Math Disabilities

Math disabilities may be widespread across several mathematical functions, or my be limited to a particular area of difficulty with math.

For instance, dyslexia may create struggles with math as the student has difficulty reading, and therefore understanding, what he is being asked to solve.

Comprehension factors as well will show up as troubling for those students for whom getting the "main idea" is relatively difficult.

But what about the student who has difficulty with the calculation part of math?

Let's look at some possible factors involved in difficulty with basic math calculations.

Discalculia or Dyscalculia:
All I Know Is I Don't Get Math!

If you have a child or a student with math disabilities, no doubt you've heard a variation of the subtitle above - "I just don't get it!"

Frustration peaks when these students have to work with pencil and paper to solve math equations. Teachers and parents often "don't get why they don't get it", and ask questions trying to understand the problem with "understanding the problem"!

It's highly frustrating to all involved when the obvious problem exists, but we don't know the reason. Human nature being what it is, we often look for someone to blame. (Perhaps the child is lazy? Maybe he's not trying hard enough? The teacher doesn't know how to teach?) But none of these escape valves solves the problem with the underlying problem - understanding math.

Possible Causes of Math Disabilities

  • Missing the "concrete stage" of math
    Some children didn't learn math with manipulatives - or real life objects - so that adding and subtracting don't hold much meaning for them.

    The young brain needs to understand "concrete math" before "abstract math" (using only the mind) makes sense.

  • Moving on in math before understanding previous concepts
    Sometimes you may be surprised to discover that a teacher or school has "moved students ahead" in math - perhaps when the fundamental concepts were not firmly grasped.

    I have a student who struggles with math a great deal. I discovered this year that a well-meaning teacher who wanted to "reward" her smart math students, moved them from 4th grade math to 6th grade math. He is still struggling from those missed concepts he should have been taught years ago.

  • Other learning factors such as difficulty with sequencing, or short and long term memory problems may be responsible
    When math tests (particularly timed tests) and learning new concepts are consistently difficult for a student, more in-depth testing should be pursued to determine the basis for the learning problem.
  • Processing Speed
    Some students may understand the concepts fairly well, but have such a discrepancy between their ability and their processing speed, that staying up with the classwork is impossible. All the "trying" in the world won't overcome this issue.

    Educational therapy is very valuable for difficulties such as these. Adequate testing will turn up specific areas of deficit which may then be addressed.Overcoming math disabilities is possible!