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 April 20, 2021 from Davis Dyslexia Association International. Dyslexia the Gift website:

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  • Lucas

    I am 15 and I often struggle with lengthy reading projects during most of my classes. I was raised bilingual but struggle a lot more with my other language, almost treating it as a second language. Often I am not able to focus on a task given, and when I cannot bear having anything to do. I fidget a lot with my fingers and banging on a table/desk, so much so it feels like torture when I am told to stop, or it feels unnatural. I am partly ambidextrous as I eat and write with my left hand, but do everything else like I play piano dominantly with my right hand. I struggle to write a lot on paper because I am unable to hold a pencil correctly or in the same way and often fall behind my peers in this form of task. I have been learning to read sheet music for about a year and I still struggle to read the basics. I have no issue with spelling most of the time except with words like “necessary”. I have never been diagnosed with any form of mental or physical impairment, but I am no longer sure that is accurate.

  • Asher

    I am 15 and in 10th grade and I am getting tested for ADHD in a couple of days and I was wondering if I maybe had dyslexia too. I cannot tell left from right most of the time, which has become a problem since i started to drive. I also have horrible spelling(I misspell simple things like vegetable). I also leave out letters when I spell. I cannot read out loud without making a lot of mistakes. I also have a hard time reading big words and i cant really sound them out that good. I also have a really bad memory because I confuse words in my head. When Im copying stuff down from the board in class I will read something like ¨experiment” then I will wright that down then I will look at it again and it will say “Experience”. When im given a sequence of directions to follow i cant remember them. Also do I have to get letters like b and d mixed up to be considered dyslexic? Does it sound like I could be dyslexic?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Asher, all of the problems you describe are common symptoms of dyslexia. Also, symptoms of dyslexia can overlap with and/or be mistaken for symptoms of ADHD. And no, you don’t have to have any specific symptom to be considered dyslexic — it is the combination and overall pattern that matters. While mixing up letters is a common symptom in younger children, not every child has that problem, and letter confusion or reversals are much less common in older readers.

  • Alex

    Hi, I’m 14 and in 8th grade. I have always had a really hard time spelling, adding removing and switching letters in a lot of words. I often have trouble reading directions and questions on tests or worksheets. I write slower and I find that even when I am looking at what I have to spell I will spell it wrong. I’ve thought of dyslexia for a little while now and I’ve had people ask me if I have it before. Sometimes I will add letter in words, I often try to do this in words such as “water” to “watter”. My handwriting and spelling are sometimes so bad that I can’t go back and read it myself. I have a lot of problems with reading out loud and often switch words around when trying to. I have always read it a really high level though, 12 grade level in 6th-7th grade and even higher now. I often have to reread pages because I didn’t understand what was said. Could this be dyslexia or something else like ADHD? if it is what are my options for getting help?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Alex, have you talked with your parents about these problems? The program we offer (Davis Dyslexia Correction) would probably help you, but your parents would need to be involved to schedule any sort of consultation or appointment. You could also seek help through the school, but because of your very high reading level I don’t think you would qualify for school-based services. One other option is to simply read the book The Gift of Dyslexia — the book might help you better understand what is going on, and if it all makes sense to you, you might be able to find someone to guide you through the orientation process that is detailed in the book.

    • Sara

      Hi Alex I was just looking though the website and I saw your text and I do the same things as you I can read in my head at a high level but if I write something like leave I get mixed up with writing leve and it gets really annoying

  • SUE B

    I have a 14 year old grandson (birthday last week(, who has struggled for years. Even on a IEP (for poor reading understanding), in public school. He did not get help he needed. We moved him from public school to a private Christian school. when he should have been in 7th grade. They put him back in 6th grade for repeat because he was behind. I started getting him independent testing at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. 1 year later the result is he has Dyslexia, (even though they do not use that title these days). His current school has made some of the recommended changes but I still feel it is not enough. I am not finding the help he needs. One local high ranking, public school educator told me that he could not have had a Dyslexia diagnosis at 13 because they find and help those students with this problem, at a younger age. Please help me get this young man help

