Math disability



Math Disability: An Overview
By: Diane Pedrotty Bryant, Ph.D.

Recently, increased attention has focused on students who demonstrate challenges learning mathematics skills and concepts that are taught in school across the grade levels. Beginning as early as preschool, parents, educators, and researchers are noticing that some students seem perplexed learning simple math skills that many take for granted. For example, some young children have difficulty learning number names, counting, and recognizing how many items are in a group. Some of these children continue to demonstrate problems learning math as they proceed through school. In fact, we know that that 5% to 8% of school-age children are identified as having a math disability.1

Research on understanding more completely what a math disability means and what we can do about it in school has lagged behind similar work being done in the area of reading disabilities. Compared to the research base in early reading difficulties, early difficulties in mathematics and the identification of math disability in later years are less researched and understood.2 Fortunately, attention is now being directed to helping students who struggle learning basic mathematics skills, mastering more advance mathematics (e.g., algebra), and solving math problems. This article will explain in detail what a math disability is, the sources that cause such a disability, and how a math disability impacts students at different grade levels.

What is a Math Disability?

A learning disability in mathematics is characterized by an unexpected learning problem after a classroom teacher or other trained professional (e.g., a tutor) has provided a child with appropriate learning experiences over a period of time. Appropriate learning experiences refer to practices that are supported by sound research and that are implemented in the way in which they were designed to be used. The time period refers to the duration of time that is needed to help the child learn the skills and concepts, which are challenging for the child to learn. Typically, the child with a math disability has difficulty making sufficient school progress in mathematics similar to that of her peer group despite the implementation of effective teaching practices over time. Studies have shown that some students with a math disability also have a reading disability or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD). Other studies have identified a group of children who have only a math disability.

Dyscalculia is a term that has been used for many years when talking about a math disability. Dyscalculia means “a severe or complete inability to calculate”.3 Some people use the term dyscalculia to describe a child who has problems learning mathematics skills and concepts. However, the terms learning disabilities in mathematics and math disability are used more widely today.

Several Sources of Math Disability

When a child is identified as having a math disability, his difficulty may stem from problems in one or more of the following areas: memory, cognitive development, and visual-spatial ability.4, 5, 6, 7


Memory problems may affect a child’s math performance in several ways. Here are some examples:

* A child might have memory problems that interfere with his ability to retrieve (remember) basic arithmetic facts quickly.8, 9
* In the upper grades, memory problems may influence a child’s ability to recall the steps needed to solve more difficult word problems,10 to recall the steps in solving algebraic equations, or to remember what specific symbols (e.g., å, s, π, ≥) mean.
* Your child’s teacher may say, ”He knew the math facts yesterday but can’t seem to remember them today.”
* While helping your child with math homework, you may be baffled by her difficulty remembering how to perform a problem that was taught at school that day.

Cognitive Development

Students with a math disability may have trouble because of delays in cognitive development, which hinders learning and processing information.11 This might lead to problems with:

* understanding relationships between numbers (e.g., fractions and decimals; addition and subtraction; multiplication and division)
* solving word problems
* understanding number systems
* using effective counting strategies


Visual-spatial problems may interfere with a child’s ability to perform math problems correctly. Examples of visual-spatial difficulties include:

* misaligning numerals in columns for calculation
* problems with place value that involves understanding the base ten system
* trouble interpreting maps and understanding geometry.12

What Math Skills Are Affected?

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA), a learning disability in mathematics can be identified in the area of mathematics calculation (arithmetic) and/or mathematics problem solving. Research confirms this definition of a math disability.13, 14, 15, 16, 17

Math Calculations

A child with a learning disability in math calculations may often struggle learning the basic skills in early math instruction where the problem is rooted in memory or cognitive difficulties. For example, research studies have shown that students who struggle to master arithmetic combinations (basic facts) compared to students who demonstrated mastery of arithmetic combinations showed little progress over a two-year period in remembering basic fact combinations when they were expected to perform under timed conditions. According to Geary (2004),18 this problem appears to be persistent and characteristic of memory or cognitive difficulties. Students with math calculations difficulties have problems with some or most of the following skills:

