Learning Disabilities: Warning Signs in Teens

Learn how to detect signs of a learning disability in your teenager.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities has developed a checklist of common warning signs. The organization stresses that this is merely a “guidepost” for parents. Because all children exhibit some of these behaviors throughout childhood, what you're looking for is a consistent pattern of a group of these behaviors that indicate your teen is not progressing at an appropriate rate.

If you recognize some of your teen's traits as you read this list, don't panic. Teenagers are infamous for many of these qualities! For example, disorganization, distractibility, and difficulty with planning are a few of the “symptoms” listed here. Now really. How long do you wait in the morning while your teen locates everything she needs for school? What teen isn't easily distracted? And if you've ever watched your teen try to hatch a plan with friends, you know that it simply cannot be done without 42 phone calls—and even then it may not work out.

Remember, too, that a teen who isn't interested in English literature may not pay attention in class, may show poor recall of material, and may not do well on the tests. That doesn't mean he's learning disabled; it simply means he doesn't like Jane Austen or Thomas Hardy or he has something else on his mind.

So you've got to read this list carefully. Do you notice that your child seems to be progressing in a certain subject or with a specific skill at a much slower rate than his friends? Kids vary greatly in their rate of progress, so what you're looking for is consistency: Do all the other 13-year-olds seem to “get” something, and your young teen just doesn't ever pick up on a particular type of skill or concept when everyone else does? Is he suddenly bothered by his inability to master certain tasks? And is there a dip in performance in some aspect of his life—be it social or academic? If this is the case, then there is reason to look for further advice, observation, and assessment.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) has created a checklist of some common warning signs of learning disabilities. The NCLD notes that all children exhibit some of these behaviors at various times; what you are looking for is a consistent showing of a group of these behaviors. If, after reviewing the list, you have any concerns, contact the school counseling department or a psychologist for further information and possible assessment.