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Helping Teens With LD Develop a Healthy, Balanced Lifestyle

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By Arlyn Roffman, Ph.D.

Routine Health and Medical Care

The table below illustrates how various characteristics of LD and AD/HD can present challenges to managing one's health and medical needs.

Learning or Attention Problem

Challenges to Managing Health and Medical Care


Difficulty remembering medical and dental appointments; problems remembering medications taken and specifics of medical history

Receptive language (understanding written or spoken language)

Problems understanding doctors' explanations, diagnoses, and courses of treatment; difficulty understanding directions on medication labels

Expressive language

Trouble explaining one's symptoms and/or conveying medical history


Difficulty reading medication labels and nutritional labels on foods


Problems filling out forms at doctors' offices


Difficulty calculating the time intervals for taking medication; trouble measuring liquid medicines

Visual discrimination

Problems discriminating between pills that look alike


Tendency to become distracted and forget to take medication at prescribed intervals

Tips for Teaching Your Teen Healthy Medical Habits

With regard to health care, you can help your child with LD and/or AD/HD to develop an understanding of his medical needs, how to convey his needs to others, and how to safely take medications. The following are some specific tips:

General Knowledge of Medical Self-Care

  • Discuss routine healthcare with your child. Adults with LD and/or AD/HD often find it easier to remember annual physicals when they are scheduled around their birthdays; likewise, twice-yearly dental appointments may be easily remembered if they are tied to holidays spaced six months apart (e.g., July Fourth and New Year's Day). 

  • Teach your teen basic medical vocabulary, such as the names of key specialists (e.g., gynecologist, orthopedist) and terms for common symptoms (e.g., muscle spasm).

  • Discuss the symptoms of common ailments, such as a cold or sore throat, and the appropriate treatment (including medication) for each. Show him how to use a thermometer, and explain what constitutes a fever.

  • Explain the purpose of hospital emergency rooms, and discuss circumstances that would warrant calling 9-1-1.  Review common illnesses and injuries (e.g., a broken ankle) that would not require an ambulance but might require a visit to the ER.

Medical and Dental Appointments

  • By late high school, your teen should start scheduling his own medical and dental appointments. Coach him regarding the information he will need to have handy (e.g., any changes in address, phone number, insurance carrier), remind him to have his calendar available, and stay with him the first few times he takes on this responsibility.

  • If possible, have the office mail any forms to you ahead of time, so you can help your child complete them prior to the appointment. This will save him the trouble of filling the forms out on his own - under pressure - in the waiting room.

  • Before you take your teen to the doctor, model how to write up a list of symptoms and questions to present to the physician. Tell him this is a good habit to continue once he starts going to appointments on his own.

  • Take a tape recorder to each of your teen's doctor's appointments to record and later review any discussion of symptoms, diagnoses, or treatments. Encourage him to continue this practice when he starts going to medical appointments by himself.

  • Compile a personal medical "fact sheet" for your child. In list form, write out his medical history (including surgeries), your family's medical history, and any prescription medications he takes as well as any he's allergic to. Have him become familiar with his health history, and let him practice referring to the fact sheet for answers. Have him update it as needed.

  • Encourage your teen to disclose his learning or attention problems to his health care providers. Explain that it's to his advantage for them to be familiar with his difficulties so they can provide accommodations (e.g., having him repeat the treatment plan back to the doctor to ensure understanding, or giving him a simply-stated written diagnosis and treatment plan with illustrations or charts).

Arlyn Roffman, Ph.D., an expert on transition issues in special education, is a Professor at Lesley University, where she served as founding director of Threshold, a transition program for young adults with learning disabilities, from 1981 to 1996. She has served on the professional advisory boards of several national LD organizations and maintains a private practice in psychology.

Comments from readers

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