* Identifying signs and their meaning (e.g., +, -, x, <, =, >, %, Σ)
* Automatically remembering answers to basic arithmetic facts (combinations) such as 3 + 4 =?, 9 x 9 = ?, 15 – 8 = ?.
* Moving from using basic (less mature) counting strategies to more sophisticated (mature) strategies to calculate the answer to arithmetic problems. For example, a student using a basic ”counting all” strategy would add two objects with four objects by starting at 1 and counting all of the objects to arrive at the answer 6. A student using a more sophisticated “counting on” strategy would add two with four by starting with 4 and counting on 2 more to arrive at 6.
* Understanding the commutative property (e.g., 3 + 4 = 7 and 4 + 3 = 7)
* Solving multi-digit calculations that require “borrowing” (subtraction) and “carrying” (addition)
* Misaligning numbers when copying problems from a chalkboard or textbook
* Ignoring decimal points that appear in math problems
* Forgetting the steps involved in solving various calculations

Math Word Problems

A learning disability in solving math word problems taps into other types of skills or processes. Difficulties with any of these skills can interfere with a child’s ability to figure out how to effectively solve the problem.19 Your child may exhibit difficulty with some or most of the processes involved in solving math word problems such as:

* Reading the word problem
* Understanding the language or meaning of the sentences and what the problem is asking
* Sorting out important information from extraneous information that is not essential for solving the problem
* Implementing a plan for solving the problem
* Working through multiple steps in more advanced word problems
* Knowing the correct calculations to use to solve problems

Math Rules and Procedures

Students with a math disability demonstrate developmental delay in learning the rules and procedures for solving calculations or word problems. An example of a math rule includes “any number × 0 = 0.” A procedure includes the steps for solving arithmetic problems such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. A delay means the child may learn the rules and procedures at a slower rate than his peer group and will need assistance in mastering those rules and procedures.

Math Language

Some children have trouble understanding the meaning of the language or vocabulary of mathematics (e.g., greater than, less than, equal, equation).20 Unfortunately, unlike reading, the meaning of a math word or symbol cannot be inferred from the context. One has to know what each word or symbol means in order to understand the math problem. For instance, to solve the following problems, a child must understand the meaning of the symbols they contain: (3 + 4) x (6 + 8) =? or 72 < 108 True or False?

Math Disability at Different Grade Levels

As the curriculum becomes more demanding, a math disability is manifested in different ways across the grade levels. For example, the specialized language of mathematics — including terms and symbols — must be mastered in more advanced mathematics curriculum. Problems with counting strategies, retrieving basic facts quickly, and solving word problems seem to persist across grade levels and require extra instruction to reinforce learning.

Ongoing Research in Math Disabilities

We do not fully understand how a math disability affects a child’s ability to learn mathematics in all of the different areas because of the limited research base on math disability. To date, the majority of research has focused mostly on the skills associated with mathematics calculations including number, counting, and arithmetic (e.g., arithmetic combinations or basic facts) and on solving word problems. Much less is known about development and difficulties in areas such as algebra, geometry, measurement, and data analysis and probability.

We know that a group of students exhibit problems learning mathematics skills and concepts that persist across their school years and even into adulthood. We understand that specific problems in the areas of memory, cognitive development, and visual-spatial ability contribute to difficulties learning mathematics. Fortunately, researchers and educators are focusing efforts on better understanding the issues these students face as they encounter the math curriculum across the grade levels. In my next article, I will explore methods for identifying a math disability and offer parents ideas for working with their children and teachers to address such difficulties.



Difficulties with Mathematics

What Can Stand in the Way of a Student's Mathematical Development?

Math disabilities can arise at nearly any stage of a child's scholastic development. While very little is known about the neurobiological or environmental causes of these problems, many experts attribute them to deficits in one or more of five different skill types. These deficits can exist independently of one another or can occur in combination. All can impact a child's ability to progress in mathematics.

Incomplete Mastery of Number Facts
Number facts are the basic computations (9 + 3 = 12 or 2 x 4 = 8) students are required to memorize in the earliest grades of elementary school. Recalling these facts efficiently is critical because it allows a student to approach more advanced mathematical thinking without being bogged down by simple calculations.

Try ItTry it yourself. Experience a problem with basic facts.

Computational Weakness
Many students, despite a good understanding of mathematical concepts, are inconsistent at computing. They make errors because they misread signs or carry numbers incorrectly, or may not write numerals clearly enough or in the correct column. These students often struggle, especially in primary school, where basic computation and "right answers" are stressed. Often they end up in remedial classes, even though they might have a high level of potential for higher-level mathematical thinking.

