7 Signs Your Teen Might Have a Learning Disability

Frustrated teen at school

"She's doing first grade stuff," my daughter’s kindergarten teacher told me as I sat facing her at the tiny desk.

Meanwhile, my daughter, waiting with her older brother at the next table, began finishing a puzzle he'd given up on.

My daughter loved her first year of school and admired her teacher. She read at home all the time (absorbed books like a sponge), and was really engaged in learning.

And then, I noticed something happened halfway through her first grade year. Her learning fire diminished to a slow burn. After talking to a few other parents and her teacher, I figured it was because there were more kids in her class or she was losing a bit of interest in school.

She continued to struggle through second grade, all the way to her first two years of middle school. Although she had a hard time, she always seemed to find her way through it.

While in 8th grade year last, she began to slide quickly–so quickly her teachers began to worry and decided we should meet. At home, I noticed she was nastier than normal. She began tapping her leg constantly–something I'd never known her to do. She became so overwhelmed with school work and she’d zone out.

To me, it appeared that she’d completely stopped trying. I felt like she was giving up and I was frustrated. I didn't stop to think there might be more to the story until I was contacted by the school.

When we all gathered around the table for the meeting, her teachers felt strongly about her being tested to see if she needed extra support. They encouraged me to get started as soon as possible, as the testing was a long process. I left my daughter’s school feeling like I hadn't been paying close enough attention. In my mind, she wasn't focused, was too busy thinking about the social aspects of school and didn't believe in herself. It wasn't a good feeling.

One of her teachers said to me, "We need to find out if she's not focusing because it's too hard, or if it's too hard because she's not focusing."

No one wants their child struggling through school–most kids attend for thirteen years and that's a long time to feel frustrated and hopeless like my daughter. It destroys their confidence and cements thoughts and feelings about themselves that are hard to reverse.

Family Circle talked with Dr. April J. Lisbon, a 19 year veteran K-12 school psychologist who tells us, "Over my career, I have worked with children ages three-22, with the bulk of my experience working with children in middle and high school.” Although, all children are different in how their behaviors manifest, here are a seven common threads Lisbon has seen:

  • Spends hours completing homework assignments that should take no more than 20 minutes.
  • Refuse to do work.
  • May stare at paper or engage in continuous erasure.
  • May say this is boring or is too easy.
  • May hide grades or assignments from parent. May also deny having any homework.
  • May become argumentative with the parent or completely ignore the parent
  • Low test performance and not because the child wasn't trying.

I was seeing almost all of these signs in my daughter. Whenever I'd bring up the subject, she'd shut down and things would get worse. Now that we have a diagnosis that she does, in fact, have a learning disability (even though it wasn’t named as ADD or ADHD), she is getting the support and help she needs. It's a relief to know we are working towards making her high school years (hopefully) more comfortable and enjoyable than her middle school years were.

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Dr. Lisbon advises if you have a concern, or suspect your child may have a learning disability, "The first step is to schedule a conference to meet with the child's classroom teacher to determine if the behaviors noticed at home are seen at school. If so, parents should ask what interventions have been put in place to help the child grow in the area of concern and to see the results of their child's progress. "

If the child's growth based on the data inconsistent or, as a parent, "You have a legal right to place in writing that they would like to meet with the school based team to discuss an evaluation for special education services due to a suspected learning disability," says Lisbon.

You may even want to have your own independent evaluation done and share with the team. "If there is sufficient evidence to show that even with interventions in place the child is not making progress, it is appropriate that the team initiates an evaluation for school based services," she says.

It’s important to know the signs and decipher when your child is simply having a hard time and will push through, and when they are truly lost. Even more importantly, we must know what we can do as their parents to help them along the way and realize a learning disability can creep in at any time. Yes, they are growing up, but we still need to be their advocates, especially when it comes to something as complicated as a learning disability.

Just because they didn't seem to have trouble learning during their younger years, doesn't mean that will always hold true. We all know the teen years are tumultuous enough and finding some answers can be a game changer when it comes to your child and their schooling.