A New Struggle
During my years teaching special education in the elementary classroom, I had a very eager yet frustrated student with Dyslexia. She had accepted her struggle with reading but thought as she progressed with her math skills it would be easy for her and she could escape the challenges of Dyslexia.
She excitedly began third-grade math, listening tentatively and desperately wanting to be like all of her classmates.
I began teaching multiplication to the class. She was able to keep up during the first few weeks and seemed to enjoy the games and activities we did to re-enforce the memorization. Sure enough, the challenges of Dyslexia reared their ugly head in the form of deficiencies in mental math, verbal memory, and verbal processing speed to the point where she could not remember the times tables as we added the number, 6, 7,8, and so on regardless of how she tried. Her mind just had a terrible time grasping the abstractions. All that mental load slowed her progress and the negative emotions had a terrible effect on memory. Children do not learn under stress.
Dyslexia expresses itself differently in different people. When it affects math it is called dyscalculia.
As with all learning difficulties, it is a difference or a weakness in a core component of learning. These weaknesses, with work, can generally be overcome.
The Effect of Dyslexia on Learning Math
Teaching math to a student with dyslexia requires the same careful planning and implementation as when giving adapted Language Arts education. Between 60 % and 100% of dyslexics have difficulty with certain aspects of mathematics (Miles, 1993 & Joffe, 1990)
As parents and teachers we need to ensure our students with Dyslexia have mastered the fundamental skills of math—addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, number sequence and recognition before moving onto more advanced mathematical theories.
From my experience as a teacher, often times, parents, students, and general education teachers assume dyslexia only affects reading, comprehension, speaking, and writing skills. However, the effects of Dyslexia can infiltrate the way a child learns and uses math to include these concepts: basic numbers, story problems, sequencing, multiplication, and other related math genres.
The first thing to consider is bringing in the senses. Most dyslexics are very visual. Bringing in more visual components helps them utilize this strength. Kinesthetic aspects are helpful as well. We can do both by using lots of colorful objects. You could use colorful toys or stick on gemstones. Clay can be particularly useful because you can cut it up into as many objects as you want. "Playing" with these helps the child connect the senses. Each of these senses can play a part in developing learning abilities. Combining them together in the whole being greater than the sum of the parts (forgive the pun).
"Playing" with math through various multi-sensory methods helps the child connect the senses. Each of these senses can play a part in developing learning abilities. Combining them together in the whole being greater than the sum of the parts (forgive the pun). Our brain works by using these multi-sensory micro-skills in combined ways. By emphasizing them where they might not otherwise be emphasized we often can "remind" the brain to use the skills that are already strong.
You can use the aids for obvious things like skip counting, adding, and subtracting. It's also useful to just do simple exercises like forming the digits in gems or clay. This will help incorporate the kinesthetic, the auditory, and the visual as well. Like this exercise from the Learning Success System.
Songs can be very powerful learning tools. Not only are you incorporating auditory memory but they also use rhythm and rhyme. These are very powerful learning development tools. Children are naturally drawn to rhythm and rhyme because they intuitively know it develops their learning ability. The loss of all the playground games that used rhythm and rhyme is likely contributing to learning difficulties in children today. These games were instrumental in developing learning ability in past generations but sadly missing today. We can bring them back and help at any age though.
Skip counting songs are a great example of using rhythm and rhyme. Practice this one or similar with your child. It's fun.
Building Up The Micro-Skills
Micro-skills we normally associate with reading can also affect math. It's pretty obvious that visual memory and visual form constancy are essential for math. We need to "see" the quantities in our head. Other visual skills are just as important. For example, visual tracking can be a culprit. In reading visual tracking helps us follow the line. Poor visual tracking will cause the letters to "jump". In math this can result in sloppy work and difficulty getting columns lined up. Or even seeing them lined up.
Visual closure is another non-obvious needed micro-skill. Recent neuroscience has found that our brains can count without counting. In other words when we see a grouping of objects our brains recognize the number of objects rather than counting them individually. This skill is related to visual closure. Below is a sample visual closure exercise from the Learning Success System. Simply call out the objects as soon as you recognize them.
And here is another exercise from the Learning Success System is based on the recent study on our brains recognizing quantities. Simply call out the quantity as you recognize it. Try not to count.
Keeping the Right Brain Busy
Sometimes you can use simple tricks to help with math. It doesn't work for everyone so this is something to experiment with. These involve stimulating the right brain. In a sense, keeping it busy so it doesn't distract. You can try playing music, experiment with different types. Or another trick that often works is to allow the child to use colored pencils or crayons. They'll likely develop their own way of doing this so let them and see if it helps.
Remember, no one learns under stress. If your child has been struggling they are under stress. You may be observing avoidance tactics at this point. this is a sure sign of stress. Stress can be eliminated by:
- Building up self-confidence and self-esteem
- Using mind-body techniques. Proprioceptive exercises are great for this
- Using Power Moves
We use a variety of confidence building tactics which are based on modern neuroscience as well as age-old Kung Fu secrets. Building confidence may be one of the most important aspects of developing learning skills. Confidence leads to grit. Grit gets us through what is difficult and having it is the biggest indicator of future success.
Micro-skills and more
Here are some key areas to address when working with students. Ways to help enhance their learning experiences can be discovered below:
- Discuss the value of math with your student and show them the consequence of not understanding math concepts. For example: learning to make change from 20 dollar bill or importance of knowing measurements when creating a recipe.
- Create visual aids for students. Better yet, have the child to create visual aids to learn and practice multiplication facts, number lines, etc.
- Incorporate hands on tasks to reinforce their learning
- Check out strategies for example “Gypsy Math” where the student utilizes their fingers to learn the multiplication facts.
There are many great strategies for your child when struggling with Dyslexia and Math. Remember there is no “right” approach. From my own experience trial and error is the best course of action.
Because there is no one size fits all solution we have worked a variety of solutions into the Learning Success System. The system uses a variety of approaches. The brain likes variety. Variety keeps us focused. Variety makes different learning systems work together.
Schools don't have the capability of experimenting and finding what works with each child. Teachers are overwhelmed and forced to try to apply the one size fits all approach. Unfortunately it doesn't fit dyslexics and other struggling learners.
Experimenting and finding the right solution can only be done by a parent. A parent can play around with different ideas and closely observe. This takes time and one on one. It also takes that special mother's intuition. Pair that with the Learning Success System and you've got a big win for your child and math
Do You Need help with a Math Difficulty?
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Understanding how to help someone with a learning difficulty starts with understanding which micro-skills are affected. When you learn which of the micro-skills is the problem, you will then be on your way to solving it.
You'll also learn how to:
- Build confidence
- Enhance Learning ability
- Eliminate avoidance
- Build grit
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