Dyslexia in Teens: The Ultimate Guide for Parents to Set Your Kid for Success

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Imagine if you were given the choice of having an intellectual superpower, but to gain this power, you would need to give up other things. For people who have dyslexia, it is not a choice but a reality. If you have a child who is dyslexic or are dyslexic yourself, you don’t need to think about it as a negative! This article will explain why that dyslexia in teens can be celebrated and provides a guide for parents to support their dyslexic child. Let me guide you in helping your child overcome challenges associated with dyslexia. More importantly, let me help you help them unlock their superpowers!

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The Dyslexic Gift

If you have a teenager with dyslexia, you know that there is much more to the diagnosis than trouble with reading or spelling. Dyslexia is a specific learning disorder or learning disability that impacts people’s understanding of language. Dyslexia is widespread, with some estimates stating that up to 15 to 20 percent of the population has the condition.

Dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence! People who are dyslexic often have an above-average IQ. Though reading, spelling, and many other tasks are difficult for them, people who are dyslexic can still become skilled readers or writers. It just means that getting to that end requires a different path. This is true for most things when it comes to being a dyslexic person. Forging a path is the dyslexic way.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

– Unknown, often attributed to Albert Einstein

Signs of Dyslexia: A Developmental Progression

Dyslexia signs will often become apparent in elementary school when reading, writing, and math concepts are introduced. But as a parent of a dyslexic student you may have noticed signs of dyslexia in your child earlier. Every person with dyslexia is unique and has their own ways of coping. They will never fit the mold. There are, however, some general commonalities most dyslexic kids share:

Signs of Dyslexia in Preschool

Common signs a dyslexic student shows in preschool include:

  • Learning to talk late
  • Trouble following multi-step directions
  • Mispronounce words
  • Learning difficulty with letters, colors, or days of the week
  • Difficulty rhyming
    Difficulty sequencing sentences

These students might show interest and ability in activities like drawing, puzzles, and building models.

Typical Dyslexia Signs in Elementary School

  • Poor spelling
  • Avoids reading/poor reading skills
  • Trouble hearing individual sounds in words
  • Confusing similar letters
  • Struggling to read even when words are familiar
  • Substituting words when reading aloud
Struggles may peak again during middle school and high school when language, organizational skills, and planning are stressed. However, despite these struggles, you may recognize that your dyslexic teen excels in other areas.

The Science Behind Dyslexia

Most of the scientific information that follows was summarised from the book, The Dyslexic Advantage, written by Brock Eide, MD., MA, and Fernette Eide, MD. This book is a highly recommended read for anyone struggling with dyslexia or the parents of a dyslexic child. It is available in many formats.

When it comes to the cause of dyslexia, structural differences in the brain can be to blame for the language based learning disability.

These differences are not well understood, but researchers think they stem from early development when the brain forms functional networks. Unfortunately, these networks don’t develop in a “well-integrated way,” creating processing impairments.

These impairments generally manifest in difficulties processing language, specifically phonological awareness. It is particularly prominent in reading and writing. These impairments also mean that the brain is forced to adapt, leading to some unexpected advantages!

Dyslexic brains are different. They have broader neural connections. Research by Dr. Manuel Casanova suggests that dyslexic brain connectivity may predispose people to big picture or visionary thinking. These broad neural connections are why dyslexics’ facial recognition skills are usually above average, which requires many different parts of the brain to work together. Joining distant areas of the brain is what dyslexics do best. They can draw ideas from anything and anywhere and connect different concepts together.

For this reason, while dyslexia has its downsides, it isn’t all negative. Instead, dyslexia is more of a trade-off where people can take advantage of unique processing benefits on the one hand but might struggle with reading and writing on the other. Dyslexic people are not defective, but their brains are organized to display different kinds of strengths.

Advantages vs. Disadvantages of Dyslexia

Dyslexia goes far beyond trouble with spelling or reading. It is not just a reading disability like many people think. While people generally focus on the deficits associated with dyslexia, there are also areas where dyslexic people are more capable than the average person. In this way, dyslexia isn’t a positive or negative condition; it just means that someone might have different strengths and weaknesses.

Neuropsychological testing is not only helpful in diagnosing dyslexia but can explain your child’s unique set of advantages and disadvantages. These tests are hard to read and understand for the average person but can be very valuable. This is where asking for help interpreting the testing is essential so that you can understand your child’s needs.

When explaining testing results to your child, it is vital to show them that their strengths are more important than their weaknesses. If your child has issues with low self-esteem due to being in special classes, being asked to read out loud, or mixing up word pronunciations, then explaining the why behind the struggle can help them overcome those challenges. While someone with dyslexia might struggle with these tasks, they also have a big right brain that makes connections that others don’t. They are some of the best BIG picture thinkers out there.

Common Strengths that People with Dyslexia Often Display:

  • Understand the larger context behind an idea
  • Can make new, unusual, or distant connections
  • Inferential reasoning or ambiguity detection
  • Ability to recombine things in novel ways and a general inventiveness
  • Greater mindfulness during tasks that others might take for granted
  • Problem-solving
  • Spotting interesting associations and relationships
  • Recognizing similarities

Dyslexics store information like a mural or stained glass, connecting ideas like a spider web or hyperlinks. They are also exceptional at spatial reasoning. Researchers found that this skill is not compensation but rather an innate ability.

Common Challenges that People with Dyslexia Often Encounter:

While this article discusses how dyslexia does not need to be a cloud hanging over you, it is also important to be upfront and realistic about some of the disadvantages of being dyslexic. While there are ways to mitigate many of these disadvantages, awareness is the first step in overcoming them.

