A math learning disability (dyscalculia) exists when a student struggles with either math calculation, math problem solving, or both. Math learning disabilities are usually characterized by difficulties with basic math concepts despite appropriate instruction. Typically students with a math disability have a deficit in how they process information. Areas of processing that directly affect math include: Fluid Reasoning, Processing Speed, and Working Memory.
Early intervention is key in remediating a math disability. Because math continues to build on itself, the longer a math disability goes undiagnosed, the more “damage” it can do. You can think of math as a 13 story building, if your first few floors are weak, then it is pretty difficult to continue to build on them. If basic skills are missed in the first few years of school, then students struggle into middle and high school. Accommodations are things that “level the playing field” for kids with disabilities. Some accommodations to consider for students with a math disability include:
- Extra time on tests and exams so they do not feel rushed. Because weak memory and processing speed are typically deficits for these students, a timed test only causes frustration and anxiety.
- List steps for multi-step problems. In addition, show an example that uses each step so the student sees a clear path to the correct answer.
- Reduce the number of problems assigned. Again, because processing speed and working memory can be a weakness, it is a good idea to focus on quality instead of quantity to avoid the student becoming overwhelmed.
- Allow students to use a multiplication chart if missing facts are getting in the way. By allowing them to use a chart at their desk, they will be able to get through multi-step problems without calculations getting in the way. In addition, the repetitive action of looking up each fact will help them begin to commit them to memory.