Difficulty Transferring Knowledge
One fairly common difficulty experienced by people with math problems is the inability to easily connect the abstract or conceptual aspects of math with reality. Understanding what symbols represent in the physical world is important to how well and how easily a child will remember a concept. Holding and inspecting an equilateral triangle, for example, will be much more meaningful to a child than simply being told that the triangle is equilateral because it has three equal sides. And yet children with this problem find connections such as these painstaking at best.

Making Connections
Some students have difficulty making meaningful connections within and across mathematical experiences. For instance, a student may not readily comprehend the relation between numbers and the quantities they represent. If this kind of connection is not made, math skills may be not anchored in any meaningful or relevant manner. This makes them harder to recall and apply in new situations.

Incomplete Understanding of the Language of Math
For some students, a math disability is driven by problems with language. These children may also experience difficulty with reading, writing, and speaking. In math, however, their language problem is confounded by the inherently difficult terminology, some of which they hear nowhere outside of the math classroom. These students have difficulty understanding written or verbal directions or explanations, and find word problems especially difficult to translate.

Difficulty Comprehending the Visual and Spatial Aspects and Perceptual Difficulties.
A far less common problem -- and probably the most severe -- is the inability to effectively visualize math concepts. Students who have this problem may be unable to judge the relative size among three dissimilar objects. This disorder has obvious disadvantages, as it requires that a student rely almost entirely on rote memorization of verbal or written descriptions of math concepts that most people take for granted. Some mathematical problems also require students to combine higher-order cognition with perceptual skills, for instance, to determine what shape will result when a complex 3-D figure is rotated.

Try ItTry it yourself. Experience a visualization challenge.

Signs of Math Difficulties
Output Difficulties
A student with problems in output may

* be unable to recall basic math facts, procedures, rules, or formulas
* be very slow to retrieve facts or pursue procedures
* have difficulties maintaining precision during mathematical work
* have difficulties with handwriting that slow down written work or make it hard to read later
* have difficulty remembering previously encountered patterns
* forget what he or she is doing in the middle of a math problem

Organizational Difficulties
A student with problems in organization may

* have difficulties sequencing multiple steps
* become entangled in multiple steps or elements of a problem
* lose appreciation of the final goal and over emphasize individual elements of a problem
* not be able to identify salient aspects of a mathematical situation, particularly in word problems or other problem solving situations where some information is not relevant
* be unable to appreciate the appropriateness or reasonableness of solutions generated

Language Difficulties
A student with language problems in math may

* have difficulty with the vocabulary of math
* be confused by language in word problems
* not know when irrelevant information is included or when information is given out of sequence
* have trouble learning or recalling abstract terms
* have difficulty understanding directions
* have difficulty explaining and communicating about math, including asking and answering questions
* have difficulty reading texts to direct their own learning
* have difficulty remembering assigned values or definitions in specific problems

Attention Difficulties
A student with attention problems in math may

* be distracted or fidgety during math tasks
* lose his or her place while working on a math problem
* appear mentally fatigued or overly tired when doing math

Visual Spatial or Ordering Difficulties
A student with problems in visual, spatial, or sequential aspects of mathematics may

* be confused when learning multi-step procedures
* have trouble ordering the steps used to solve a problem
* feel overloaded when faced with a worksheet full of math exercises
* not be able to copy problems correctly
* may have difficulties reading the hands on an analog clock
* may have difficulties interpreting and manipulating geometric configurations
* may have difficulties appreciating changes in objects as they are moved in space

Difficulties with multiple tasks
A student with problems managing and/or merging different tasks in math may

* find it difficult to switch between multiple demands in a complex math problem
* find it difficult to tell when tasks can be grouped or merged and when they must be separated in a multi-step math problem
* cannot manage all the demands of a complex problem, such as a word problem, even thought he or she may know component facts and procedures


A snapshot of mathematics problems and implications

Math disabilities, like other learning disorders, have the power to keep children from performing up to their potential in school and beyond. At no time in our history has this notion been truer. As the world's reliance on technology has grown, so too has the demand for people who can think in the abstract terms of math and science. The disparity between those who learn math with relative ease and those who struggle with math disabilities is widening at an alarming rate. Here are some statistics that suggest why and underscore the importance of early intervention.