Phonological Impairment

A phonological impairment is a deficit in the understanding of written language in its complete form. People with a phonological impairment struggle to break down language into smaller parts, which leads to the reading and spelling issues typical of a person who has dyslexia. Some dyslexics process in non-verbal ways and have a hard time putting things into words. As a result, there’s often a gap in understanding concepts and demonstrating that understanding in words. This is important for parents, teachers, and future employers to understand because nonverbal reasoning is valid. It can even be the key to creative insights. These individuals may struggle with tasks tied to language and phonological awareness but can often express themselves better with a drawing, diagram, or other forms of representation.

Procedural Learning and Procedural Memory

Procedural learning and memory have to do with learning how to do something through practice in a way that eventually becomes automatic. This is the “practice makes perfect” type of learning. Unfortunately, it is common for a dyslexic teenager or adult to struggle with procedural learning and memory.

Sadly, academics are often rooted in procedural learning and memory. This includes breaking down works, spelling, recognizing rhymes, sentence organization, and social pragmatics associated with words. Someone who is dyslexic does not often learn these types of things automatically with practice. Instead, they must use conscious compensation. That is a combination of focused attention and active working memory. This compensation works, but if the task is too complex, the working memory is overloaded because they have to actively think through all the tasks. Someone who is dyslexic will likely do better when rules and procedures are broken down into small steps. This makes them easier to master and demonstrate clearly.

Working Memory Overload

A key difficulty that comes with dyslexia is working memory overload. Basically, when someone is forced to actively focus on too many things, the dyslexic brain can struggle to keep up, leading to errors. Someone struggling with working memory overload often requires more repetitions than others to master a task or might take more time to reach the same level of mastery.

Also, someone who is dyslexic might forget skills that they have mastered more quickly if they do not practice them. So when a kid comes back to school after the summer, they might seem to forget more of what they learned the previous year.

Executive Functioning Struggles

Some people with dyslexia struggle with certain areas of executive functioning. This is caused by dysfunction in the cerebellum. This part of the brain plays a key role in things that become automatic with practice – like movement, speech, language, working memory/attention. This is one of the most frustrating aspects of being dyslexic! It feels like you have to work so much harder than everyone else. This can be discouraging. Another area of executive functioning that can be hard for a dyslexic teenager is transitions. They may have to develop new strategies to get around this when coursework changes… like the first semester of college. While executive functioning struggles can include a variety of different things, they can generally be mitigated through various strategies. It really just depends upon what works for each individual.

Finally, other areas that dyslexic people tend to struggle include; poor motor coordination, low muscle tone, difficulty with time awareness, timing, sequencing, and pacing.

Other Common Disadvantages Associated with Dyslexia

Teens with dyslexia often struggle with:

  • Language problems
  • Late talking
  • Mixing up words
  • Making up new words
  • Low working memory / Slow at retrieving words from memory
  • Mastering grammatical rules
  • Reading/spelling
  • Math
  • Slow processing speed
  • Mishearing words
  • Impaired motor coordination
  • Difficulty hearing with background noise
  • Following directions & procedures
  • Keeping information to themselves
  • Planning and organizing
  • Error detection
  • Time awareness
  • Spacing
  • Sequencing, focus, and attention
  • Understanding how words work together in groups.
  • Two-dimensional spatial reasoning – symbol reversal while reading, struggles with symbols in general.

Myths About Dyslexia

There are many misconceptions about dyslexia. One of the most common myths is that it means that you aren’t intelligent. In fact, most people with dyslexia have above-average intelligence. Another common myth is that every child who mixes up their letters when writing is dyslexic. Mixing up letters is actually very common in childhood and does not necessarily indicate dyslexia. A third misconception is that dyslexia means the same thing for everyone. Dyslexia is a complex condition that impacts each individual differently. No two people experience dyslexia precisely the same, but there are patterns that people tend to follow.

Subtypes of Dyslexia

There are many theories about different subtypes of dyslexia or even confusion between diagnoses with a similar name, like dyscalculia. When you break it down, it comes down to strengths and weaknesses once again. When doing neuropsychological testing on children with dyslexia, researchers see some common patterns. This also reinforces that each person with dyslexia is unique and will have unique strengths and struggles.

The most common way to categorized dyslexia is by type of deficit. The research shows that there are three clusters of deficits associated with dyslexia. These clusters can be seen as sub-types.

Phonological Processing Deficit

A phonological processing deficit is the most common type of dyslexia. Phonetic impairment is found in 80-90 % of cases. This deficit impacts decoding abilities and sounding out words. Sometimes this type of deficit is referred to as dysphonetic dyslexia or auditory dyslexia.

People with a phonological processing deficit will have difficulty

  • Analyzing and manipulating sounds
  • Understanding the rules of phonics
  • Sound segmentation
  • Sound discrimination

Rapid Naming Deficit

People with a rapid naming deficit have normal phonological processing, but they struggle to retrieve language-based information. This is most commonly associated with problems with word recall or the “on the tip of their tongue” type experience.

With this deficit, working memory is limited and can cause issues with attention. This is one reason why many dyslexic students are diagnosed with inattentive ADHD. Structural differences in the brain again can be to blame. This difference is not well understood, but researchers guess it stems from early development when the brain forms functional networks. Unfortunately, these networks don’t develop in a “well-integrated way” and create processing impairments.

Play Video about Why ADHD & Dyslexia sometimes go hand-in-hand | Aspiro Wilderness Therapy Program for Teens

Double Deficit Dyslexia

As the name suggests, double deficit dyslexia occurs when someone has both a phonological and a rapid naming deficit. This sub-type combines the phonological and rapid naming sub-types and is the least common.

