All You Need to Know About Dyslexia and Secondary School

There is a lot of support for dyslexic primary school students.

However, for parents whose kids are transitioning to secondary school, there’s bound to be much uncertainty as to where to get help.

One common worry is that the secondary school syllabus will be more challenging for dyslexic students. Another concern is that secondary schools don’t do enough to support students with dyslexia and other special learning needs.

I hear you and totally understand where you’re coming from. But first, before we address the elephant in the room, let’s talk about what you can expect as your child transitions from Primary 6 to Secondary 1.

Essential Read: The Best Specialist Tutoring and Therapy Centres for Students With Dyslexia

What to expect when your child enters secondary school

The syllabus is very different

Secondary school is (not) necessarily harder, just… different.

So you’ve tahan-ed the most stressful periods of your child’s Primary 6 year. They have gotten their results and school placement, and now you’re worried about whether or not they can keep up with the secondary school syllabus.

Indeed, it’s very different from what your child was exposed to in primary school. Many concepts taught at the secondary school level can be hard to grasp, e.g., calculus. Furthermore, as students progress to the upper secondary levels, they will need to take on more subjects.

However, in some ways, the secondary school syllabus is easier for dyslexics. For example, there are no more wordy problem sums in Math. Hooray! In English, the Editing component also no longer tests students on spelling. That is a huge weight off a dyslexic student’s shoulders!

Thus, I wouldn’t say secondary school is necessarily harder, just… different.

Student-support structures are also different

At the primary school level, dyslexic students have the benefit of being able to attend the learning support programme (P1 to P2) and School-based Dyslexia Remediation (SDR) programme (P3 to P4) to work on their foundational skills.

At the secondary school level, there are no such programmes in schools to help students specifically struggling with dyslexia.

(Of course, that’s where external organisations like the DAS and S&S come in.)

That’s not to say that secondary schools don’t have support structures. For instance, each secondary school has a team of Allied Educators, including at least one counsellor and one Special Educational Needs (SEN) officer.

However, if we’re talking about programmes that directly help dyslexics overcome their challenges, there are none at the secondary school level. Your best bet is to send your child to the DAS or a private centre like S&S.

Where To Get Help For Dyslexia in Singapore (2023)

Teenage angst

A picture of teenagers smokingPuberty can be a pain for parents. Your compliant kid might not be so compliant anymore once they move on to secondary school. Whereas previously they might have been willing to go for tuition and dyslexia remediation classes (e.g., at the DAS or S&S), now they are more likely to push back, coming up with excuses to siam classes. In more extreme cases, they might play truant, skipping class without informing anyone.

(Thankfully most of the S&S kids look forward to class every week!)

If left ignored, teenage angst can be a real problem. In fact, those with dyslexia and severe ADHD are more likely to rebel against their parents. However, if you’ve seeded the right values in your child from a young age, they are less likely to go down the wrong path.

Besides teenage angst, however, there is another issue that you should look out for in secondary school: bullying.


Bullying seems to be less common in secondary school, from what I observed of my students. Dyslexic students are less likely to get made fun of by their peers, especially if they had received intervention in primary school.

I also think the government has done an admirable job in clamping down on gangsterism. The kids that I teach don’t even know what an “ah beng” or “ah lian” is anymore, much less a “pai kia”. The term used nowadays is “young punks”, which I guess is preferable to the alternative.

However, bullying still happens in one form or another. We’ve seen the videos of teens getting beaten up at carparks or HDB stairwells.

You need to be there for your child if you sense something amiss. Nip it in the bud before things escalate, especially if it’s online bullying.

Good news: dyslexic students tend to do better at the secondary school level

A picture of a man standing in a field, arms outstretched victoriously

Now that you know what to expect from the transition, here’s some good news.

In my experience, having taught about 100 students, it’s safe to say that dyslexics tend to do better in secondary school.

Yeah, funny right?

I’ve had students who did poorly for Math in primary school, but ended up getting A1 or A2 in secondary school.

It’s the same thing with other subjects like English. In fact, for most of my students, English ends up being one of their better subjects, if not the best.

There are two reasons for this:

  1. As mentioned earlier, the syllabus is very different. Students don’t get penalised as heavily for spelling mistakes.
  2. Students mature cognitively as they get older, more so if they had received intervention before.

I must stress again that not all dyslexics do better in secondary school. However, if you maintain a positive relationship with them, get them help in areas that they’re weak at, and teach them to be independent, things will work out.

And they may even find their true calling!

Secondary school is also where students are one step closer to finding their true calling

Let them explore. Their newfound passions may well surprise you!

One nice thing about secondary school is that it allows students to discover new opportunities, whether it be through the academic curriculum, their CCAs, or the Values-In-Action (VIA) programme.

Some find that they are good at math, and may want to pursue a career as an engineer.

Some find that they really enjoy writing, and may want to join the media or mass comm industry.

Secondary school may be stressful for everyone, but it’s also 4 to 5 years of self-discovery. Let them explore. Their newfound passions may well surprise you!

How to support a dyslexic teenager

Even though many dyslexic students may find secondary school more manageable than primary school, they will likely still run into difficulties. You’ll still need to guide them through difficult patches. Here’s what you can do to support a dyslexic teen.