Struggling Kids

* Nine-year-olds with math disabilities have, on average, a first-grade level of math knowledge.
* Seventeen-year-olds with math disabilities have, on average, a fifth-grade level of math knowledge.
* Experts estimate that for every two years of school, children with math disabilities acquire about one year of mathematical proficiency.
* Children with math disabilities often reach a learning plateau in seventh grade, and acquire only one year's worth of mathematical proficiency in grades seven through twelve.
* Thirty-five percent of children with learning disabilities drop out of high school.
* Fourteen percent of students with learning disabilities (compared to 53 percent of students in general population) attend post-secondary school within two years of leaving high school.

....What Can I Do?
Suggestions and Strategies
You may use the following suggestions and strategies to help children who are experiencing problems with mathematics. Many of those listed are accommodations -- they work around a child's differences by offering alternative approaches to learning material. Checking work is one example of a suggestion that might help. Strategies -- more research-based methods -- are designed to specifically strengthen a weakness. From the suggestions and strategies described below, select those that you and the child think might work best.

Maintain consistency and communication across school and home settings is vital. For example, if a tutor explains math concepts in one way, the classroom teacher takes another approach, and parents yet a third, this may compound problems rather than solve them.

General Suggestions
Teach basic concepts using concrete objects. Let children explore number concepts by adding and subtracting objects in the room (for example, add the legs of a chair to find the number four or subtract crayons from a box). Move from concrete materials to pictorial representations to numbers (abstract representations).

Provide specialized materials. To help children organize their calculations, have them use graph paper (or lined paper turned sideways) to keep numbers in columns. Encourage the use of scrap paper to keep work neat, highlighters for underlining key words and numbers, and manipulatives such as Cuisenaire rods, base-ten blocks, or fraction bars.

Make your expectations explicit. Tell children the procedures you would like them to use when solving a problem, and model each procedure for them. Have a child then tell you what he is expected to do. Some students benefit by having a math notebook filled with examples of completed problems to which they can refer if they become overwhelmed or confused.

Use cooperative math-problem-solving activities. Provide opportunities for children to work in groups when solving math problems. Encourage them to share their thinking aloud as they solve problems. Reinforce efficient strategies using multiple pathways.

Provide time for checking work. Emphasize that completing math assignments is a process. Encourage children to become comfortable reviewing their work, making changes, or asking questions when they are unsure of their answers.

Give children opportunities to connect mathematical concepts to familiar situations. For example, when introducing measurement concepts, have children measure the height of classmates and family members, or the weight of their book bags when empty and when full. Ask children to estimate the measurements (guessing how much taller the refrigerator is than the stove) before solving the problem. Point out how math is used in everyday life, such as when examining bus schedules or filling out catalogue order forms.

Help children apply math concepts to new situations. Show children how to use percentages to understand the price of a jacket on sale at the mall or the amount of their allowance spent on snacks.

Provide tutors. Tutors can assist children with weak math subskills (such as multiplication and division). Arrange for tutors during summer months or after school to boost performance and ensure that the child retains his skills.
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Specific Strategies
Strategies for
> Memory
> Language
> Attention
> Production

Strategy Tips: Decide which strategies to try by observing the child and identifying the ways in which he or she learns best.

* It may take several attempts to see positive results from one strategy. Don't give up too soon.
* If the first few strategies you try do not improve the child's skills, try others.
* Most of these strategies can be adapted for use with different age groups.

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Provide the technology tools needed for problem solving. Encourage children to think mathematically, even if they have not mastered basic skills. For example, let them use computer spreadsheet programs and calculators when the goal of the math activity is to develop problem-solving skills as opposed to calculation skills.

Teach basic math facts. Use explicit instruction to promote student mastery. Put a few selected unknown facts on index cards. Put strategies for remembering on the back of the cards. Cards can be put on notebook rings. Add new facts as previous ones are learned. Build practice into lessons. Also, routinely conduct cumulative reviews of skills and knowledge to help children develop automaticity with math facts.

Use rule books. Ask children to keep a notebook in which they write math rules in their own words. Encourage children to use rule books with classroom or home assignments by looking up the rule in the book and talking about it. Rule books could have a math vocabulary section and a strategy section for recording "tricks" that help with the operations.

Teach subvocalization as a strategy. Show children how to quietly repeat sequences (such as numbers and procedures) under their breath while working. Practice the strategy by giving them a sequence of numbers or directions and having them quietly repeat them back to you.