  • Lynne

    Hi could u help me my son is 18 now and i feel he has been let down by the education department i think he is dyslexic how or where can i take him to get tested thanks

  • Jackie

    I am 16 and a sophomore in high school. I have always been a very good student and taken honors classes and earned As in all of my classes. In the past few years, however, I have noticed a decline in my ability to perform in school compared to my peers that I used to be the same level as. For example, I cannot do Spanish verb conjugation, even in level 4 of Spanish (and all my teachers have been great) and I cannot grasp the concept of geometry and I had to retake algebra. Often, when I see words, they all blur together or I read through them and they make absolutely no sense and I have to re-read things lots of times to understand them. I have a hard time concentrating and I perform horribly on tests even if I have throughly studied and understand the material. I am also a musician, and I find myself often confusing notes or having to pause because I completely forget what a note is. I am extremely frustrated, because there is no explainable reason why this is happening to me. My parents think I am slacking off, but I am working as hard as I can to maintain the average grades I have. I am starting to wonder if dyslexia is a possibility.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Jackie — these could be symptoms of disorientation. You’ll find more information about that on these pages:

      Dyslexia and the Threshold for Confusion

      Anatomy of a Learning Disability

      Disorientation is generally a response to confusion and stress. It can also be tied to hormonal changes, so sometimes it can be something that first becomes a problem during the teenage years.

      However, because the problems you describe have only started within the last few years, it would be a good idea to discuss this with your doctor as well, as these could be tied to some other type of medical problem. Is it possible that you had a head injury or concussion? Perhaps something that you didn’t think was serious at the time?

  • Annette R

    Hello – My son has an IEP and was diagnosed with a SLD in reading and writing expression. He struggles in math and I am works really hard in school. He struggles with comprehension and writing essays. I am sure that he is dyslexic. How will a formal diagnosis help him if he already has an IEP i n place? If it is helpful how do I go about getting a formal diagnosis of dyslexia and not a generic SLD in reading and written expression.

    Thank you!

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      For purposes of getting school services the diagnosis of “SLD in reading and writing” is essentially the same as dyslexia. The focus for schools services or accommodations needs to be on the actual problems your son has, not on the label attached to it.

      However, if your son is struggling you might keep in mind that there are other options that might help more than the school-based services he has been given. As you have come to our site, you might want to consider a Davis Dyslexia Correction program or Davis Math Mastery program. Because our techniques are keyed into dyslexic strengths, progress tends to be much more rapid than with traditional school-based teaching. A formal diagnosis of dyslexia is not required for a Davis program — again, the focus always should be on individual needs rather than the diagnostic label or category.

  • Magen

    We do not attend a public school. Who should I contact for testing, a licensed professional counselor, or psychologist?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      A lot depends on your goals in testing. A formal diagnosis is not needed to get help, such as working with a Davis Facilitator. And if you are in the US, you can request testing from the local public school district, even if your child is enrolled in private school. If your goal is to qualify for accommodations on standardized testing (ACT/ SAT) then you should find out from the testing agency what type of diagnosis they will require. More info is here:

  • Rhonda M

    My son is 16 and has a big problem in math he failed algebra in 9 and 10 grade he has a hard time with school period but he didn’t before I thought maybe he couldn’t see so I got him glasses something told me ask him how he sees things just a gut feeling and now I’m thinking it’s a real problem

  • Martha A

    My grandson is making failing grades, primarily because he won’t do any of his homework. He does have some of the symptoms that you have described .
    Could this be related to Dyslexia?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Yes, your grandson could be dyslexic. It could be extremely difficult for him to keep up with the reading and writing required to complete his homework.

  • Avery

    One of my best friends has deslexia I think I have it too bc I show all symptoms but I don’t know if my parents think I do
    *I can’t tell my left and rights
    *I’m failing most of my classes
    *I get a lot of ansiety when I’m called on to read
    *And I can’t spell
    I get my adding and multiplication mixed up and my dividing and subtraction mixed up

  • Mattea W

    I’m 14 and in 8th grade and I still get my b’s and d’s mixed up. I also suck at reading (especially out loud) and read very slow. Do I have dyslexia??

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