Teen Talk: The Importance of Knowing Their Differences

Children grow up. It is inevitable and there is nothing we can do to stop it. As parents, we often want to continue protecting our children from the world as they grow through their teen years. When a teen struggles with academics they often can feel less than special, less than others, dumb, unimportant, or not smart enough to succeed. While some parents believe that they are protecting their teen from “a label” when their child is diagnosed with a learning disability or identified as having dyslexia, they may be hindering them from reaching their full potential and understanding who they are as a person. Let’s break down the benefits of talking with your child about their learning differences:

  1. Everyone is different. Everyone learns differently. We all find out what works for us and what doesn’t. Some students need hands-on activities, others are fine with oral lectures. Students with learning disabilities already know that not all classroom activities are easy for them. With the knowledge of their differences, they can begin to identify a pattern of what their struggles are in the classroom and tackle it head on, becoming a self-advocate, which is what we want for our children in the end. We want them to be happy, independent adults.
  2. Students with specific learning disabilities and dyslexia have average or higher IQs! Yup! Your child may feel dumb and that they know nothing when in all actuality, they are very smart. They have a great set of skills with a couple of little weaknesses that sometimes cause them to struggle. So if they are able to hear, “Hey, you are really smart. Look at how amazing your brain is!” they are more likely to persist through challenges.
  3. When a student knows they have dyslexia, they are more likely to take the additional time they need for reading assignments and ask for questions to be read because they know it isn’t a lack of knowledge, it’s “just dyslexia”.
  4. Learning may take some time. It may be that your teen often feels like, “I just don’t get it.” With the knowledge that they have some differences with how they think and how they should approach a task, they can understand that just because they don’t get something right away, doesn’t mean that they won’t later. Learning may take some time; as we mentioned before, time is ok. Learning to take the time they need can translate into academic success.


As Educational Diagnosticians, we have sat in hundreds of special education planning meetings (ARD meetings) with 12 to 22 year olds to share with them their “label”. We talk with them face-to-face about their learning, their strengths, and weaknesses. We share what their differences may feel like in the classroom and also what amazing things we have seen from them during the time we have known them. At the end of all of this discussion, we say, “You meet criteria as a student with a specific learning disability/dyslexia. You are a very bright student. You are a hard worker and oftentimes you are working harder than most of the students in your class. You have some great skills and we want to help make sure that you are sharing your greatness with others by giving you these supports.” Then we talk about the plan set up by the committee, which includes accommodations, goals, and supports. Every time, every single time we later hear from parents or teachers that the student is a different person now. They are happier. They participate in class. They attend tutoring and ask for help. They are self-advocates.

So start looking at learning differences like dyslexia or a specific learning disability as just that, a difference. Consider the benefits of letting your teen know what makes them different doesn’t make them any less amazing.

If you’re ready to have this conversation with your child but don’t know where to start, we’re happy to help brainstorm ways to begin. 

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