Practice subskills. Help children recall math subskills (like multiplication) more automatically with the use of flashcards and drills. Play a game in which you quiz a child about math facts and record how many he answers correctly. To build motivation, have the child record her own progress each day. Together, review progress periodically.

Teach math in more than one mode. Children respond well when math is taught in a variety of ways -- visually (such as demonstration), verbally (such as using oral explanations), and experientially (such as setting up a mock store) -- so that children have an opportunity to process and use math information in multiple ways.

Use games. To enhance active working memory, play mental math games. For example, "What two numbers can be multiplied to get 24? How many different combinations can you find?" Gradually build up a child's ability to hold a long problem (How much is 4 + 2 - 1 x 3?) in memory. Make sure the child understands the reason for playing the game.

Review patterns. Use flash cards to review patterns, such as key words that provide clues to the operation of a word problem, or geometric patterns or shapes within complex visual designs.
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Focus on the information provided in word problems. Have children separate the necessary information for solving the problem from unnecessary details.

Teach mnemonic strategies for solving word problems. Choose strategies that suit the child's learning style. One strategy is TIPS: Think (read and paraphrase), Information (what numbers and information do you need in order to solve the problem), Problem (write equation), Solve.

Encourage children to put problems into their own words. Teach children to read for meaning when trying to identify the operation to use for solving a math problem. Have them verbalize the problem before trying to solve it.

Teach math vocabulary. Review the meaning of key words and phrases commonly used in mathematics problems, such as "all" or "total" in addition problems ("How much money did they spend in all?" "What was the total amount of the grocery bill?"). To help children identify key terms in problems, ask them whether a problem requires a particular procedure, and have them underline the word or term that gave the answer away. Include new vocabulary in their rule books (see above).
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Teach children how to preview an assignment. Help them to see the importance of thinking ahead before beginning the task. For example, cue them to ask, "Which math operations will I need next?"

Teach children how to self-monitor. During a task, show children how to stop and assess how well they are progressing. For example, tell them, "Every 10 minutes you will need to stop and check your answers." Teach children to ask themselves questions such as "How is it going?" and, "Do I need to make changes?" "Does my answer make sense?" and "Does my answer match my estimate?"

Help children maintain mental energy. Allow them to take frequent breaks while completing math assignments. Suggest that they get up and walk around during these breaks.

Teach self-checking strategies. Have students change to a different color pen when they have finished their work, becoming a "test checker" instead of a "test taker." This will help them notice their errors. For students who continue to make attentional errors in calculation, despite instruction and practice with self-checking, permit the use of a calculator for checking.

Help children stay focused. Let them choose the best place to do assignments, or allow them to listen to music if that helps their concentration.

Provide a model. Work through the mathematical problem with the child, verbalizing or demonstrating each step. Especially with homework, assist the child by doing the first problem together.

Identify topics of interest to children. Explore mathematical concepts in relation to motivating topics, such as building a skateboard ramp, tracking a satellite's orbit around the earth, discovering how the pyramids were built, or saving money in an interest-bearing account. Ask children to help you identify topics for mathematical problems.

Build a foundation for multi-step problems. Be sure the child understands basic one-step problems (problems requiring only one math operation) before advancing to those that require multiple operations.

Isolate steps. Have children focus on one step at a time. For example, provide mathematical activities in which children identify only (1) what the question is asking them to find, (2) which information is necessary to answer the question, and (3) which operations should be used in solving the problem.

Complete each step. Explain to children that even good problem solvers rarely skip steps when solving problems, though they may appear to.

Reduce the amount of data on a page. Children with spatial problems often become overwhelmed by large amounts of visual data on a page. Reduce the number of math problems or the number of diagrams to interpret per page. Remove unessential visual features.

Have children draw pictures to represent what is going on in a math problem. Suggest they draw representations of objects from the problem (for example, three shirts, a 6-by-12 foot garden plot).

Make auxiliary tools available. Provide calculators, graph paper for aligning numbers, or templates for tracing geometric shapes.

Because math difficulties can affect a child's performance and ability to get work done, the following strategies are designed to help children improve their organization skills, work habits, and overall production.

Use assignment books. Teach children to use assignment books and "To Do" lists to keep track of their short- and long-term assignments, tests, and quizzes. Use peers to help monitor other children's assignment books. Most schools have a "homework hotline" on voicemail or homework posted on the school Web site. These resources provided by the school can help you support a student who does not yet record assignments consistently without reminders.

