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Dyslexia and Math
Q: I'm a dyslexia specialist. The other specialists and I have noticed that some of our students begin to have math difficulties when they get to third grade. We assume that the dyslexia is now interfering with math as it did with reading and writing. The classes we teach for these students are designed for reading and language arts only. Do you know of any specific strategies to help a student with dyslexia in math? Do you know where we can get information specific to dyslexia and math?
A: Children with specific math disabilities may also be called dyscalculic but you're right to think that children who are dyslexic can also struggle with math. Not all children have the same problems, however. Math has its own language and many children have trouble with understanding, remembering, and applying that language to new situations (particularly word problems). Children who have difficulty with memory frequently struggle when they have to learn math facts. Other children have difficulty with the procedures of math, the step-by-step algorithms that are required to reach a solution in computation. Still other children have spatial difficulties that make their understanding of some math concepts particularly challenging.
We have a much greater understanding of the difficulties children with learning disabilities can experience in math and fortunately, there are many resources available to help teachers to bypass those difficulties. Try these:
You can find information LD Online at www.ldonline.org/ld_indepth/resource-guide.html.
My favorite book for teaching children with math disabilities is Teaching Mathematics to Students with Learning Disabilities by Nancy Bley and Carol Thornton.
As far as particular instructional programs, I like Peggy Stern's Structural Math Series, available from Educators Publishing Service ( 1-800-435-7728 or www.epsbooks.com). I also really like the Strategic Math Series by Susan Peterson Miller and Cecil D. Mercer (available from Edge Enterprises, PO Box 1304 Lawrence, KS 66044).
For older children with learning disabilities who have difficulty with fractions, decimals, and even beginning algebra and geometry, I like the materials from Key Curriculum Press (1-800-995-MATH or www.keypress.com/).
In general, the same systematic, direct instruction that is required to learn how to read and write is also needed to learn math. These techniques will help the student with dyslexia who struggles with math:
"Chunking" new information into small bits so that it can be understood and retained better
Distributed practice of new skills
Opportunities to use manipulative materials to make math concepts and operations clearer
Use of language to "talk through" what your student is doing/learning in math
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For more than 20 years, Eileen Marzola has worked with children and adults with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders, and with their parents and teachers. She has been a regular education classroom teacher, a consultant teacher/resource teacher, an educational evaluator/diagnostician, and has also taught graduate students at the university level. Marzola is an adjunct assistant professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and Hunter College of the City University of New York. She also maintains a private practice in the evaluation and teaching of children with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders.