Why Isn’t My Bright Kid Doing Better in School?
By Nicole Locher, A Starting Line Admission Consultant & Learning Differences Specialist
Do you have a bright kid who struggles in school? Are they disorganized, missing deadlines, getting distracted easily, and/or struggling with reading and writing? Is there a gap between their academic potential and their grades?
As parents, it can be very frustrating when we see our kids struggling in school. However, we need to recognize that these struggles could be signs of an underlying learning difference or learning disability. Many parents tend to shy away from any notion that their kid might have a “disability,” but learning disabilities are actually very prevalent.
In spite this prevalence, the signs of learning disabilities can be hidden and often go unnoticed and undetected until later school years. If ignored until academic demands increase, learning differences can seriously impact a student’s self-esteem and motivation. If caught and remediated early, students can go on to achieve success in school and their careers.
This is Part One in a series of articles on two of the most common learning differences: Dyslexia and ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), which affect about one in five students in the U.S. In this series, we will highlight symptoms, common misconceptions, amazing strengths, ways to help your teen, and what to expect and prepare them for when they head to college.
Part I: Dyslexia
Clearing up Some Misconceptions about Dyslexia
The most common misconceptions about people with dyslexia is that their poor reading is due to laziness, or that they’re not bright and can’t learn to read or write. In fact, people with dyslexia have average to above average intelligence, and with the appropriate intervention, can become strong readers and writers. Some also believe that dyslexia is a vision problem and that people with dyslexia see letters backwards, a misconception that has been perpetuated by a scene from the Percy Jackson filmes, where Percy can’t read the words because his mind is scrambling the letters. None of these are accurate.
What is Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a language-based learning difference that is neurological in origin. It affects organization in the left part of the brain that controls the ability to process the way language is heard, spoken, read, or spelled. It is genetic and can be passed down to children through their parents, and ranges on a continuum from mild to severe.
Students with dyslexia need extra help learning to recognize and work with word sounds. They learn best through multisensory, structured phonics reading programs grounded in the scientific evidence of how the brain learns to read. Teens may also need help with writing and spelling and may benefit from accommodations such as extended time on tests, access to class notes and presentations, audio books and speech to text/text to speech assistive technology.
What Are the Signs of Dyslexia in Teens?
Teenagers May Have Difficulty With:
- Reading, including reading aloud
- Writing & Spelling
- Mispronouncing names or words, or problems retrieving words
- Summarizing and comprehending what they’re reading
- Understanding jokes and idioms, such as “piece of cake”
- Learning a foreign language
- Doing math problems, especially word problems
The Strengths & Advantages of Dyslexia
While having learning differences comes with challenges, there are also significant strengths and competitive advantages. People with dyslexia tend to be creative, innovative, outside-the-box thinkers who can see patterns and solutions to problems that others often don’t see. Many use these traits to turn complex information into new professional strategies. It is estimated that about 40% of entrepreneurs and 30% of CEOs have dyslexia. Business leaders such as Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson, former Cisco CEO John Chambers, billionaire investor Charles Schwab, Shark Tank’s Barbara Corcoran, and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver have said that their dyslexia gives them a competitive advantage.
Many colleges have become much more inclusive of students with dyslexia, and employers are increasingly seeking their innovative thinking. Last year “Dyslexic Thinking” became recognized as a vital skill by LinkedIn,as it matches with the Top Ten skills needed in today’s workplace. Even NASA actively seeks scientists with dyslexia because of their strong problem-solving skills and excellent 3D and spatial awareness.
What to Do If You See Signs of Dyslexia
While it’s best to be identified and receive help in early grades, it’s never too late to get help!
- Talk with your doctor who might recommend types of testing to diagnose dyslexia.
- Reach out to your student’s teacher and school in writing. State your concerns, describe what you are observing and mention if reading challenges and/or dyslexia run in the family. Request a comprehensive evaluation for language based learning disabilities.
After being evaluated, your student may qualify for a 504 Plan Accommodation Plan or an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for Specialized Educational Services. See resource links below for more information.
- International Dyslexia Foundation
- The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity
- Mayo Clinic Info On Dyslexia
- Made by Dyslexia
For more information about evaluations and about the IEP eligibility process:
- What is an evaluation for special education?
- IEP Eligibility Determination
- Dyslexia and Special Education
- Qualifying for a 504 Accommodation Plan