15-year old can't (really) read

This is painful and embarrassing to write, but my 15-year old son (10th grade) is an incredibly poor reader. He knows how to put words together and can read them out loud, very haltingy, if forced. But he takes nothing in. I have sat next to him while he "read" a book (pausing the appropriate time on each page and then turning it) but when asked what the book was about, he will have no idea. He says that he just "looks at the words." I try to find opportunities for him to read - "hey, can you read out this recipe" or "can you look up this on the internet" - but he will get out of it if he can. He hasn't even signed up for drivers ed yet because I told him he had to research the requirements, which requires reading - and he can't wait to drive! I read aloud to him until he was 13, and we've had tutors in the past (including Linda Mood Bell), but nothing has moved the needle. Is there some training, some miracle worker out there? Thanks!

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This is a big problem, and you have clearly been trying to help him with tutors, asking him to find/read short things to help you, and so on. But as you have noted, this hasn't been enough. It sounds like your son may have a processing disorder of some kind, such as dyslexia. My suggestion is that you have him tested for learning disabilities ASAP. I've heard that this can be easier to arrange for students attending public schools, but I don't know. 

For your son's sake, I hope you do this soon. I'm sure your embarrassment isn't helpful. There is nothing shameful about a learning difference; everyone has them. Instead of embarrassment, try to imagine how hard this is for your son. He probably feels like he's failing you and not living up to your expectations. School must be hellish for him, since he is probably working to hide his reading difficulties, I'm betting he expends a lot of effort avoiding any activities that rely on reading comprehension, such as book discussions, contributing to social studies discussions, etc. I would imagine he also suffers socially, since so much of how teens communicate with one another is now textual. I imagine that he feels shame most of the time, since he can't successfully process information that is so central to operating in our society. 

So please, put yourself in his shoes, and try to come from a place of empathy, rather than shame. And don't expect there is a 'miracle worker' out there who has a wand to wave that will resolve all of this. If his learning disabilities can be diagnosed, the psychologist (or whomever conducts the tests) should be able to suggest some professionals who are experienced in working with students with those particular disabilities. It is unlikely that he will ever be someone who reads for pleasure, but he may be able to develop reading skills that will allow him some ease in navigating school and his life.


It breaks my heart to hear how painful and embarrassing this is for you. It’s obvious that your son would be reading if he could. This is a more complicated problem. There are many different kinds of learning disabilities and I would recommend that you get him evaluated. Dyslexia is a common one that comes to mind that makes it very difficult for people to read. It’s obviously no reflection on how bright he is or how motivated he is.  It’s just a processing issue. I’d start with his school because public schools can get kids evaluated. But I will tell you it is often a struggle to get them to pay for it. There are private people that do it and probably cost around $2500 or so. I suspect there are other people that will make professional recommendations to you. It will be a great relief to you and your son to put a name to this and then you can start getting the resources he needs to help him cope. Good luck!

I am so sorry to hear about this. Your son has definitely suffered embarrassment at school--Question: is he being bullied? Mine was & I didn't know enough to ask.  As an adult, he's learned coping methods. As for your son: have you had his eyes checked?  Are you looking into dyslexia help/training.  Has he been evaluated for 'special' education -- sadly the word 'special' carries such stigma, but truth is, our children do have special needs.  An evaluation---search for a qualified one (BPN parents can help--- my son grew up in Texas).  You want to start an 'official' record on his learning challenge(s).  Then he can qualify for focused training now and later when it's time for him to seek work. The state of California (like even in Texas, will pay for this training. Is he in counseling?  Bullying, self-shaming...big challenges requiring help ASAP.  All the best.

Have you ever had him tested? This is a classic sign of ADD and there is help for that. He may also have be dealing with a form of dyslexia that is getting on his way. I never got tested as  kid and at 50 discovered I have ADD when we got our 18 yr old daughter tested recently. If only I found us both help earlier! Your son is struggling for a reason, Find it.

PS:  In addition to my suggestions earlier--- getting your son evaluated for dyslexia (NOT in school, but by a full-time professional-- check out your local REGIONAL CENTER--they offer services for free, and exploring with them will be another line on his official record of learning challenges,  Actually, I suggest you at least email them in beginning.  IF they respond within 3 business days, then that's another 'record' for his official file)..ALSO I suggest therapy (while you may still have an influence in the matter)  & investigate hearing, ----NOTE: Back to bullying:  = instead of asking IF he's been bullied, ASSUME he has and instead ask something like "How do you feel when kids tease you?"  Unfortunately, even teachers end up  hurting our kids by rolling their eyes, and other non-verbal actions  ---main thing is for him to know you are aware he is suffering in social settings..   Listening?  What is his LISTENING comprehension ?  If it's mostly ok, then please explore with him recorded books. Especially short stories-the shorter the better--he may have a form of ADD--a short story will provide a sense of success. Maybe he has no interest in a recorded book-- my son didn't in the beginning. Maybe find a recorded book, easily understood, on the history of cars, etc.  Later, explore if there's an oral drivers test and/or if your son can have one of the DMV employees sit next to him & read out the questions. Again, however, FIRST he needs an official record of his learning challenges (In meantime, I want to underscore--- please don't have him read out loud. I know you feel/felt it would help him --you love him very much-- but for your son, it increases his sense of "There's-something-wrong-with-me"  Maybe at some point, down the road that will be part of his recovery process.  Thank you so much for being his mom.

