Last Updated on October 3, 2023 by Editorial Team
REVIEWED BY NUMBERDYSLEXIA’S EXPERT PANEL ON FEBRUARY 16, 2023
Math can be a daunting subject for many students, but for those with dyslexia, the challenge can seem insurmountable. It’s important to note that students with dyslexia or dyscalculia are not “bad at math“; rather, they simply approach mathematical problems differently.
It is a specific learning difficulty that affects an individual’s ability to read, write, and spell. It is not related to intelligence, but it can make learning challenging, especially in subjects like mathematics. While people with dyslexia may have difficulty with language-based tasks, many can still face problems in maths. So, the article below discusses how students with dyslexia approach mathematics and what difficulties they face.
Dyslexia and Math
The relationship between dyslexia and math skills is complex and multi-faceted. While dyslexia primarily affects reading and writing abilities, it can also have an impact on mathematical skills. This is because the brain processes used for reading and writing are closely linked to those used for mathematical tasks.
For instance, a study by Fiona R. and Chris Singleton concluded that dyslexia causes a general uneven deficiency in skills, rather than just one single learning disability. The study also highlighted inaccurate number recall as well as weak number placement understanding in dyslexic children.
The manifestations of the disorder can be different in different learners, hence, thorough profiling of their needs is a must. At the same time, math accommodations can also be used to help some kids diverge through the complexities of math if the student has a learning disability like dyslexia.
Difficulties in carrying out mathematical operations for dyslexics
Dyslexia is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects reading, writing, and spelling abilities. Recent research has shown that dyslexia is associated with difficulties in processing mathematical information as well. Some of the specific difficulties experienced by dyslexic individuals include:
1. Conceptual difficulties
Dyslexic individuals may struggle with understanding abstract mathematical concepts and the relationships between them. This is a common sign of a learning disability. Research has shown that this difficulty may be related to a deficit in visuospatial processing and memory, which is important for mathematical problem-solving.
Thus, students with dyslexia benefit from concrete examples and visual aids that help them understand mathematical concepts. For example, using manipulatives and diagrams to demonstrate mathematical concepts has been found to be effective.
2. Memory difficulties
Dyslexic individuals often have difficulties with memorizing mathematical formulas, symbols, and facts. This can impact their ability to perform mental arithmetic and to apply previously learned mathematical concepts to new problems. A study by Helen Taylor, stated that poor memory is due to poor visual processing while those related to pronunciation is related to failure in storage and retrieval of phonemic symbols.
Hence, using a multisensory approach to teaching math incorporates different learning styles, including visual, auditory, and kinesthetic methods. This approach has been shown to enhance the understanding of mathematical concepts for students with dyslexia.
3. Processing speed difficulties
Research has shown that dyslexic individuals have slower processing speeds for the overall processing of information, which can lead to difficulties with solving mathematical problems quickly and accurately. Therefore, accommodations such as extra time, colored overlays, or audio textbooks can help students with dyslexia access the material more effectively. According to research, providing appropriate accommodations can help reduce the impact of dyslexia on math skills.
4. Organizational difficulties
Dyslexic individuals may have difficulty organizing mathematical information, such as numbers and symbols, which can make it difficult to understand and solve mathematical problems. Thus, engaging in hands-on activities that demonstrate real-life applications of math can make learning more meaningful and relevant for students with dyslexia.
These activities, such as building models, solving real-world problems, or playing math games, can help students with dyslexia understand mathematical concepts in a more tangible way. This approach can also improve their motivation and engagement in math. Research has found that hands-on learning can help improve motivation and engagement for these students.
5. Multi-step procedure difficulties
Dyslexic individuals may struggle with following multi-step procedures, which is a common requirement in many mathematical problems. This difficulty may be related to difficulties with working memory, which is important for holding onto and manipulating information while solving mathematical problems. According to Macrae et al., students may often lose sight of the process skip sections, or not consider all the relevant aspects of the problem.
This leads to a failure in achieving a final solution and even trying necessary or possible combinations. So, it becomes important to break down complex mathematical problems into smaller, more manageable parts that can make them easier to understand for dyslexic students. This approach has been shown to improve learning outcomes for students with learning difficulties.
Ways to support children with dyslexia in a math classroom
Dyslexia would require a student and teacher to look for different methods, other than conventional ones, to obtain comprehensive support. Below are the most used and scientifically proven ways to support children with dyslexia in a math classroom.
1. Practice and repetition: Regular practice and repetition can help students with dyslexia solidify their understanding of mathematical concepts and improve their retention.
2. Patience and understanding: A supportive and patient learning environment can be crucial for students with dyslexia to succeed in math. Research has found that students who feel understood and supported in their learning environment perform better academically.
3. Early intervention: Early identification and intervention are critical to mitigating the impact of dyslexia on math skills. According to research, early intervention can help ensure students receive the support they need to succeed academically and reach their full potential. Many other motivational tools like quotes can also be of further help.
Dyslexia is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can impact an individual’s ability to process written information, including mathematical symbols and concepts. Despite these challenges, individuals with dyslexia have the potential to achieve success in mathematics with the proper support modifications, and accommodations.
It is essential for educators, specialists, and support networks to collaborate in order to identify and implement effective strategies for each individual with dyslexia. With dedication and a tailored approach, individuals with dyslexia can overcome their challenges and attain a high level of proficiency in mathematics.
- Simmons, F. R., & Singleton, C. (2009). The mathematical strengths and weaknesses of children with dyslexia. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 9(3), 154–163. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-3802.2009.01128.x
- Tafti, M. A., Hameedy, M. A., & Baghal, N. M. (2009). Dyslexia, a deficit or a difference: Comparing the creativity and memory skills of dyslexic and nondyslexic students in Iran. Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal, 37(8), 1009–1016. https://doi.org/10.2224/sbp.2009.37.8.1009
- Taylor, H., & Vestergaard, M. D. (2022). Developmental Dyslexia: Disorder or Specialization in Exploration? Frontiers in Psychology, 13. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2022.889245
- Stoodley, C. J., & Stein, J. F. (2011). The cerebellum and dyslexia. Cortex: A Journal Devoted to the Study of the Nervous System and Behavior, 47(1), 101–116. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2009.10.005
- Waterfield, J. (2002). Dyslexia: Implications for Learning, Teaching and Support. Planet, 6(1), 22–24. https://doi.org/10.11120/plan.2002.00060022
- Malliakas, E., Jiménez-Fanjul, N., & Marín-Díaz, V. (2021). Educational Intervention through a Board Game for the Teaching of Mathematics to Dyslexic Greek Students. Social Sciences, 10(10), 370. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10100370