What to Do When Your Teen Can't Read

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Life is very difficult for teens and older children who can't read. Fortunately, even older teens who lack basic reading skills can become successful readers. All it takes is a combination of support from a caring adult like you, your child's school, and the right learning program.

Meet With Your Teen's or Older Child's Teachers 

Collaborating with your child's teachers is a great place to start. Explain exactly what concerns you have about your child's reading ability to the teachers.

Be prepared to provide specific examples of times when your child wasn't able to read or struggled with reading.  Explain how this affects your child's ability to complete homework and other tasks. 

Telling stories and providing examples will help your child's teachers to understand exactly how reading struggles may be influencing your child's school work. You can also find out from the teachers what they have noticed about your child's reading. Teacher observations may provide more insight that will help you work together to help your child improve their reading and school performance.  

This meeting would also be a good time to talk to teachers about ways that they can adjust assignments or provide work strategies to help your child complete work and gain missing skills. Teachers may be able to modify assignments, "differentiating" in educator lingo, to help your child continue learning grade-level material while improving reading skills.

Find Out What Reading Skills Your Child Needs  

Reading isn't just one skill, it is an activity made up of several different skills. Does your child have phonemic awareness, the skill of knowing what letters make which sounds? Does your child have dyslexia, causing them to reverse letters and words?  is your child able to sound out words, yet has no understanding of what was read?

Do they read yet frequently miss words, with their eyes skipping all over the page? Each of these is symptomatic of a missing reading skill piece. 

Consider Getting Your Child An​ Eye Exam

Vision problems can make learning to read challenging. If you have an older child who has had regular school attendance and still is not reading, get a full eye exam to check for problems. A simple vision check does not look for other eye or perceptive conditions. 

A thorough eye exam will provide information to let you know if there is a specific condition interfering with learning to read. You will then be prepared to overcome the condition if one exists.

Consider Testing For Special Education 

Sometimes it can be difficult to motivate teens to do their work, and other times there are underlying causes that children or teens simply cannot control. It is a difference of can't do something versus won't do something. If you are suspicious that your teen can't overcome their reading difficulties on their own, it may be time to consider testing for a disability.

 A parent can request that their public school evaluate a child for special education. During the evaluation, you will want to supply as much information as possible during the evaluation about your child's history that relates to your concerns about their struggle with reading.

This could be medical information, other school evaluations, report cards, work samples and other community agency reports. 

Children who are found to have a disability that meets one of thirteen categories may qualify for special education Services. Special education services for school-age children with disabilities that attend public schools or are homeschooled are mandated by federal law. These programs are designed to provide a free and appropriate education for students who have behavioral, physical, mental or cognitive needs that prevent a child from gaining any benefit from a regular public education classroom.


If your child attends a private school you will still need to contact the public school where your child's private school is located in order for your teen to be evaluated for special education services.  

Consider Consulting a Language Specialist

If your child or teen's reading skills are more than two grade levels below their actual grade level and your child either does not qualify for special education or your child is still able to spend more time working on their reading outside of the school day, a language specialist may be able to provide suggestions and tutoring that will speed up your child's learning to read process 

Unfortunately, most insurance does not cover the services of language specialists. If your insurance does not cover language services, check for service organizations in your community that provide access to these services. Scottish Rite centers are an example of one organization that provides speech and language services.

Provide Support Outside Of School 

Once you know exactly which skills your child needs to build in order to become a successful reader, you can look for ways to support reading outside of school. This might be you teaching your teen with an additional reading program you found with the help of educational professionals. It may be by finding an adult mentor who can work on reading with your child. 

Be sure to look for age and level appropriate reading material that your teen finds interesting. Check with your local librarian for suggestions. You can also check with your local community reading council agency. In many communities, these agencies advertise their services to adults. These agencies can suggest community resources for your teen or older child.