Provide models of assignments and criteria for success. Give children a clear sense of how a final product might look by showing examples and sharing exemplary products (such as providing a workbook of sample problems completed correctly). You might make work from last year available and draw the children's attention to specific qualities of the work (for example, "Notice how lining up the columns makes the problem easier to understand."). Do not, however, compare children's work with that of peers or siblings.

Build in planning time. Give children five minutes of planning time before beginning an assignment. Provide guidance in effective planning when necessary.

Use stepwise approaches. Require children to break down tasks into parts and write down the steps or stages. Compile steps of frequent tasks into a notebook for easy reference during work assignments. For long-term assignments, provide a due date for each step of the assignment.

Teach proven strategies. Provide children with specific age-appropriate strategies to use in checking work. For example, use TIPS: Think (read and paraphrase), Information (what numbers and information do you need in order to solve the problem?), Problem (write equation), Solve. Children can create a reminder card to keep on their desk or in their assignment book for quick reference to the strategy.

Stress the importance of organization. Have children preview an assignment and collect the materials they will need before starting it. Guide children in keeping their materials and notebooks organized and easily accessible. In middle and high school, conduct intermittent "notebook checks" and grade organization and completion. At the beginning of the school year and a week before each check, give a list of requirements. Emphasize the positive impact that organization and preplanning will have on the completed project or assignment. By grading organization, you will emphasize its value in the learning process.

Let children wait to turn in work. The day before an assignment is due, have children review their work and check it with a parent. This will give the children enough perspective to catch errors or add more details and produce better results in the end.

Encourage self-evaluation. Set a standard of work quality or criteria for success for children to follow, and allow them to self-assess the quality of their work before turning it in. If the grade matches the child's appraisal, give extra points for good self-assessment. Rubrics are one way for students to assess their own work.

Set goals and record progress. Have children set a short-term goal, such as completing all homework for the week. Record their daily progress toward the goal for children to observe. Graphic recording, such as plotting their own line graphs, may be particularly reinforcing for some children. Reward improvement at home.

Practice estimating. Children may benefit from estimating answers to math problems and science experiments. Stress the real-life benefits of estimating and understanding what the correct answer might look like.

Eliminate incentives for frenetic pacing. Remove any positive reinforcement for finishing first. State the amount of time a task should take. This will slow down children who work too quickly and will speed up children who work too slowly.

Provide consistent feedback. Create a feedback system so children understand which behaviors, actions, or work products are acceptable and which are not. Use specifics to praise good work and recognize when children use strategies effectively. Say, for example, "I like the way you drew a table to help explain the problem," or "Asking to take a break really seemed to help you come back and focus."

Try a mentor. Some children may benefit from a mentor who will work with them to analyze their academic progress, brainstorm alternative strategies, and provide recognition of progress. The mentor must be seen as credible, and may be an individual from either inside or outside the school.


Well-Known Member
Staff member
That's very interesting information, Sheila. I'm going to share it with the other teachers in my department.

I have to say, though, that every student that I have ever taught must have had a learning disability when it came to word problems.

Thanks for posting this!



Math reading problems certainly wasn't my strong suit when I was in school.

difficult child has had some math problems since about 4th grade, but nothing I was unduly concerned with until last semester. Besides words problems (lol), he has always had problems recalling math facts instantaneously.

5th and 6th grades weren't that great but were adequate. But he seemingly hit a brick wall last semester (7th grade). I attributed some of it to the anxiety episode he had which began mid-January -- it really curtails material absorption. I think the 2x/wk tutoring was helpful.

He's in a much better place emotionally this year (8th grade), has math tutoring 4 times a week, but I'm concerned and not sure exactly what's causing the problem or how to help or where to find answers.

He has ADHD, language deficits, processing and processing speed problems. He had visual-motor skill problems in elementary and I thought those problems had been 100% remediated (I'm not sure now, because we stopped therapy when he attained grade level performance, e.g., maybe his development didn't continue to advance along with-his grade advancement?)

I don't know....I know so little about math and the underlying causes of student's experiencing problems learning math. There seems much more available research and writings regarding language and reading.

I do think difficult child is capable of learning math, but I'm wondering if there is such a change between 6th and 7th grade and 7th and 8th grade math that perhaps it's putting more demands on his abilities than he can comfortably handle? If so, what techniques, teaching methods, strategies, remedial steps, etc., can be used to address his needs?