Common difficulties associated with all types of dyslexia include:

  • Problems with finger coordination for handwriting
  • Difficulties with eye movement control for reading
  • Difficulties with speech mussels control for speech articulation
  • Difficulties with language
  • Late talkers
  • Mixing up words
  • Making up new words
  • Slow at retrieving words from memory
  • Slow at mastering grammatical rules
  • Reading
  • Spelling
  • Decoding abilities

Teens with double deficit dyslexia often show problems with:

  • Handwriting
  • Written expression
  • Math
  • Processing speed
  • Mishearing words
  • Motor coordination
  • Difficulty hearing with
  • background noise
  • Following directions
  • Keeping information to themselves
  • Procedures
  • Planning and organizing
  • Error detection
  • Time awareness
  • Pacing
  • Sequencing
  • Focus and attention
  • Understanding how words work together in groups

Subtypes of Dyslexia, Organized by Strengths Instead of Deficits

While the most common way to categorize dyslexia is by deficit type, there is another, more optimistic way to do this. Rather than classifying dyslexia by deficits, it is possible to do it by strengths.

There are four types of strengths commonly associated with people who are dyslexic:

Material Reasoning

Some people with dyslexia display an increased ability to reason about the physical or material world. This includes spatial thinking, visual thinking, and navigation.

Interconnected Reasoning

Other people with dyslexia have an improved ability to spot connections between different ideas, objects, or different points of view. This can include things like pattern detection and big picture type thinking.

Narrative Reasoning

A third strength that some people with dyslexia have shown is an increased capacity for reasoning and learning with stories. People with this strength are capable storytellers, have strong personal memories, and have a talent for scene creation.

Dynamic Reasoning

Lastly, some dyslexic people have highly developed abilities to reason in complex and changing environments that include high levels of mental stimulation and the ability to predict future events with increased accuracy. People who have a dynamic reasoning strength are generally goal-directed and can understand complex systems.

Here are some other advantages (superpowers) that are associated with being dyslexic!

  • Strong mechanical and spacial abilities
  • Spotting unusual connections
  • Good visual/ spacial sense
  • Visual memory for people and past events (episodic memory)
Play Video about The True Gift of Dyslexia, a TED Talk | Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy Program for Teens

Social & Emotional Impact of Dyslexia

It is unfortunate that being “different” is often shamed. Especially in middle school and high school. Dyslexic teenagers are often in special education classes that take the place of “normal classes.” Teachers and other students often single dyslexic students out. This makes it hard for dyslexic people to understand what is “wrong” with them. The social implications can turn inward, and issues with anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem can arise.

Anxiety and Depression

It is common for those struggling with dyslexia to also experience mood disorders like anxiety and depression. Dyslexia can often lead people to feel different from their peers and lead to challenges in a young person’s primary social setting: school. These challenges can make children and teens feel different, increase stress, and struggle with low self esteem.

Further, these challenges can cause self-doubt, a lack of self-worth and can lead to substance abuse. Everyone wants to fit in at some level, and dyslexia can make this more difficult.

Executive Functioning

"For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned"

- Benjamin Franklin, activist, author, humorist, and scientist who was dyslexic.

Bouncing from class to class, learning different subjects, and being on time for everything. It is a challenge for people who are dyslexic. Not to mention turning assignments in on time and planning study time. The combination of time management and organization can be tricky. So coming up with a way for them to keep it all straight in a way that makes sense to them. Maybe it is having a binder for every class. Or writing it all down in an oversized planner. Having a system to keep track of it all can help them keep it all straight and get what they need to get done, done.

This is a struggle for people who are dyslexic who tend to struggle with executive functioning.
Executive functioning is a combination of skills that includes:

  • Proficiency in adaptable thinking
  • Planning
  • Self-monitoring
  • Self-control
  • Working memory
  • Time management
  • Organization

Executive functioning skills are expected to be mastered during the teenage years. For a dyslexic teen or others with learning differences, it can make them feel like they are falling further behind because things like organization, working memory, time management, and planning can be difficult.

Breaking the Stigma around Dyslexia in Teens

While dyslexia in teens has its challenges, it is not all negative. Dyslexia is often associated with improved social awareness. One of the ways that this manifests is excellent facial recognition. Other ways include increased creativity, and a well-developed sense of grit. Those who experience dyslexia are also known to have increased empathy and commonly show higher levels of kindness and understanding. Your child will inevitably have mixed emotions about their differences. This can be combated with pride. Remind your child to look back on the progress that they have made in carving their own path.

How Parents Can Help

Parents can make a massive difference in the lives of their children with learning challenges. Their support and understanding of their struggles can make a huge difference. Parents can be advocates for their children and work with them to solve problems. Above all, parents can provide support by not shaming their children. Dyslexic teens have enough of that from their day-to-day life.

Instead, parents can provide the kind of support that brings up their self-confidence. This puts a lot of stress and responsibility on parents but is an opportunity to brighten that relationship.

Individual Attention

The most important thing for a parent to do for a dyslexic child is to be present and involved in their life. While there has to be a balance between providing opportunities for individuality and identity development, a parent should be fully engaged in providing the best possible situation for their child’s success. This can include everything from ensuring access to proper academic resources and accommodations to providing one-on-one tutoring. Finding the right balance for this role is difficult but is critical to your child’s future.

Help Them Learn to Advocate For Themselves

Traditional learning environments can be difficult for people who are dyslexic. Some can even be a complete waste of time, but small changes can make a big difference. For example, sitting in front of a class, testing in a separate room, or having someone read test questions aloud. There are many accommodations that your teen will be entitled to, as long as they ask for them, and make sure that others follow through.