If you haven't yet, please please please get an assessment for your son. I have one kid with dyslexia and one with ADHD. They both have struggled with reading out loud and remembering what they read -- but it turned out that for each it was for very different reasons.  And as a result, we have had to take different approaches for each. For that reason, I would say it would be hard to recommend any special training without understanding what is going on inside for your son. To get an assessment, if he is in public school, you can ask the school for an IEP and 504 evaluation.  DREDF has information and sample letters you can use to understand the process and how to request assessment. https://dredf.org/special-education/special-education-resources/the-iep-...    You also can do a private assessment and BPN has plenty of recommendations.  Meantime, as a parent, I send you empathy. It is so painful to see your child struggling and not know how to help. I am glad you reached out for help here.

Nothing to be embarrassed about!  I am sure that other parents will respond similarly but it sounds to me as though your son has a learning disability that keeps him from reading fluidly and from processing what he's reading.   I'm sure others will be more familiar with the types of testing that is done for that but this does not sound as though it's his "fault" of any kind.   If a learning disability is diagnosed, there are strategies to help.   good luck!  

I feel for you and your son. Reading is such an integral part of our functioning in this world, and it must be so challenging not to have that skill at the ready. I don't actually have any great skills-based recommendations, only an emotional one. This may not seem possible or fit how you're feeling at all, but I would advise you to take a big hug from the collective parenting community and kick your embarrassment down the road. There is NO need to feel embarrassed, a first cousin of shame. Everybody on this good earth is born differently with unique abilities and characteristics--and everybody is worthwhile and good enough just as they are. You've obviously been a diligent parent, and your son has clearly pushed himself as well. I think it's wonderful that you're reaching out to this community to expand on approaches to help your son. I hope you receive a ton of good suggestions from others more informed than me, I'm a former teacher and i have no judgment whatsoever about what you're going through. I just hope that your son can find a school that is GOOD ENOUGH for him and his unique learning style. Everyone can learn--but we all do it so differently. Is he an experiential learner? Then hopefully he can find a school environment that is more doing focused than text-processing focused. When I struggled with a writer's block in high school, my mother gave me some great advise: "Work around it. Don't let it stop you. Hire help--narrate what you want to say into a tape recorder and get someone else to type it." That worked! And eventually my Writer's Block resolved itself. She reminded me that CEOs can't do everything and they delegate and think of work as team effort. I don't know if this is helpful to you, but I hope that your son can hang onto a healthy ego that understands that they way our educational system is set up, it's demands and structure, aren't meant for everyone because it's somewhat inadequate to meet all needs. Good luck to both of you. - Sarah

Hi there - it's ok, at least you are discovering it now and it's never too late! Our DD was assessed at 7 and again at 13.

Your son needs a psych/ed evaluation, either through a private provider, through your school district, or through UC Berkeley's Psychology Department which does community educational testing. He sounds like he has some kind of learning difference, either dyslexia or a processing disorder - and these can be remediated with help from an excellent educational therapist - not just a tutor. Because he's already in high school please contact your local school district office and get him evaluated ASAP and then contact an educational therapist from this site: Find An Educational Therapist - AET : Association Of Educational Therapists (aetonline.org)

BTW - I HIGHLY recommend going through a private psychologist (many are recommended on BPN, including Dr. Jack Davis in Lafayette) for a complete psych/ed evaluation IF you can afford it as it will be faster and your son's assessment will be more complete.

Where has he been in school all this time? What has his teachers & school said about this? They should be helping you with this! You don’t need a miracle worker. And tutors aren’t necessarily trained to help with a specific LD> He needs to be tested and he needs a plan to treat him.

We realized in 3rd grade our daughter was struggling and it took years for her to learn to read She went to see a learning specialist twice a week during the school year and three times a week during the summer and by 5th or 6th grade she was reading at grade level. We tested her in 5th grade and confirmed her diagnosis of Dyslexia so she could get accommodations in middle and high school. She is still a slow reader but attending a top 20 university despite being dyslexic.

I second the recommendation for contacting DREDF! They would be the absolute place to begin for information and help given the info you've provided. Start here: https://dredf.org/special-education/students-k-12/. Best wishes, and know you are not alone. 

Hi - Your post brought back memories for me. My son was younger than yours, but I also came to the realization that he couldn’t read. He was a really good faker! We did a private assessment that identified him as dyslexic. He then worked with a private and excellent educational therapist named Jamie Keller. (www.learnwithme.com) He learned to read with her. She then taught him to write ... because he also didn’t know how to formulate and express ideas. It was a journey but so worth it. I also found the book “Dyslexia Empowerment Plan” to be very helpful, especially about how to integrate “ear reading” (listening / books on tape) as a tool when needed, as well as the shame kids feel when they are hiding. Best of luck to you.