Kathy, if you have a minute I'd appreciate your input.

All opinions/suggestions welcome.


New Member
I can't remember which article it was but it mentioned that a 4th grader with math disabilites would generally be at a 1st grade level and a 7th grader at a 5th grade level and then they seem to "hit a brick wall" to use my own words. I think this might be pretty true. My 10 year old son is in 4th grade and is testing at a very low 2nd grade level. He's also ADHD with language problems, Sensory Integration Disorder (SID), etc. What really has me frustrated at the moment is that he does so well at Sylvan and is testing into third grade stuff now but at school he rarely does more than 2-3 problems.

I'm sure part of the success at Sylvan comes from the one on one tutoring and how they use manipulatives and "real" life stuff a lot more than school does. They've also quickly figured out that when testing they can't give him a whole worksheet full of problems. Instead they cut it into strips and give him 5 at a time. Works beautifully! I can't convince his teachers to do this (and yes, it's in his IEP). He even gets an extra 60 minutes of resource room help per week in math at school and he rarely does much there either...

Thanks for taking time to post these articles - I found them to be very helpful and will add them to that ever expanding "library" of information!!



Teaching methods can sure make a difference.

Levine's Making Sense of Adolescent's Ascent keeps coming to mind....


Well-Known Member
Staff member

I don't know if I will be much help. I teach Algebra 2 and I'm not familiar with what is taught in middle school math.

You are right that there is certainly not much research in the area of math disabilities. In fact, I have never even heard of a specific math disability other than dyslexia (although I'm sure that with more research more will be identified).

Many of the intructional strategies mentioned above are utilized by any good math teacher and would be helpful to all students.

One thing that I hesitate to mention due to the fact that it seems to be a hot topic on the board is homework. In my professional opinion, homework is essential to mastering math skills, particularly as the concepts become more difficult. Students simply cannot master the material by watching the teacher demonstrate the problems. Practice is the only way to learn math whether it is done at home or during a resource period.

As I'm sure that you are already aware, math is sequential and failure to learn essential skills early in the school year will snowball and cause students to quickly fall behind. I know that you will keep on top of things and make sure that your difficult child gets the extra help he needs early. Tutoring would probably be very helpful, also.



Appreciate your input.

Actually Kathy, I'm not adverse to homework if difficult child is up to it and he's getting the reinforcement of skills learned at school. He's mentally exhausted after school and the effectiveness of his medication has faded or it's gone completely. It's only this year that he has been able to perform homework without knock down drag out fights which were counterproductive to his emotional well-being. And when he's in the midst of an anxiety episode, you might as well just hang it up -- there was no homework progress whatsoever.

difficult child's math class is 1 1/2 hour daily; then he has 1 hour tutoring daily. He had math homework almost everyday for the first 6 - 8 weeks of school (which he did without prompting :faint: ), but he hasn't had any in a couple of weeks. (And yep, I'll be verifying that as true with-his teachers. lol)

I do think difficult child is missing some of the basics. Believe it or not, this is the 1st year that difficult child has been required to show his math work production.

Sometimes he just knows the answer (or thinks he does), but he can't tell you or show you how he got there. But with math getting more complex, it's too easy to drop a step. Besides, he needs to understand how he got from point A - G in my opinion.

with-his reading, it took some real digging to get to the underlying problems, but we finally identified them and with that understanding came the knowledge of how to target them, e.g., it's hard to understand what one reads when one doesn't understand "language." SLPs and language therapy has been very beneficial.

with-math, I don't know who math's "Speech Language Pathologist (SLP)" counterpart is. To my knowledge, there isn't one.

If it's motor skills interfering, it'd be a battle royal to get him Occupational Therapist (OT) via the sd. I'd end up having to take him out of school in the afternoons to get him to private Occupational Therapist (OT) and he'd miss math tutoring, so the only sure thing that would accomplish is that he would miss needed instructional time.

If it's his processing speed contributing to the problem, there's nothing that can be done therapy-wise to improve it to my knowledge. (Proven methods anyway. If anybody knows of something, please post about it.)

I haven't found anything specific regarding remediating math deficits if that is, in fact, what's going on. There are some accommodations and strategies discussed, and while I'm glad there are, difficult child can't take accommodations into the workplace with him.

I don't know.... When one problem seems to be under control, another surfaces.... Seemingly never ending.