Work with your child on how to be articulate and how to communicate their needs. This can often be an intimidating or uncomfortable part of the process, but it is critical for their success. Good communication skills are also likely to carry over into other areas of their life making the time invested an even better value.

Areas of Focus to Help Your Teen

While dyslexia is categorized as a learning disorder, it can also have significant impacts on one’s emotions. The emotional side of dyslexia is important to acknowledge to promote the healthy development of coping skills in children and teens.

Self-Efficacy

One of the emotional impacts associated with dyslexia is decreased self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s ability to achieve goals and succeed. For someone with dyslexia, there are going to be tasks that are always going to be challenging. Often for children and teens, these are tasks found in school, including reading and procedural learning. When faced with one of these challenging tasks, children and teens often require extra time or different kinds of support to succeed. Repeated struggles in these tasks can lead someone to doubt their abilities and decrease their overall self-efficacy.

Developing a Growth Mindset

A fixed mindset is a state of being where someone believes that their abilities are static and unchangeable. For example, when diagnosed with a learning disorder like dyslexia, people can often fall into a fixed mindset. This means that they believe that their learning disorder limits them from succeeding in certain areas. In reality, while someone with dyslexia is unlikely to win a spelling bee, they can succeed in many other areas as long as they believe that they can and develop a growth mindset.

Overcoming Failure

While there are some emotional challenges associated with dyslexia, there are also some positive emotional outcomes. Being dyslexic means getting comfortable with the idea of failure. This comes out of the learning challenges that children and teens often face in school. The positive of this is that people who are dyslexic learn to overcome the fear of failure that often paralyzes the average person. Rather than avoiding risks due to fear of failure, people who are dyslexic are generally not risk-averse. This can lead to positive outcomes, which can be seen in the fact that many successful entrepreneurs are dyslexic. While starting a business has many risks, someone who is dyslexic is more likely to take on that risk and potentially reap the benefits.

Resources to Help Your Dyslexic Teen

There are many resources that your child has at their disposal when managing their dyslexia. One of the most important but often overlooked of these resources is your state’s disability office. State disability offices can provide professional services and tools that help your child. They are experts in this area, and it is their job to advocate for people who have learning differences and physical disabilities.

Dyslexia Tools

In the past, helping someone overcome the challenges of dyslexia meant teaching them different approaches and strategies of learning. While this is still an essential part of overcoming these challenges, there are now technological tools available that help someone who is dyslexic to work around their learning disorder. These tools mean that someone who is dyslexic doesn’t have to struggle as much as they may have in the past. There are now ways to make learning easier!

Spell check was one of the most significant technological developments for those with dyslexia. Before spell check, there was no easy way for someone to tell when they mixed up letters while writing or typing. While spell check changed all of that for the better, it has not been a panacea. Spell check still has some shortcomings. Grammarly addresses a lot of these shortcomings. Grammarly is an improved spell check that catches more than just spelling mistakes. Grammarly can check for things like spelling, grammar, tense, tone, and even simplicity. It is an excellent tool for someone who is dyslexic and can help in school, work, or personal settings.

Smart Phone

Smartphones have a few useful features for someone who is dyslexic. The first of these useful features is the speech-to-text function. This function allows the user to talk into their phone, translating that speech into written text. There is no need to write anything down. This is particularly useful for writing short text messages or emails. The next useful feature is text to speech. This can be great for reading text messages or emails. One of the struggles people who are dyslexic have is misreading messages. Enabling this feature can save them from written communication issues.

Reading & Writing Programs

One of the most difficult challenges for someone with dyslexia is reading at a level and pace comparable to their peers. No matter how much time someone puts in, they will often have to put in more effort than their peers in reading. One type of tool that can help with this is a reading program. There are many different reading programs out there, but they all function in a relatively similar way. These programs take written text and translate it into audio. So, instead of struggling with the written words, the reader can listen to the text at a speed of their choice.

Kurzweil 3000 is the most highly recommended reading program for text-to-speech functionality on the market. While Kurzweil 3000 is an expensive program ($700/year is the cost of the subscription), many school resource or disability offices will fund the purchase of this program for qualifying candidates. Kurzweil 3000 is particularly useful because it has a Google Chrome plugin allowing it to be used seamlessly with web browsing.

One of the most useful writing programs for speech-to-text functionality is Dragon. Dragon is a user-friendly piece of software that can help people who struggle with writing to get their ideas down on paper with less effort. This can help people keep pace with their peers in school or work.

Smartpens

Livescribe SmartPen is a helpful tool for dyslexics because it transcribes handwritten notes in real-time, acts as an audio recorder for lectures, and syncs your written notes with the audio for your future reference. There are also other kinds of smartpens with different functionalities that may fit your needs better.

Day Planners

A planner can help with the executive functioning challenges that your teen might be facing. While a physical planner might seem old-fashioned, the process of taking physical notes can sometimes help get things in order. If a physical planner isn’t working, there are many virtual planners available on phones and computers. These can be particularly useful for someone who is dyslexic because they pair well with text-to-speech and speech-to-text functions on these devices.

Kindle

While this is a simple solution, Amazon Kindle or other E-Readers have text-to-speech functions that allow easier reading access. This can be for school, work, or pleasure and make reading less intimidating and even fun.

Accommodations for Dyslexia

There are many accommodations that dyslexic teens can take advantage of, depending on their testing and individual needs.

These accommodations include:

  • Time and a half for testing
  • Individual testing rooms
  • Audiobooks
  • Text to speech software
  • Test reader (someone who reads the test to the student)
  • Someone to help take notes
  • Calculator
  • Scantron free testing
  • Smartpen
  • Recording lectures

Accommodations are an important step for dyslexic teens to find success at school. Finding the right combination of accommodations can be the difference between success and failure for your teen. It is important to ask questions and find solutions that help your teen to reach their potential.

