What do I do when my dyslexic teen doesn't want help?

Jun 13, 2024
Sad withdrawn teen

"I'm fine"

"Leave me alone"

"You don't understand"

We've all said and heard these classic teen lines. 

By the time you reach the teen years with your dyslexic child, you fully understand the critical importance of parent involvement in creating a path for success. But what if your kid doesn't want the help? Your parenting dyslexia journey often starts in elementary school, when the talking and negotiating about dyslexia was mostly between you and the school. Then all of a sudden you blink, and your kid turns into a teenager. And it was one thing when might have met some resistance from a school administrator or a teacher, but what about when the source of resistance becomes your own child?!

Ugh.  We were all teens once so we get it.  At that age the adults know nothing and the teen has the world all figured out.  They no longer need your advice or wisdom, just your money, please.   All jokes aside this is all completely developmentally normal.  Your child should be pulling away from you in the teen years and developing their own thoughts and ideas that are separate from yours.  I know it hurts, but I promise it’s a good thing. 

So how can we keep our dyslexia empowerment ship steering in the right direction while handing over the wheel to someone who still has a developing frontal lobe? FUN FACT:  the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain needed for more complex thinking and planning, is not fully developed until age 25 or so.  The answer is: We hand over control gradually, and the process starts in elementary school.

Step 1. Always talk to your child about their dyslexia from the beginning. Normalize talking about it.  You don’t want to spring this info on them in high school. They will likely resent not knowing earlier.

Step 2. In middle school, make them start doing some of the talking at meetings. If they are comfortable, they can attend their IEP meeting.  If this setting is too intimidating, then have them ask questions in a small meeting with just the teacher. Or let them weigh in on what they think is working best.

Step 3.  In high school, they SHOULD be at their IEP meeting.  They need to have a voice in their learning plan.   When they move on to college or the workforce, they may need to request some dyslexia accommodations to perform at their best.  You’d like to have them start practicing that in high school, where you are there to support them. 

You might be thinking, "Those ⬆️ steps are great getting my kid involved in the process, Dr. Patterson, but that ship has sailed. I'm in the thick of raising a teen now, and they don't want my help."

So now your teen, in their stage of infinite wisdom [sarcasm] and defiance, decide they don’t want services or accommodations any more. They might be pushing back on being separated from their peers for test accommodations.  Or they want to take an extra music class instead of going to the Resource Room for writing support.   While it's very likely the root of this resistance is the desire to fit in (or not stand-out), it’s important that you talk to your teen to try to understand their point of view.

We have to meet are teens where they are.  They want more independence, they want to be accepted by peers, and they want to make you proud even if they don't act like it. Trying to understand where they are emotionally will take a little time and patience.  Teens don't tend to open up when we ask them to but rather when they are ready to.  Never ever try to have these talks at a time where emotions are high or when they are hungry - it will be entirely unproductive.

Once you understand where they are emotionally, you can start trying to help. 

  • Are ways they can get the support they need that are less disruptive to their day?
  • Are there some accommodations they could try going without and see how it goes?
  • Are there ways to replace some services in the school with support outside of school?
  • Do they need someone else to talk to about their feelings, like a school counselor or therapist?

 In the end you may need to play the parent card 🂡 and move forward with a decision they aren’t happy with, but hopefully you can find some ground where you can compromise and help them feel more in control of their dyslexia journey. 

Godspeed to you all as you navigate the rocky waters of the teen years.  

Hop over to IG and message me @parentingdyslexia360 about your most infuriating moment of Parenting Dyslexia - Teen Edition 🤭

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