Mrs Smith

New Member
I'm in the same boat with my son. It's clearly a complex problem that's difficult to remediate and without research data to back up a specific therapy, they get no therapy.

Has anyone tried any Linda-Mood Bell programs? V/V comes to mind since my son's math weakness involves a problem understanding the language aspects of math.


Quote: Has anyone tried any Linda-Mood Bell programs? V/V comes to mind since my son's math weakness involves a problem understanding the language aspects of math.

Yes. Visualizing and Verbalizing was part of what difficult child's private Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) used. Additionally, we purchased the home version and used it to supplement the private language therapy.

Mrs Smith

New Member
Originally Posted By: Sheila
Quote: Has anyone tried any Linda-Mood Bell programs? V/V comes to mind since my son's math weakness involves a problem understanding the language aspects of math.

Yes. Visualizing and Verbalizing was part of what difficult child's private Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) used. Additionally, we purchased the home version and used it to supplement the private language therapy.

How helpful do you think it was?


There are math equivalents of an Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) problem that presumably underwrites all language based subjects.

I think that the WIAT and the W-J tap some of them: there is a problem of transfer among concrete and abstract processes. If there additionally is a memory problem that make retrieval of previously learned material difficult, it's an uphill road and processing speed is often a factor. Word problems tap both types of disabilities...

I do not agree with Kathy on homework at home, because for certain kids, it is just too destructive of any sort of family sanity to be worth it. However, I DO agree that practice is necessary to learn math but for some, that must be done at school either in resource, or in after school tutoring.



Well-Known Member
Staff member
Quote: Practice is the only way to learn math whether it is done at home <u>or during a resource period


My definition of homework is practice that is done after they leave my class. I don't particularly care where it is done. In fact, many of my students do it in the cafeteria during their lunch.

Some come to my room and eat their lunch with me while they do their homework because it is quieter in my room. These are honor's level students, though, who are self-directed. I would imagine middle school students who need more guidance to get it done.




I know that is your definition of homework, and I also know that you understand that some conscientious parents cannot get their difficult children to do homework at home.

The problem is, to me, that few other teachers seem to understand this. My homework days are far behind me, but as I watch the special education struggle continue in the public schools, it seems little progress has been made in supporting homework completion. Parents are still left to "wing it."

I hope you know that I agree with you on math instruction as impossible to conduct totally on classroom time, unless it is at a very basic level with students who need 1:1 to learn anything at all.

Best to you,



Well-Known Member
My easy child daughter has a math disability caused by lead poisoning (at least according to my doctors; the doctors retained by the people I sued for it claimed that LP can't cause only math/memory issues, but I digress). Anyway, although my daughter has a very superior IQ overall, her VIQ is 42 points higher than her PIQ. She struggles with math issues. I had to hire a $100/hr tutor to get her past the Math A regents and she still only got a C+ for the year. I had to send her to summer school (private) for $1,000 so that math B was the only class she was taking and even with it being her only class, she still only got a 74 on the Regents and a C+ for the year. Now, she's in pre-calc with a C for the first quarter, even though she does all her HW and really tries. She struggled horribly with chemistry but is doing a little better with physics because there aren't the same huge chemical formulas.

Math is not her friend and it is due to memory issues. She can't summon the numbers back. It took her until 5th grade to tell time, she still refuses to use an analog clock of any sort, only digital, gets confused if I use expressions like "a quarter of" or "20 past" the hour, she still counts on her fingers and does not really have complete mastery of her times tables.

My dyslexic son on the other hand reverses his numbers but has all of his concepts down pat. He is the highest math group at this new Learning Disability (LD) school and got an 85 the first quarter. He does not have a math Learning Disability (LD) separate from his dyslexia.

I do agree with Kathy that lots of practice is necessary for success. I have also seen that it is far easier to get difficult child to do math HW and study than it is to get easy child daughter to do hers. And I think the major difference is that difficult child is truly math gifted and enjoys it whereas for easy child daughter it is sheer unmitigated torture. Unfortunately, though, it is those kids for whom math is torture who need to do the studying and who it is tough to get to do it.

Sadly, I struggle over this with my daughter, who has not a difficult child trait in her persona. Since I struggle over writing with difficult child (he is reading adult books but won't write a simple paragraph), I know what it's like to try to get HW done with a difficult child, even though it's not math. My only recourse is the H threat - he's still bigger than difficult child even though I'm not. It's not a method I recommend.