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||MATHEMATICS: Basics | Difficulties | Responses|
Difficulties with Mathematics
What Can Stand in the Way of a Student's Mathematical Development?Math disabilities can arise at nearly any stage of a child's scholastic development. While very little is known about the neurobiological or environmental causes of these problems, many experts attribute them to deficits in one or more of five different skill types. These deficits can exist independently of one another or can occur in combination. All can impact a child's ability to progress in mathematics.
Incomplete Mastery of Number Facts
Number facts are the basic computations (9 + 3 = 12 or 2 x 4 = 8) students are required to memorize in the earliest grades of elementary school. Recalling these facts efficiently is critical because it allows a student to approach more advanced mathematical thinking without being bogged down by simple calculations.
Try it yourself. Experience a problem with basic facts.
Many students, despite a good understanding of mathematical concepts, are inconsistent at computing. They make errors because they misread signs or carry numbers incorrectly, or may not write numerals clearly enough or in the correct column. These students often struggle, especially in primary school, where basic computation and "right answers" are stressed. Often they end up in remedial classes, even though they might have a high level of potential for higher-level mathematical thinking.
Difficulty Transferring Knowledge
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. Holding and inspecting an equilateral triangle, for example, will be much more meaningful to a child than simply being told that the triangle is equilateral because it has three equal sides. And yet children with this problem find connections such as these painstaking at best.
Some students have difficulty making meaningful connections within and across mathematical experiences. For instance, a student may not readily comprehend the relation between numbers and the quantities they represent. If this kind of connection is not made, math skills may be not anchored in any meaningful or relevant manner. This makes them harder to recall and apply in new situations.
Incomplete Understanding of the Language of Math
For some students, a math disability is driven by problems with language. These children 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 hear nowhere outside of the math classroom. These students have difficulty understanding written or verbal directions or explanations, and find word problems especially difficult to translate.
Difficulty Comprehending the Visual and Spatial Aspects and Perceptual Difficulties.
A far less common problem -- and probably the most severe -- is the inability to effectively visualize math concepts. Students who have this problem may be unable to judge the relative size among three dissimilar objects. This disorder has obvious disadvantages, as it requires that a student rely almost entirely on rote memorization of verbal or written descriptions of math concepts that most people take for granted. Some mathematical problems also require students to combine higher-order cognition with perceptual skills, for instance, to determine what shape will result when a complex 3-D figure is rotated.
Try it yourself. Experience a visualization challenge.
Signs of Math Difficulties
Output DifficultiesA student with problems in output may
Organizational DifficultiesA student with problems in organization may
Language DifficultiesA student with language problems in math may
Attention DifficultiesA student with attention problems in math may
Visual Spatial or Ordering DifficultiesA student with problems in visual, spatial, or sequential aspects of mathematics may
Difficulties with multiple tasksA student with problems managing and/or merging different tasks in math may
A snapshot of mathematics problems and implications
Math disabilities, like other learning disorders, have the power to keep children from performing up to their potential in school and beyond. At no time in our history has this notion been truer. As the world's reliance on technology has grown, so too has the demand for people who can think in the abstract terms of math and science. The disparity between those who learn math with relative ease and those who struggle with math disabilities is widening at an alarming rate. Here are some statistics that suggest why and underscore the importance of early intervention.