"Special" Education

Many parents of dyslexic children are familiar with the special education offerings of public or private education. Here is a quick refresher and also additional information to help navigate this world.

504 Plan

A 504 plan is not specifically for individuals with learning disabilities. Person’s who qualify have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. As dyslexic persons, a 504 plan allows for them to remain in the classroom with accommodations. Therefore, a 504 plan can be less stigmatizing.

IEP

An Independent Education Plan is a common academic intervention. Many parents may be familiar with IEPs since they require parents’ involvement. An IEP means many things for a child or teen during school hours. For example, it could qualify them for special education classes, neuropsychological testing every year, and other types of special treatment like extra time on tests or taking tests in a remote area with minimal distractions. While these can contribute to a child’s academic success, many parents are led to believe that the school and their accommodations are all that needs to be done. In reality, for many people with dyslexia, that is not the case. Many dyslexics need additional support outside of their IEP.

When learning is removed from the walls of traditional schooling, many dyslexic students excel.

Additional Support to Consider

Outside tutoring – Dyslexic people tend to do well with one-on-one individual attention. Relieving social pressure in the learning process can help kids who might be embarrassed when they need clarification. When selecting an outside tutor, it is important to hire someone patient and understanding of the child’s struggles and strengths. Someone who can help them overcome struggles and be non-judgmental about them.

Private neuropsychological testing – To clearly understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses, neuropsychological testing outside of the school environment can add a lot of clarity. This kind of testing can lead to a proper diagnosis and successful early intervention. But just getting the test done and reading the recommendations isn’t enough. It is important to have someone who understands testing sit down and explain the results. Then for you to interpret those results to your child in a developmentally appropriate way.

For example, explaining that they may have a poor score on spelling and math is not as important as their IQ being 25% above average. Dyslexic people are used to others questioning their intellect and, in turn, doubting themselves. Having a piece of paper that proves that they are not only smart is key for their self-confidence.

Having an idea of their own strengths and weaknesses can be great for their self-esteem but also can provide a direction when it comes to future planning. It can help them choose classes that they can excel in or a school they want to go to, or even a career path that suits their unique talents.

How to Advocate for Your Teen

Being an informed advocate for your child is essential for them to succeed academically. Further, it is important to teach them how to advocate for themselves. Advocating for oneself can be hard for teens because it signals themselves out and highlights their learning differences. Still, developing good communication with your child’s teachers is the best way to advocate in a school setting. This helps teachers to become more aware of their student’s learning differences and lets them prepare accommodations for students who need them.

Teaching Teens to Advocate For Themselves

Even though dyslexia is common, people often do not understand what it means to be dyslexic and how to support someone who is dyslexic. Teens need to learn to navigate these challenges in school for themselves to develop the necessary skills for when it comes up in college or a future job.

What Dyslexic Teens Need to Learn:

  • Tools they need to succeed – reading programs, text to speech
  • Funding that is available to them
  • Rights they have and how to tell employers what they need
  • Resources that they can reach out to for guidance or assistance when needed

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004 (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) define the rights of students with dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities. These individuals are legally entitled to special services to help them overcome and accommodate their learning problems. Such services include education programs designed to meet the needs of these students. The Acts also protect people with dyslexia against unfair and illegal discrimination.

College and Career Considerations for Teens with Dyslexia

Sometimes traditional schooling doesn’t work out for a dyslexic individual. Work experience and on-the-job training become the way to meet their goals. As a result, dyslexic people’s career’s often are full of twists and turns. Sometimes it looks like their lives don’t make sense unless you really understand the connections between each point.

When looking into colleges, it is important to visit their disability center in the application process. Some are great and help guide through the college experience; others can be a hindrance to success.

Also, keep in mind colleges often give tuition assistance and tuition waivers for people who are dyslexic or have other “disabilities.” It is important to know that this process can take a while to work through. Make sure to get started as soon as possible. You will need to provide testing, IEP information, etc. It is recommended to start looking into this a couple of years before college. Early planning can ball rolling and maximize their benefits.

Treatment Options For When Teens With Dyslexia Need Extra Help

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All in all, dyslexia should not be looked at as a disorder but a different way of thinking and learning. It can be hard to look at it that way when you are young and struggling through school, among other things that go along with being a teenager. When things get too overwhelming for teens there are options that can help them become the best version of themselves.

Programs like Aspiro Adventure Therapy can provide teens and young adults with dyslexia the chance to step outside the classroom and learn life skills that go far beyond it.

One of the greatest benefits of the Aspiro program is the increase in self-efficacy that student’s experience. This can especially benefit teengers who are dyslexic. Wilderness adventure therapy has consistently shown to improve self-efficacy through a process by which youth are exposed to seemingly impossible challenges, in novel environments, and through guidance, hard work, and grit, they can find success. Studies on self-efficacy indicate that efficacy beliefs are the best predictor of future performance; therefore, by addressing these issues through wilderness adventure therapy, one can effectively improve the chances of future success.

Another thing that Aspiro helps students with is building grit and resilience. Grit is about perseverance, passion, and determination when things get hard. Resilience is about having the skills and experience to bounce back from setbacks and struggles. Together, Aspiro’s reliance on clinically advanced methodologies and the opportunities for growth provided by adventure and nature are a powerful combination.

Aspiro Adventure uses a dynamic approach that is evidence-based. Aspiro provides accurate mental health assessments, so you can be assured that your teen is getting the help that they need. Neurological testing can be done on-site and interpreted so that their unique set of strengths and weaknesses can be outlined. With this awareness they can have a deeper understanding of themselves. Aspiro provides direction, space and time that is unplugged from the normal everyday distractions.

