Does Your Teen Have a Learning Disability?

Does it seem like your teenager has a harder time than his or her friends when it comes to schoolwork? Have you felt frustrated when you see your adolescent studying and doing homework, then see mediocre or poor grades on the final report card? While many learning disabilities are discovered during the elementary school years, many teens with learning disabilities are diagnosed for the first time in high school. If you are concerned that your teenager might have a learning disability, read on to find out more about the conditions and what you and others can do to help your child succeed.


Different Types of Learning Disabilities

There are many different types of learning disabilities, and having one does not preclude having another. So, for example, if your teen has been diagnosed with one type of disability in previous years and he or she is still having trouble, even with accommodations, it’s possible that another type of problem is present as well. Keep this in mind when a diagnosis is made and during later months and years.

Dyslexia is perhaps one of the most well-known learning disabilities. With this condition, a child will have trouble reading, writing, and spelling words (not due to an eyesight issue). Dyscalculia is similar to dyslexia, but it affects the way a person understands numbers and mathematical concepts. In addition to these learning disabilities, conditions like ADHD, ADD, autism, Asperger’s syndrome, and, in some cases, intellectual disabilities are also included in the list of issues that can be considered a learning disability.


Signs to Watch For

Because there are many types of learning disabilities, there are also different types of symptoms associated with them. In general, a teen who seems to have a much harder time than his or her friends with schoolwork might benefit from an evaluation. For example, if you see your teenager studying but he or she cannot score well on tests or cannot answer questions correctly on homework assignments, this is worth investigating the possibility of a learning disability.

More specific symptoms can include trouble reading, writing or doing math; problems with remembering information; problems with following directions; issues with staying organized or with managing time; and poor eye-hand coordination. Your teen might read words backward or with the letters in the wrong order (for example, reading “melon” for “lemon”) or might have trouble with basic math problems due to putting the numbers in the wrong order.


Why This Wasn’t Found Before

Many parents are upset to learn that their teens have a learning disability and wonder why the signs weren’t detected before, either by their teachers or by the parents themselves. The fact is, some children learn early how to compensate for or hide the signs of a learning disability. For example, they might pick up on enough context clues to hide difficulty with reading. They also might memorize information spoken aloud in class, making it difficult for teachers to notice that they’re not actually reading or doing the math problems. Some kids will think that they are just lazy, and that will turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy; by refusing to do their homework, they can hide the fact that they’re not able to do it.

By the time high school comes around, your teen might try hard to buckle down and get his or her work done, because the grades will matter when it comes time to decide on a higher education path. At this time, they might be more likely to speak up about a problem. In addition, the work is more difficult, so it’s harder for your teen to hide a learning issue.


Testing for a Learning Disability

Often, the first step will be a visit to the school psychologist for preliminary testing. He or she will likely recommend a visit to your teen’s primary care physician to make sure that nothing physical is causing the difficulty. The doctor might suggest an evaluation by a neurologist and/or a thorough vision screening. If there’s no physical cause of your child’s learning problems, he or she might see a psychologist or other professional for a full workup to find out the type and extent of the learning disability. During this time, keep in touch with the school so that your teen can be supported academically. It’s also possible to have the testing done through the school; if your child is attending a public school, he or she might be entitled to free testing and services by law.


Accommodations for Your Teen

Depending on the extent of your teen’s learning disability, he or she might be entitled to accommodations at school. You might need to request an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), which is a contract that the school must follow. The accommodations will depend on your teen’s individual needs. An accommodation might be getting more time to take an exam or taking an exam verbally rather than on paper or with a computer. Explore the different options with the school, and hold them to whatever is on the IEP. You might need to advocate for your teen to get him or her the services needed. Keep in mind that whatever services and accommodations you can get now might make a difference when it comes to getting accommodations in college, if that’s applicable. If there is no IEP in place before your teen graduates, it will be a bit more difficult to get services as an adult, so if you are wondering whether you should look into the possibilities, the high school years are a good time to do so.

Finding out that your teen has a learning disability can be overwhelming, but many teens and parents have gone through it. Remember that learning what the issue is and getting accommodations now can benefit your teen throughout his or her life. If you have any suspicions that a learning disability is what’s keeping your teenager’s grades and self-esteem low, make an appointment with the school psychologist, a private psychologist, or his or her primary care physician. An evaluation is the first step toward making learning easier for your child.