Math Learning Disability

A Math learning disability can be extremely frustrating to both children and adults - teachers and parents may wonder why Johnny just can't
"get it" like the other children do.

Math learning disabilities, or dyscalculia , may involve different areas of brain processing and understanding. Many children who struggle do not have a firm grasp of "number sense" - how numbers make sense to solve
a problem.

Some children attempt to memorize math facts, but do not understand how the answers make sense. So, if they make an error in calculation or their memory isn't at it's peak - they get the wrong answer and don't understand why.

Many people who struggle in math do not understand estimation, either.

For instance, Sarah is asked to solve 400 x 8. She makes a math calculation error, and gives an answer of 32,000. She did not know how to estimate the answer before solving it, and so did not realize that her answer didn't make sense.

​(For example, if Sarah calculates that 400 x 10 = 4000 - she can now assume that her answer will be under 4000.)

What different categories may come into consideration with a math learning disability?

Math Learning Disabilities:
Some Underlying Factors

Math learning disabilities may involve numerous areas of difficulty. This is why a math disability cannot be simply labeled as "Tony can't add", or "Sonja is poor at word problems."

Below is a list of some of the various factors that may be underlying a child's inability to be successful in math.

  • Visual-spatial confusion
  • Short/long term memory problems
  • Sequencing struggles
  • Inability to see patterns or meaning in math
  • Language processing problems - may make it very difficult to read or comprehend word problems
  • Multi-step problem solving causes confusion
  • Inability to tell time
  • Organizational difficulties
  • Quantitative/Computation struggles
  • Slow processing speed
  • Non-comprehension of "practical math"

Can these children be helped? Yes, I believe they can. But it is essential to have proper testing to uncover the source of their difficulties.

For instance, if Kim has problems with short and long term memory retrieval, simply flashing cards with math facts over and over to her may not be effective. She sees it - and then forgets it.

The underlying problem must be addressed. Then Kim will likely experience more success with any aspect of schooling (and living) which involves memory.(And that's most everything, right?)

As an educational therapist, I love the times when I see the "light bulb" moments in my students. I had one such moment a few weeks ago. A middle school aged student, I'll call him David, was having extreme difficulty remembering his multiplication facts. You can imagine he was really struggling in Algebra, because simple problems were unsolvable if he couldn't recall basic math calculations.

I said to him: "David, did you know that multiplication is simply fast adding? If you forget what 8x5 is, you can simply count by 5's (8 times), or count by 8s (5 times)." He looked at me with amazement.

He never realized that before! Now he had another strategy with which to solve problems while we worked on his memory issues.

Students or adults with a math learning disability often don't know what they don't know. In other words, they don't know exactly what they don't understand.

It's up to us to take the steps necessary to find out which pieces of the puzzle are missing. Individualized help and support can make a huge difference in their lives.

Math Disabilities: Dyscalculia

Dyslexia Symptoms

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