At Aspiro parents get the coaching they need to support their child best emotionally, and academically.

If you are considering professional counseling and think that wilderness adventure therapy might be a good fit for your teen, reach out to the Aspiro Adventure admissions team. They are available any time to answer all of your questions. Give them a call today at (801) 349-2740.

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About the Author

How to Navigate Learning Disabilities in Teenagers & Young Adults

Learning Disability in Teenager and Young Adults | Aspiro Wilderness Therapy Program

This article is written for parents, teachers, school counselors, or anyone needing advice or help navigating learning disabilities in teenagers and young adults. At Aspiro, We focus on helping adolescents and young adults through a variety of struggles, including, but not limited to learning disorders and any mental health or low self-esteem issues that may arise from them.

Helping You Help Your Child

​When children are having difficulties in school, parents are often the first to notice; however, knowing what to do, where to start, and where to find help can be confusing and overwhelming for many parents. If you suspect that your son or daughter has a learning disorder, early recognition and diagnosis is key to getting your kid the help they need.

Learning disabilities are more prevalent than many think. According to the U.S. Survey of Income and Program Participation, an estimated 4.67 million Americans ages six and older have a learning disability. However, only 2.4 million students are diagnosed with specific learning disabilities, and receive services, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. This means there are millions of students with undiagnosed learning disabilities.

As your child’s advocate, it is vital that your son or daughter receives early intervention to develop the skills needed to learn based on their strengths and way of learning. Recognizing, accepting, and understanding your son or daughter’s learning disability are the first steps to ensuring your child’s success.

Learning Disabilities in Teenagers and Young Adults Infographic | Aspiro Wilderness Therapy Program

What Is a Learning Disability?

A learning disability is a neurologically-based processing problem that may impair an individual’s ability to listen, think, speak, write, read, spell, and do math. In addition to interfering with basic learning skills, a learning difference may also interfere with higher level learning skills, including organization, long or short-term memory, attention, impulsivity and time management.

A learning disability is not a learning problem stemming from visual, hearing, or motor deficits. Learning disabilities however often coincide with other neurological disorders, such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Learning disabilities often run in families, as they can have a genetic component. A learning disability is a lifelong obstacle; while children don’t “grow out of it,” they can learn skills to compensate for their learning disorder. Early recognition, diagnosis, and getting proper help early on is key to your son or daughter’s academic success.

Types of Learning Disabilities:

Dyslexia – dyslexia is a learning disability that impacts a person’s ability to learn to read and interpret words, letters and other symbols. Because dyslexia affects reading comprehension, it is colloquially called a reading disability or reading disorder. Dyslexia is by far the most common type of learning disability affecting between 5% – 17% of students in the United States.

Dyscalculia – dyscalculia is a learning disability that affects a person’s ability to learn math facts, understand numbers, make calculations, and solve math problems. It is estimated that dyscalculia affects between 5% – 7% of students in the U.S.

Dysgraphia – dysgraphia is a learning disability that impacts a person’s fine motor skills and affects writing skills like handwriting, typing, and spelling. It is estimated that dysgraphia affects between 7% – 15% of students.

Processing Disorder – a processing disorder occurs when a person isn’t able to use all of the data collected by the senses.

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) – students with auditory processing struggles can’t process what they hear the same way other people do. This can affect how they recognize and interpret sounds.

Language Processing Disorder (LPD) – Language Processing Disorder is a specific type of Auditory Processing Disorder. Students with a language disorder have extreme difficulty understanding and processing the speech and language they hear and have trouble expressing what they want to say.

Visual Processing Disorder – someone with a visual processing disorder struggles to interpret the visual information coming through their eyes. It is different from needing glasses since the eyes can work perfectly. The difficulty is how the brain processes the information coming through the eye.

Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities (NLD or NVLD) – Students with NVLD have trouble interpreting nonverbal cues like facial expressions or body language and may have poor coordination. This can happen when a person has strong verbal/language process abilities paired with visual-spatial processing abilities.

Other Struggles Related to Learning Difficulties

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) & Executive Functioning – while there is a lot of debate as to whether or not ADHD is a learning disability in the technical sense, there is no doubt that attention disorders impede learning. Between 5% – 11% of students have been diagnosed with ADHD.

Developmental Coordination Disorder (also known as Dyspraxia) – students with DCD are often called “clumsy” or “awkward” due to their poor general coordination and hand-eye coordination needed for everyday tasks. “By definition, children with DCD do not have an identifiable medical or neurological condition that explains their coordination problems.” Developmental Coordination Disorder occurs in 5% – 6% of children when there is a delay in motor skills development.

Memory Deficits – working memory, short-term memory and long-term memory are all crucial tools the brain utilizes in the learning process. If the brain encounters any problems when trying to store or retrieve information, it may be unable to process both verbal and non-verbal information.

It is important to recognize that learning disorders are not an intellectual disability. People with learning disabilities are not dumb, in fact, they are often extremely intelligent. Students with learning disabilities simply have brains that work differently than someone who doesn’t have the same learning problems.

