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ADHD and Problems with Math Computation

LD and ADD/ADHD Expert Advice from Eileen S. Marzola, Ed.D.

Q: My nine-year-old fourth-grader was recently diagnosed with ADHD. She's been taking Adderall for about a month now. There has been a remarkable improvement in her handwriting. However, Adderall does not appear to have helped with the computation problems. The ADHD testing showed she has an IQ of 145. She was at 12+ grade in reading/comprehension but only at grade-level in math.

We recently received her standardized CTBS scores (taken pre-Adderall) and she scored in the 90+ percentile in all subjects except math -- the 72nd percentile in math principals and theories but only the 14th percentile in math computation. She's been struggling with computation since first grade. She now believes that she "can't do math." Flashcards and drills on paper don't seem to work. She will figure out the answers to the math facts by applying what she already knows, but can't seem to memorize the answers. This gets her into trouble on a timed test, since she doesn't have time to figure them out the long way. Her dad and I are at our wits' end as to how to help her memorize the multiplication facts (division is coming). It's very frustrating to be unable to overcome this stumbling block when she obviously knows how to apply math. Any suggestions?

A: First, make a list of all the facts she needs to learn in multiplication. Then go through a set of flash cards and make three piles: those she knows automatically (auto-facts); those she knows, but are slow (strato-facts); and those she doesn't know at all.

You're going to focus on only the facts that she really needs to practice. Take a highlighter pen and color in all the facts she knows quickly. See if she knows the "turn-arounds" of all of those facts (e.g., 4 x 3 and 3 x 4). If she doesn't, focus on practicing those first until they are automatic, too.

Next, take the strato-facts and work on building speed. I often use a deck of cards (numbers only, please). Explain what you want to practice (e.g., 9 x tables), set a stop-watch for one minute, and lay down the cards one at a time for her to multiply. Tell her the answers to any she gets wrong so that when the number comes up again, she'll have a better chance to get it right. Aim for 20-30 facts in a minute. Chart her progress with a graph. Reward her for increasing her speed. There are also some math computer programs that she can use to practice independently to build speed. For example, you can program in the facts she needs to practice on a program like Math Blaster.

Help her to build from the known to the new on unknown facts. Let's say she knows that 6 x 6 = 36, but can't come up with 6 x 7. You can show her that she can use what she knows as an "anchor fact" to hook onto to figure out what she doesn't know. If 6 x 6 = 36, then add 6 more to get 6 x 7 = 42.

This is the best way I know how to do this if she has some holes in her learning of her tables. If she knows very few of them, however, try presenting them in a less traditional (but easier to learn) order: x0, x1, x2, x5, x9, x10, (and their turn-arounds) and perfect squares (e.g., 6 x 6). Then you're left with 10 facts to learn and their "turn-arounds." Much less load on the memory to learn this way.

Once these are mastered, try some "missing factors" (e.g., 6 x ? = 42) to get ready for division.

Finally, if you want to find some fun ways to practice math, have a look at Peggy Kaye's book, Games for Math.

More on: Expert Advice

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.


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