Signs and Symptoms of Undiagnosed Dyslexia in Teenagers

Dyslexia Support & Awareness

Children with dyslexia are challenged by several difficulties but also possess great abilities and strengths. The gap between their strengths and weaknesses is itself an indication of dyslexia.

Often, that gap becomes more apparent as students enter secondary school and face a broader range of topics, resources, vocabulary and expectations. A previously undiagosed child might suddenly fall very obviously behind their peers, sparking concern. Is it behavioural? An issue with that particular subject area? Or could it be undiagnosed dyslexia, a condition that affects as many as 1 in 5 learners?

How Do Dyslexia Symptoms Go Undetected in Children?

Most children with dyslexia are diagnosed in elementary school, when they begin to struggle with reading, writing and math expectations. But some children develop magnificent coping mechanisms to camouflage their difficulties and fool teachers and parents — maybe even themselves — for years.

Some children with dyslexia have exceptional visual memory, allowing them to memorize word spellings and pronunciations without actually learning how to decode words and sounds. As subject material grows in complexity and vocabulary rises to match, a teenager may begin showing difficulty in keeping up with memory strategies.

Other students are both dyslexic and intellectually gifted. They might posess above-average oral language and listening comprehension skills, as well as being creative and capable of complex thinking and problem solving. Students who are gifted and dyslexic have usually honed sophisticated masking skills by the time they enter secondary school. As literacy requirements increase in complexity, high school might be the first time a reading deficit becomes apparent in a gifted student.

Dyslexia Signs and Symptoms

There are many indications your child might have dyslexia; not all of these are the reading difficulties we see highlighted in mainstream media and pop culture. The following comprehensive list of symptoms is provided by the British Dyslexia Association.


Writing Symptoms of Dyslexia

  • Has a poor standard of written work compared with oral ability
  • Has poor handwriting with badly formed letters or has neat handwriting, but writes very slowly
  • Produces badly set out or messy written work, with spellings crossed out several times
  • Spells the same word differently in one piece of work
  • Has difficulty with punctuation and/or grammar
  • Confuses upper and lower case letters
  • Writes a great deal but ‘loses the thread’
  • Writes very little, but to the point
  • Has difficulty taking notes in lessons
  • Has difficulty with organisation of homework
  • Finds tasks difficult to complete on time
  • Appears to know more than they can commit to paper 

Reading Symptoms of Dyslexia

  • Is hesitant and laboured, especially when reading aloud
  • Omits, repeats or adds extra words
  • Reads at a reasonable rate, but has a low level of comprehension
  • Fails to recognise familiar words
  • Misses a line or repeats the same line twice
  • Loses their place easily/uses a finger or marker to keep the place
  • Has difficulty in pin-pointing the main idea in a passage
  • Has difficulty using dictionaries, directories, encyclopaedias

Numeracy Symptoms of Dyslexia

  • Has difficulty remembering tables and/or basic number sets
  • Finds sequencing problematic
  • Confuses signs such as x for +
  • Can think at a high level in mathematics, but needs a calculator for simple calculations
  • Misreads questions that include words
  • Finds mental arithmetic at speed very difficult
  • Finds memorising formulae difficult

Memory & Processing Symptoms of Dyslexia

  • Confuses direction – left/right
  • Has difficulty in learning foreign languages
  • Has difficulty in finding the name for an object
  • Has clear difficulties processing information at speed
  • Misunderstands complicated questions
  • Finds holding a list of instructions in memory difficult, although can perform all tasks when told individually

Behavioural Symptoms of Dyslexia

  • Is disorganised or forgetful e.g. over sports equipment, lessons, homework, appointments
  • Is easily distracted; may find it difficult to remain focused on the task
  • Is often in the wrong place at the wrong time
  • Is excessively tired, due to the amount of concentration and effort required

Do You Think Your Child May Have Undiagnosed Dyslexia?

If you suspect your child has dyslexia, reach out to discuss a Functional Literacy Assessment and a path to diagnosis. Dyslexia can be managed with specific strategies and instruction.

Learn more and book a friendly chat here.


Did your child’s dyslexia go undiagnosed until middle or secondary school? What helped you finally identify it? Share your experience below!

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