perhaps you can reach out to local home school groups that have members that have either dealt with dyslexia or know people personally that tutor and test for dyslexia.
      there are many facebook pages dedicated to homeschool groups, probably some in your area.

  • Jenna

    I think i have dyslexia but i dont know how to tell her or ask her if we can try and find help

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