Math skills are often cumulative in nature, one skill building upon previously learned skills. Algebraic manipulation, for example, would be impossible without an understanding of basic arithmetic.
Unfortunately, the effects of math disabilities can also be cumulative. Computational weakness can keep a student from reaching higher-level math, regardless of that student’s potential for abstract mathematical thinking. Because of this, children with math disabilities stand the best chance of reaching their potential when developmental differences are dealt with promptly – before students lose confidence or develop a fear of the subject.
The following is a list of math skills and warning signs that may indicate a math disability:
Number facts are the basic computations (9 + 3 = 12 or 2 x 3 = 6) that students are required to memorize in the earliest grades of elementary school. Recalling these facts automatically is critical because it allows a student to approach more advanced mathematical thinking without being bogged down by simple calculations. A student with a deficiency in this skill may:
Many students, despite a good understanding of mathematical concepts, are inconsistent at computing. They make errors because they may misread signs, carry numbers incorrectly, or not write numerals clearly enough or in the correct column. These students often struggle — especially in primary school, where basic computation and correct answers are stressed — they often end up in remedial classes, even though they might have a high level of potential for higher-level mathematical thinking. A student with a deficiency in this skill may:
One fairly common difficulty experienced by people with math problems is the inability to easily connect the abstract or conceptual aspects of math with reality. Understanding what symbols represent in the physical world is important to how well and how easily a child will remember a concept. Given a description of an equilateral triangle, for example, a student with this problem may find it impossible to visualize, or draw, such a triangle. A student with a deficiency in this skill may:
The Language of Math
For some students, a math disability is driven by problems with language. These students may also experience difficulty with reading, writing, and speaking. In math, however, their language problem is confounded by the inherently difficult terminology, some of which they never hear outside of the math classroom. These students find word problems especially difficult to translate, as they have difficulty understanding written or verbal directions or explanations. A student with a deficiency in this skill may:
This problem is similar to, but more severe than, knowledge-transfer problems. In general, it is an inability to effectively visualize math concepts. Students who have this problem may, for example, be unable to judge the relative size among three dissimilar objects. This disorder requires that a student rely almost entirely on rote memorization of verbal or written descriptions of math concepts that most people take for granted. A student with a deficiency in this skill may: