How to Deal with Learning Disabilities in Basic Math Skills

Learning disabilities can take many forms and they can be permanent ways of thinking or the temporary result of circumstances and attitudes. For example, a learning disability occurs whenever someone is lacking sleep or is experiencing low blood sugar due to not enough food or a medical condition. At the same time, there are brain structures that make it difficult for some individuals to focus on tasks they find uninteresting and yet others who experience different ways of looking at subjects like mathematics.

Identify The Problem

The first step in dealing with a mathematical learning disability is to identify the problem area. Hearing and vision problems can result in many types of learning disabilities and are easily remedied with glasses, a hearing aid, or repositioning within the classroom or workplace. Lack of food, sleep, or exercise are also correctable. More serious brain structure or brain damage issues each have their own best response plan. Generally, most students with serious learning disabilities do better with hands-on learning tools, such as those created by Marilyn Burns. While ADD and ADHD are often seen as barriers to learning mathematics, many video games are available now that appeal to their love of technology. These “games” can be used to convey basic math skills quite effectively.

Back To Basics

Very often, problems with mathematics are the result of missing a basic level of instruction and moving forward before one is properly prepared.  Very simply put, you cannot learn the quadratic equation if you are not comfortable with multiplication. A thorough assessment can help identify where the problems began. Reteaching and reinforcing these areas can help build skills and confidence.

Put It In Different Terms

Sometimes, all it takes to work around a learning disability is to put problems into different terms. For example, money can be used as a different way of looking at decimals. Explaining percentage as a function of “per cento” or “per century” to convey the concept of some value for every hundred. Also, providing real life applications can be helpful. Many learners find abstract ideas more difficult than uses they may be more familiar with, such as cooking or shopping.

Learning Styles

Knowledge is power and understanding the way a person learn is a powerful tool for helping themselves overcome learning disabilities. There are many free learning style quizzes available on the Internet, such as Edutopia. A better understanding of the best way to go about learning any topic can be developed simply by answering a few questions. Some learners are able to retain skills and knowledge better when they create a song or rhyme about it, whereas other learners benefit from drawing pictures or building something physical and three-dimensional. Yet others can be inspired to develop mathematical abilities through nature projects such as measuring the growth of beans. 

Practice Makes Permanent

Contrary to the popular joke about making it to Carnegie Hall, practice is far more likely to create a permanent response than a perfect one. Practicing a task incorrectly reinforces that behavior rather than the one desired. Practicing mathematics with tools meant to be outgrown, such as fingers, counting blocks, and calculators, can result in developing a heavy reliance upon the tool rather than the mind. Repetition creates a path within the brain, increasing the likelihood of a response. Individuals with learning disabilities must be encouraged to let go of these scaffolding tools and rely more upon themselves to be functional outside of the classroom or the home.

Parents and teachers can help children and adults deal with learning disabilities in basic math skills by identifying problem areas, resolving immediate issues, building up fundamental skills, and then providing a variety of perspectives and learning venues for each skill set. Only the most profound learning disabilities can preclude an individual from learning basic math skills.