Math Learning Disabilities: Do they exist?

Students with ADHD often struggle in math. The question is: Are there really math learning disabilities? Yes, but they’re tough to diagnose.

Some research contends that 26% of students with ADHD have dyscalculia. Others say that the number is higher (71%). Identifying when a challenge rises to something more is the major consideration.

ADHD makes a significant impact on learning. The processing of instructional language affects academic performance. It includes the manipulation of verbal and nonverbal information. Listening without understanding leads to overall challenges.

Inattentiveness is another symptom of ADHD. Being able to focus on what is being taught is critical to academic success. This is especially true in identifying the cognitive components of mathematics.

Elementary skills make it somewhat easier to identify math struggles. Basic activities make math learning disabilities easier to spot (counting, reciting number facts, doing word problems). Interventions, therefore, can be more simple to perform.

In contrast, diagnosing math learning disabilities for high school students is more challenging. They are not easy to spot.

- Understanding information on charts and graphs.
- Applying math concepts (money, maps, time).
- Difficulty measuring things.
- Lacking confidence that requires numerical understanding (speed, distance, directions).
- Has difficulty finding alternative ways to solve problems.

Working memory helps to make momentary decisions within long-term plans. It provides temporary storage for processing and manipulating information. There is a correlation between working memory and math difficulties, specifically arithmetic, algorithm knowledge, and problem solving. It’s a skill that is often lacking in people with ADHD.

Executive function disorder is common as well. In fact, their symptoms can be synonymous with ADHD. Involving a pattern of chronic difficulties in executing daily tasks. This impacts math performance most significant contribution in word problems and other calculations related to language.

- Talking aloud to solidify/guide actions.
- Calculating by finger counting.
- Difficulty ignoring irrelevant information in word problems.
- Difficulty solving problems with multiple procedures or steps.
- Difficulty remembering and using knowledge learned earlier.

There is not yet a standard of math learning disability. However, number sense and fact fluency are often used to assess difficulty. It’s also used to evaluate the degree of impairment the student is experiencing.

Strategies implemented at home can mediate some of these deficiencies. Tutoring often helps to support basic math skills at any level. Report challenges to school, especially as it impacts a variety of subjects. Remind them that this disability doesn’t go away in higher grades.

Research has shown that medications positively impact math performance. Stimulant medication often improves behavior and academic achievement as well. Behavior modification offers opportunities for growth. Both allow for focused learning.

School performance in math declines in upper grades. While accommodations are usually provided, they rarely support the abstract academic needs. On the other hand, instruction based on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) can lead to major improvement.

- Point out key words and concepts.
- Rewrite problems in simpler language.
- Focus on math strategies rather than fact recall.
- Use multisensory instruction.
- Provide active strategies (guided practice, review, feedback, help).

Math skills are needed to function in everyday life. Our society requires number sense early on in their cognitive development. A deeper understanding of the relationship between ADHD and math disabilities must be established.

Research continues…

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