Maybe Your Teen has a Learning Disability
Brandon says that he doesn’t expect to graduate from high school. The reason for this, he explains, is because he is 16 and only has a few credits so far.
“I don’t want to be 19 or 20 and still in high school,” Brandon says. “That would be embarrassing.”
Elizabeth has been frustrated with school for several years. Although at 15 she appears bright, her grades have never been exceptional. She works hard to achieve the grades she gets, but she says she doesn’t know how much longer she can put up with school.
“I never liked school,” Elizabeth points out, “but I did the best I could because my parents wanted me to do well at school. But now that it’s getting harder, I’d rather drop out and work. It would be less frustrating.”
When parents see students like Elizabeth and Brandon struggle with school, they often encourage them to try harder or suggest that they spend less time focusing on friendships, sports, or other activities. Frequently, parents are convinced that if their child would just concentrate on school they would be able to perform better and experience less frustration.
But when children or teens consistently perform poorly on school work or tests, get frustrated with school assignments, avoid doing homework, take a long time to complete school tasks, or have great difficulty understanding school work, the fault may be not so much in their interest in other areas of life but in their having a learning disability.
There are various kinds of learning disabilities. For instance, Elizabeth is a poor reader. When children or teens have difficulty reading or comprehending what they read, they may have one of the most common learning disabilities – often referred to as dyslexia. Brandon has problems both with reading and with math. He just does not understand mathematical concepts and he has never learned the multiplication tables.
Both Brandon and Elizabeth seem very bright to their teachers and parents. They both have good verbal skills and both are friendly and out-going. But the key to understanding learning disabilities is that there is a gap between their intelligence – or their potential for learning – and their actual performance – their reading achievement, for instance.
Because kids with good verbal skills and other intellectual abilities appear bright enough to excel in school, adults are less likely to suspect learning disabilities. It is easy for parents and teachers to assume they are not trying hard enough. Given the pressure put on them by their parents – and even by themselves – children and teens with learning disabilities become frustrated. And, as a result of their failure to live up to their own and others’ expectations, they often feel slow or stupid.
Consequently, after years of feeling stupid or seeing themselves as a person who doesn’t try hard enough at school, they get so frustrated that they would like to drop out or get away from school. School, sometimes from the earliest grades, is often challenging, overwhelming, and anxiety-provoking.
Each teen with a learning disability will cope differently. Some, like Brandon, want to give up. Others, like Elizabeth, have tried very hard to be successful, and eventually conclude that they have personal flaws which prevent them from succeeding at school. Still others may make excuses, skip classes, or begin hanging around with others who find school frustrating and boring. Sometimes this means that they begin to get involved in drug or alcohol use, or even in delinquency.
Although many children with learning disabilities are identified early in their school career, there are others – like Elizabeth and Brandon – who remained undiagnosed well into high school.
If you suspect your child’s frustrating or poor school performance is related to a learning disability, then you can arrange for your child to be properly assessed.
Assessment for learning disabilities will involve psychological testing and educational testing by an educational psychologist. Often an evaluation for a learning disability will begin with intelligence testing and include testing for various academic subject areas to determine if there is a discrepancy between their potential and their level of achievement.
If an assessment determines there is a learning disability, then it is important that this finding be communicated to the teen so they understand why they’ve had difficulty in school and so they can be involved in future planning and efforts at remediation.