Does My Child Have a Learning Disability? Know the Signs

The National Center for Learning Disabilities estimates that 1 in 5 children in the US have a learning disability. The first step in getting help for your child is recognizing the signs of a learning disability. The following are some signs to look for in your child’s behavior and cognitive performance:

Cognitive Signs of a Learning Disability:

  • Often spelling the same word differently in a single assignment
  • Trouble with open-ended questions on tests
  • Poor reading and language comprehension
  • Weak memory skills
  • Difficulty in adapting skills from one setting to another
  • Slow work pace
  • Difficulty grasping abstract concepts
  • Inattention to details
  • Excessive focus on details
  • Frequent misreading/misinterpretation of information
  • Trouble filling out applications or forms
  • Easily confused by instructions
  • Poor organizational skills
  • Mental health problems like depression or anxiety

Behavioral Signs of a Learning Disability:

  • Not wanting to go to school
  • Complaining about the teacher
  • Reluctance to engage in reading/writing activities
  • Saying the work is too hard
  • Not wanting to show you schoolwork
  • Avoiding assignments/homework
  • Saying negative things about his or her academic performance, such as: “I’m dumb”
  • Disobeying teacher’s directions
  • Frequent misreading/misinterpretation of information
  • Cutting class and skipping school (in adolescents and teens)
  • Bullying

If your son or daughter is displaying some of these cognitive or behavioral symptoms, it is time to take the next steps.

I Think My Child Has a Learning Disability. What Do I Do?

Once you suspect that your son or daughter has a disability and have recognized some signs of a specific learning disorder in their behavior, it is time to take action:

1. Talk to Your Child’s Teacher About Your Concerns

Share your concerns with your child’s teacher; chances are, he or she may have noticed some of the same things you did. Use this opportunity to collect information about your child’s academic performance and communicate openly about your son or daughter’s performance.

2. Find Out about Pre-referral Services

Before you have your son or daughter formally evaluated by a psychologist, his or her school may have an established process for providing you and your son or daughter with support. Find out what your child’s school can do or is doing for your child.

3. Keep Diligent Records of Your Child’s Education

Keep your own notes on your child’s academic development and meetings with their school’s personnel. Additionally, be sure to add all communication about your child’s academic performance from the school: test scores, report cards, and written comments from teachers. Keeping your son or daughter’s academic records organized will help you and their educators monitor his or her progress and will be crucial for their evaluation.

4. Know Your Rights

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), you, as a parent, have a right to request a free, formal evaluation for your child. Once you make a formal request for evaluation, IDEA puts a set of legal requirements and procedures into motion for his or her school district.

5. Request for Formal Evaluation under IDEA

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) gives parents the right to request a free, formal evaluation of their child. If you decide to make a formal request for evaluation, ensure that you put your request in writing.

Your local school district is responsible for the IDEA-mandated formal evaluation, even if your son or daughter is home-schooled or enrolled in private school. If your child is referred for evaluation by their school, you will receive written notice of the referral and will need to give your consent in order to proceed with the evaluation.

Under IDEA, schools have several requirements once it has been established that your son or daughter will be evaluated by the school district. The law requires:

  • You will be given a copy of the “Procedural Safeguards Notice,” which outlines your legal rights to ensure that your child receives the services he or she needs. This document is extremely important; be sure to read it carefully and know your rights as a parent.
  • The school district is required to complete the evaluation within an established period of time; IDEA requires that the evaluation is conducted within 60 calendar days of receiving parental consent; however, timing guidelines may vary by states.
  • The law sets certain requirements for evaluations. The evaluation must use a variety of scientifically proven procedures, strategies, and tools to examine each area in which a disability is suspected.
  • The school must present you with the plan for your son or daughter’s evaluation before the evaluation begins.
  • As a parent, you have the right to object to certain assessments or tests. In addition, you have the right to request that additional assessments or tests are added to the plan.

You also have the option to have your child privately evaluated, as opposed to having an evaluation facilitated by the school; however, if you choose to go with a private evaluation, the school is not responsible for the cost. As the parent, you have the right to choose whether or not to share the results of a private evaluation with your child’s school.

After your son or daughter’s evaluation, the school is required to provide you with a copy of the evaluation report. It is very important to request a copy of the evaluation report in writing.

My Child Has a Learning Disability. Now What?

Some parents get discouraged upon finding out about their son or daughter’s diagnosis; however, many individuals who have a learning disability can succeed scholastically and professionally. The key to success is individualized instruction that is carefully targeted, well-delivered, and research-based.

In addition to individualized instruction, a strong support system and high expectation (of themselves and from others) are two key aspects to success. It is vital that, as a parent, you are an advocate for your son or daughter. In order to become an effective advocate for your son or daughter, you should become informed about their learning disability, their rights under the law, and ways to help him or her succeed.

What Laws Give My Child Educational Rights?

There are three federal statutes that you should familiarize yourself with. These laws guarantee your son or daughter’s access to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The three federal laws include:

  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides special education services for public school students ages 3 to 21 who have disabilities; however, having a learning difficulty doesn’t automatically make a student eligible for special education. He or she must first go through an eligibility evaluation.
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities in programs and activities which receive federal funding.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that protects individuals with learning disabilities from discrimination in schools, the workplace, and other settings.

Once your child is formally diagnosed, he or she may receive an IEP or a 504 Plan; however, not all students who have disabilities require specialized instruction. Depending on your child’s diagnosis, he or she may receive a specialized plan.

What Is an IEP?

IEP stands for an Individualized Education Program. An IEP is required under IDEA for every student who receives special education services to make sure that each student receives individualized instruction and services. The IEP is written for each student by a team, which includes his or her parents, classroom teacher, special education teacher, school psychologist, and a school district representative who has authority over special education programs.

What Is a 504 Plan?

A 504 Plan is designed for students who have been diagnosed with a learning disability or an attention deficit who do not meet the eligibility requirements under IDEA. Since Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 has a more expansive definition of a learning disability than IDEA does, students who do not meet the criteria to qualify for an IEP may be eligible to receive accommodations under a 504 plan. Like an IEP, a 504 plan is also a plan written specifically for each student to ensure his or her success in the classroom.

What Is the Difference Between 504 and IEP?

