Does My Teen Have a Learning Disability?

If your teenager is having difficulties in school, it’s possible that he or she has a learning disability. This is true even if you’ve never suspected a learning disability in the past. Some children learn to hide the symptoms of mild disabilities, but when schoolwork becomes more of a challenge during the middle school or high school years, previously good students struggle. Take a look at this list of learning disabilities that affect teens, then read on to find out whether it’s time to seek help and to learn some tips on helping your teen through this challenge.

Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, and Dyscalculia

Dyslexia is a learning disability that makes it difficult for children to learn to read. Once they learn how to read, they often have trouble with spelling, grammar, and reading comprehension. Some people think that dyslexia is a vision problem because children and adults with the condition often report seeing letters backward or in the wrong order. It’s not a vision problem, however; it has more to do with processing than with vision.

Dyslexia during the teenage years doesn’t only affect reading. Teens with the condition might have a hard time understanding jokes, particularly those that use puns. They might have trouble expressing their ideas verbally, and many teens with dyslexia still confuse right and left. High schooler dyslexics might also have a hard time learning foreign languages, which makes the graduation requirement to take a number of foreign language credits overwhelming.

Learning disabilities similar to but different from dyslexia include dysgraphia, which impacts the way children learn to write, and dyscalculia, which is a learning disability that pertains to learning and using math. These can exist with or independent of dyslexia.


Many teenagers have ADHD that was diagnosed during the elementary school years. While some teens outgrow ADHD, many do not during adolescence. Some teens with ADHD were not diagnosed earlier in childhood and might only be exhibiting the symptoms now. Symptoms can get worse during adolescence due to hormone changes and increasing responsibilities.

A teen with ADHD will often be disorganized, distractible, and impulsive. They might not be able to focus on their schoolwork, which can lead to declining grades. In addition, they might not be able to handle an afterschool job that requires them to focus on one thing at a time. They might be unsafe drivers, easily angered, and not able to fulfill their responsibilities at home. Teens with ADHD are more likely than other teens to drink to excess. Medications and therapy can help teenagers with the condition to meet their full potential and to reduce dangerously impulsive behaviors.

Processing Deficits

There are several types of processing disorders that can affect teenagers. A processing disorder is a condition where a person is unable to process, or use, what they are seeing, hearing, or sensing. For example, your teen might hear the words coming out of your mouth but be unable to understand them well enough to put your request into action. Common types of processing disorders include:

  • Auditory processing disorder – If your teen seems to be unable to follow directions or understand nonliteral language, an auditory processing disorder might be to blame.
  • Visual processing disorder – A visual processing disorder is different from a vision problem that can be addressed by an eye doctor; instead, it is caused by the brain’s ability to process what is seen.
  • Sensory processing disorder – A teen with sensory processing disorder might have trouble knowing where his or her body ends. They might be uncoordinated and have trouble tolerating certain types of clothing.

Signs It’s Time to Seek Help

If your teenager is struggling in school or at home, seek help sooner rather than later. If left unchecked, a learning disability can end up causing mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression. Also, many times mental health issues occur at the same time as learning disabilities. Your teen might even have more than one learning disability at the same time. Some signs that you should check in with a doctor include:

  • Difficulty keeping up with schoolwork.
  • Reports from teachers that your teen is unable to focus.
  • Trouble following directions or remembering what they were asked to do.
  • Extreme problems staying organized (remember that some teens are just naturally disorganized and can benefit from learning time management techniques).
  • Problems with coordination.
  • Symptoms of anxiety or depression relating to not being able to stay focused, excel in school, or keep up with friends.

Ways to Help Your Teenager With a Learning Disability

It’s important to convey to your teen that the learning disability is not his or her fault. You can assure your teen that a learning disability does not have anything to do with how smart a person is. You can even point out several famous people who struggle with various learning disabilities.

Take your teen to his or her pediatrician or family doctor for an evaluation. That doctor can refer your teen to the appropriate specialist. At the same time, work with his or her school to develop an individualized education program (IEP). This will be a list of strategies that are in place for your teen so they can succeed in school. For example, your teen might get more time to take tests or might be able to type answers to homework rather than write them out by hand.

In Conclusion

Parenting a child with a learning disability can be a challenge. You know how intelligent and bright your teen is, but he or she might feel that they’re not smart or that they’re not like everyone else. Seeking counseling for your teen can help them realize their true potential. A good counselor will help your child learn real-world ways of coping with his or her disability as well as allow your teen to talk about and work through his or her feelings following the diagnosis. If you are having trouble coping, don’t hesitate to seek counseling for yourself, too.