Listen but don’t judge

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Whether they have dyslexia or not, teenagers are going to encounter all kinds of issues in school. It may be boy-girl relationship problems, friendship problems, or even conflicts with teachers. Usually they will try to resolve issues on their own, but will still need a listening ear.

When they reach out to you, be an active listener. Avoid making snap judgements. Yes, this includes that moment when your child comes up to you and says, “Mum, I have a boyfriend/girlfriend.” Try to understand where they’re coming from, even if you disapprove. Otherwise, you’re basically pushing them away.

Be their best friend

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Your dyslexic teen is going to have new interests and hobbies. You may never be as cool as their peers, but you can try and join in the fun. Most teens will appreciate it (even if they tell you it’s “cringe”).

Help your dyslexic teen explore new pathways

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As your teen matures, so does their proficiency in various academic and non-academic areas. Help them discover new pathways that they can potentially excel in. If they’re good at a certain sport, let them join a club or team. If they enjoy art, encourage them to set up a portfolio. Take them fishing or do some volunteer work (e.g., at an animal shelter).

Because when you expose your teen to new opportunities, you’re not only teaching them new skills.

You’re also opening their eyes to a world of possibilities.

Cheer for their achievements but work on their weaknesses

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Secondary school life can be very vibrant. Your teenager will have ample opportunity to excel, whether in his/her academics, CCA, or external commitments. When they do well, cheer them on. You want them to develop the drive to do even better next time.

At the same time, keep encouraging them to work on their weaknesses. There is a good chance they may turn them into strengths.

For instance, many of my female students took a keen interest in writing once they reached Secondary 2 or 3. They would start writing short stories or fan fiction during their free time. One of my students had indicated in her EAE portfolio that “writing is (her) passion”.

The boys, on the other hand, would start to read up more about current affairs through platforms that I had recommended. They would also explore non-fiction genres on their own.

Part of this could be attributed to the games that we have been playing in class. Another reason is that our class discussions involve a wide range of topics, from current events to games to philosophy.

A dyslexic adolescent might have been weak in certain areas previously. However, given the right motivation, he or she can end up doing better than expected, eventually.

That’s why English is the best subject of many of our dyslexic students.

Frequently asked questions regarding dyslexia and secondary school

How can Allied Educators help my child?

SEN officers (also known as Learning and Behavioural Support officers) are on-site to help students who might be struggling with their schoolwork. How they provide intervention varies from school to school. As an example, see Zhonghua Secondary School’s LBS page.

Counsellors work closely with parents and teachers to support students with social or behavioural issues. While most of my students have given feedback that they didn’t find counselling helpful, a few have grown very attached to their counsellors. Regardless, if your child is recommended for counselling, it’s good to work closely with his or her counsellor.

Should I be worried about bad influences?

It’s good to keep an eye out for signs that your teenager is being negatively influenced by their peers. Again, the “listen, don’t judge” rule holds. If they trust you enough, they’re more likely to tell you about it. Then, you can slowly wean them off the bad habit(s).

Remember, you should be your teenager’s “best friend”. Harsh punishment rarely works well at that age.

What about bullying?

If you find your child being bullied, then you should nip the problem in the bud as early on as possible. Same thing if your child is the bully.

How can English be my child’s best subject if he had trouble reading and writing last time?

This is what I call the “cumulative effect“. English is one of those subjects where skills and concepts are built on top of one another. Knowing basic grammar rules like “infinitives” and “subject-verb agreement” intuitively will help your child comprehend longer passages better. This in turn makes it easier for him to decipher the meaning of difficult words.

Additionally, if your child has been exposed to English media from a young age (films, books, comics, etc), it will help him to generate more interest towards learning it as a subject.

My child’s confidence was destroyed in primary school. How can I rebuild it?

Be there and get help for them if needed. There are a great many people and organisations that can help dyslexics overcome their challenges.

Read More: How You Can Help Your Child Overcome Dyslexia

At the same time, let them be independent. You have to give them the freedom to explore and ask for help if necessary. Give them room to understand their weaknesses better. It may be tempting to hold their hand every step of the way, but you must not manja them too much or they will never learn to walk on their own.

Finally, keep reinforcing positive thinking. Get them to see the positive side of things. Encourage them to build on areas that are within their locus of control (e.g., their self-discipline).

So, does this advice always work?

I hate to say it, but… no. If the damage done in primary school was too deep, it may be difficult to undo all of it.

However, the above advice can help your child to move past the damage and strengthen resolve towards overcoming future challenges. You just need to have faith, be there when they fall, and give them space to pick themselves up.

Concluding thoughts

Be optimistic about secondary school, parents! It’s a whole new world for your child, and there are many opportunities abound. If you had instilled the right values in your child, and if he or she had gotten intervention before, there’s little you need to worry about. You should still be there to help them when they fall, but otherwise, have faith in the seeds that have been sown. All the best! 🙂

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Teacher Shaun

Teacher Shaun a self-professed geek and lover of all things old-school. When he's not playing Fallout or Deus Ex for the nth time, he can be found sitting in front of his laptop hacking away at his keyboard, typing blog posts like this one. He also runs a little company called Swords & Stationery.

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