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 July 13, 2020 from Davis Dyslexia Association International. Dyslexia the Gift website:

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  • 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??

  • Ellie

    I’m dyslexic/dyspraxia and was diagnosed when I started university at 18. Up until this point I did well enough in school to mask it, so much so that when I asked to be tested at 16, the learning support staff said that they thought their tests wouldn’t show anything. I was still struggling though and since, have been trying to work out effective ways of coping with these learning difficulties, I find it hard both academically and emotionally. I have limited access to a study support skills person but I have never had anyone who could talk me through the things that I find difficult everyday, despite being confronted with them everyday, like a teacher could if I were still in school.

    It is so important to get kids supported as early as possible, and give them the time and the space they need to understand their diagnosis, and how to work past it. Failing that, they need to be given the right support after diagnosis because it can be an equally as scary place. If being undiagnosed is drowning, then being diagnosed can feel like your on a boat with no oar sometimes – you’re relatively safe but have no idea or control over where you’re going, with no idea how to explain why you can’t steer yourself in the right direction, because you’re on a boat, problem solved, right? Not if you’ve spent the majority of your life treading water with no concept of what a boat is. Being dyslexic isn’t the end of the world but there is a lot of emotional fallout from being diagnosed late, and high schoolers and students who are diagnosed late may need even more support than those are supported through school in order to do the same catching up.

    I study psychology now but I still have no idea what I’m meant to do with my diagnosis or how to explain what I struggle with. I am constantly frustrated by the lack of support and literature regarding this issue, and have found it hard to find the views of others going through the same. Caveat: this is a very personal stance, but I just saw this article and saw the comments, and needed to add that there is so much past the diagnosis and securing exam arrangements that needs to be considered when kids are identified as dyslexic, or with any other specific learning difficulty. I hope this maybe helps someone know that they are not alone.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Thank you for sharing. Keep in mind that although early support is important, it is never too late. The Davis tools can work at any age — Ron Davis was age 38 when he discovered them for himself, and all of his early research was among adults.

  • Jacinta D

    My grandaughter is 16 studying 2 her A level. She asked to be tested in school, she was told she had a lot of the signs, they gave her a over lay and said as she was over 16 she couldn’t be tested. She is doing her mocks and was told she would be given extra time. This is now being declined and was told she had lied. What can I do to get her help.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Jacinta, Davis Facilitators can help individuals of any age. Our focus is on giving the person the tools they need to succeed. So a Davis provider wouldn’t offer diagnostic services that could qualify your granddaughter for extra time or other accommodations. But the program would give her what is needed to resolve the problems that are making it hard for her to study. You can use this link to find someone she can talk to about the problems she is experiencing:

  • Bailey W

    I’m 14 and in 8th grade and always mix my b’s and d’s. Should I be worried? And do I have dyslexia?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      This would be one sign of dyslexia. If you also have other difficulties with reading and writing, then the b/d confusion at your age would be a strong indication that your problems are tied to dyslexia.

  • ky

    why does the article say his and him only ? Girls can have dyslexia too. I’m just asking

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Good question. This article is a reprint of a chapter from the book, The Everything Parents Guide to Children with Dyslexia. In the book, the pronoun “she” is alternated with “he” in different sections. So one section might use “he” throughout, and the next section would use “she”. This is a style decision made by the publisher and its copy editors — they didn’t want things to get confusing with pronouns being switched repeatedly back and forth.

      So if you had the whole book, you would see that pattern. However, it happens that the particular sections that were selected for the excerpt are using “he”.

      Of course, the same concerns apply whether the teenager who needs help is a girl or a boy! And, as you can see, we did choose to use a photo of a girl to illustrate the article on our site.

      • B.A.

        You say one section might use “he” and the next might use “he” again, when you meant “she”, so you may want to address the typo. Great information, especially since I have dyslexia, as do some of my children. Thank you for the info!

        • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

          Thanks for pointing that out. I’ve fixed the typo now!

        • No

          I am thirteen and in grade seven I think that I might have dyslexia because I show most of these signs and I also have a hard time reading because when I focus on one word all of the other words are really blurry and move around I don’t want to ask for help and share this with anyone because if I am wrong about it then I feel that it might be embarrassing for me does anyone have advice?

  • Neecie

    I cant pay attention whatsoever on any of my assignments and pretty much all of the learning disability signs apply to me. Id want to talk to my parents about it but they think i lie about it because im lazy. What do i do

  • Juanita L

    I need help please! My daughter and I live in Florida. My daughter is in the 10th. She attends a charter school. She suffers from dyslexia, ADHD and anxiety. She has all A’s and B’s but in reading she has an F. Can someone help me and tell me what I need to do to help her?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Have you read the book, The Gift of Dyslexia? That’s a good place to start because it offers a different perspective and also a specific approach to addressing the underlying causes of difficulties with reading and attention focus.

  • Danielle

    Is Dyslexia often confused with ADHD, or do the two disorders present commonly together? My daughter has been diagnosed ADHD and gets tremendous help with medication in her ability to focus. But she is still showing signs of dyslexia.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Yes, dyslexia is often misdiagnosed as ADHD, and it is extremely common for symptoms to overlap. That is one reason that every Davis program rests first on teaching the ability to recognize disorientation and self-regulate attention focus and energy level. We have taken that approach rather than medication because once learned, the self-regulation tools are always available.

  • Johnny

    I used to perform very well in school, and have done well on IQ tests. However, long length assignments, particularly involving a lot of time management – I never seem to be able to deliver on. It’s not that I’m lazy, I really try, but never can seem to stay on top of things.
    Over the part year or so, I have noticed by spelling and ability to read words 100% correctly the first time, has been deteriorating. I can think in concepts, or not words. I have massive trouble remembering numbers or reading numbers quickly. I am also TERRIBLE at remembering names, real life – or of characters in stories.
    I have bipolar disorder on top of this.

    I’m a senior in high school, approaching exams, should I investigate this further??
    Thanks for your help

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Johnny, dyslexics tend to be nonverbal thinker — as you say, thinking in concepts, not words. Many of the symptoms associated with dyslexia are actually caused by disorientation. In essence, your mind becomes overwhelmed or confused, and that leads to mistakes in perception. It is possible for a very smart and capable young person to cope well during early years of schooling, but experience difficulty for the first time in high school when the material becomes more difficult and stress levels are higher. Particularly as you are now a senior with exams coming up, you could be experiencing this sort of mental pressure. So yes, this is worth investigating. There are some very simple mental relaxation and focusing techniques that can help tremendously, if in fact disorientation is at the root of your newly developing problems.

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