For students who do require specialized instruction, IDEA controls the requirements, and an IEP is developed for that student. The program document is in-depth and outlines the child’s present academic performance, annual academic goals, special services the child will receive, how the institution will track the goals, standardized testing protocol, accommodations, and modifications. The IDEA process requires documentation of measurable growth and specialized instruction.

504 plans are less involved and are designed for students who do not require specialized instruction. While a team of at least five or six people are required to develop an IEP, a 504 plan can be developed among the child’s parent(s) and teachers. They are designed to ensure the student receives equal access to public education and services. ​A document is usually created to outline their specific accessibility requirements and names of who will provide each requirement or accommodation.

Accommodations vs Modifications

Some parents get discouraged upon finding out that their child has been diagnosed with a learning disability; however, many individuals who have a learning disability can succeed scholastically and professionally. When children are diagnosed with a learning disability, parents can sometimes be overwhelmed by the educational options; depending on their diagnosis, a child could receive an IEP or a 504 plan. In addition, a child’s curriculum could have accommodations or modifications to meet his or her specific learning needs; but, what’s the difference? Here is an overview of accommodations vs modifications, and examples of how each could be applied to your son or daughter’s academic curriculum.

What Is an “Accommodation”?

Accommodations are instructional or test adaptations that allow the student to demonstrate what he or she knows without fundamentally changing the targeted skill being taught in the classroom or measured during testing sessions. Accommodations do not reduce performance expectations; they simply change the manner or setting in which the information is presented, or how the student will respond.

Generally, many accommodations can be grouped into five categories:

  • Timing: ex. giving extended time to complete a test item or task
  • Flexible scheduling: ex. giving two weeks, rather than one to complete a project
  • Accommodated presentation of material: material is presented for the student in a different manner than traditionally presented
  • Setting: ex. completing a task or test in a quiet room
  • Response accommodation: ex. allowing the student to respond orally to a written test

What Is a “Modification”?

Modifications are instructional or test adaptations that change the targeted skill and often reduce learning expectations. They may affect the content in such a way that what is being taught or assessed is fundamentally changed.

Modification may lower performance expectations by:

  • Reducing the number of items required
  • Reducing the complexity of the items or task required
  • Simplifying the material, including vocabulary, principles, and concepts
  • Changing the scoring rubric or grading scale

While parents can get wrapped up in the details of their child’s educational plan, it is important to remember that the key to your son or daughter’s success is individualized instruction that is carefully targeted, well-delivered, and research-based. Aside from individualized instruction, a strong support system and high expectations (of themselves and from others) are vital to ensuring that children with learning disabilities succeed academically.

How Can I Help My Child Succeed at Home?

There are many ways you can help your son or daughter succeed– aside from being involved with their education plan and progress. Here are some ways to help your child reach their full potential:

1. Educate Yourself about Your Child’s Learning Disability

Find out as much as you can about teen learning disabilities. Learn about what kinds of tasks will be difficult for your son or daughter, what resources are available to aid him or her in overcoming those obstacles, and what you can do to make learning easier for your child.

2. Use Your Child’s Strengths to His or Her Advantage

Search for indications of how your son or daughter learns best, paying special attention to his or her interests, talents, and skills. Use these strengths to help them learn in a way that is most enjoyable for them. For example, if your son or daughter has a hard time reading information, but can easily comprehend things when listening, take advantage of this. Allow your son or daughter to listen to a book on tape or watch a video to take in new information.

3. Use Media Constructively and Creatively

Television, videos, podcasts, and other forms of media can actually be learning tools. If you can help your son or daughter select valuable programming to watch or listen to, this can be a great use of time. By watching a video or listening to a podcast, your son or daughter can learn to carefully listen, focus, sustain attention, and increase their vocabulary.

4. Increase Your Child’s Self Confidence

It is important to foster and grow your son or daughter’s self-confidence and maintain high expectations for him or her. While it is vital not to underestimate him or her, it is also important not to set unrealistic expectations. Rather than focusing on his or her shortcomings, focus on his or her strengths. In addition, make sure books are on your son or daughter’s reading level. Many children with a learning disability are reading below grade level. Foster your child’s love of reading, while making sure they do not become frustrated by ensuring that he or she is reading books on an appropriate level.

Conclusion

If you suspect your son or daughter has a learning disability, the best thing you can do is to get them the help necessary to be successful. Recognizing, accepting, and understanding your son or daughter’s learning disability are the first steps to ensuring your son or daughter’s success.

Being an advocate for your son or daughter involves being involved in the testing process, knowing which laws your child is protected under, and helping your teenager succeed in and outside of the school environment.

Resources

Additional Resources

For additional resources on helping your child, please visit our website’s resource section: https://aspiroadventure.com/family-resources/suggested-reading/

This article is sponsored by Aspiro Adventure, the pioneer of Wilderness Adventure Therapy. Aspiro Adventure offers safe, effective, and clinically-sophisticated treatment options for adolescents and young adults with learning differences.

About Aspiro Adventure Therapy Program

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Aspiro Adventure’s Wilderness Adventure Therapy program was uniquely crafted to assist students and their families in creating lasting, life-long emotional changes through compassionate, intentional, research-backed, and safe outdoor adventure therapy programs. The professionals at Aspiro Adventure understand individuals don’t come with instructions, and every student is unique, capable, and amazing in their own right.

Aspiro Adventure focuses on helping adolescents, young adults, and their families through difficulties that occur when various behavioral, cognitive, or developmental issues are present. Research shows that engaging individuals on a personal level with strategic and intentional activities will aid in developing the tools and skills necessary to engage life in a healthy and positive way.

By Josh Watson, LCSW, CMO at Aspiro Adventure Therapy Program