Access to Math



DEFICIT MICROSKILLS Sequential memory is very limited and working math memory is too short to hold complex chunks of information and instructions. Most cannot even keep track when counting 100 pennies. Most cannot count by 3 beyond 12 without manually adding 3 to each increment. Because they cannot consistently recall addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts, even simple tasks become complex efforts of manual calculation.

DIRECTIONALITY Since MLD students suffer directional disorientation, they get extremely disoriented when doing operations like long division, multiplication, fractions, and equations because of all of the computational directions involved.

INNUMERACY Again, the MLD student is probably unsure of the meaning of simple math terms like numerator, denominator, and product. The MLD student has insufficient command of the basics of the language of mathematics. They are math illiterate. As such, they must be treated as a Math ESL student.

GIFTED BUT MLD While the MLD student experiences ease in acquiring information in other subjects, their ability to acquire math information is retarded by poor storage and recall of math vocabulary, visual-spatial information, sequences, operations, formulas, and basic facts. Math memory problems, and difficulties with visuospatial perception and orientation, make math achievement very difficult.

BRAIN GLITCHES In addition to the difficulties mentioned above, the MLD student will verbalize incorrectly and will reason mistakenly without noticing, even about facts and concepts they are sure of. They are unaware of “careless” mistakes made when copying numbers or when writing dictated numbers. They will even, on occasion, write a different number than they tell you they are writing.

TOOLS It is essential that MLD students master appropriate and relevant calculators, apps, uncluttered reference charts, and colorful, illustrated references and handbooks.


SUBSTITUTION Math LD students should receive a personal curriculum. The required math courses must be replaced by equally rigorous courses within their capabilities. Given their history of limited success in high school math courses taught in small groups with a qualified teacher, it is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect that the MLD will succeed in larger classes at college level and pace.

DISCRIMINATION Poor performance in college math courses will significantly impact the grade point average, likely resulting in the loss of standing, scholarships, and other privileges. Such consequences amount to discrimination that is the direct result of a student's severe learning disability in mathematics.

MODULAR MATH LANGUAGE INSTRUCTION A computer tutorial method has the best chance of success if all concepts are illustrated with multimedia animation with full redundancy of information displayed with sound, text, images and motion with a strong emphasis on the concepts, symbols, vocabulary, syntax, and translation of the language of mathematics.

ACTIVE PRACTICE A program should present information sequentially, in small chunks, immediately followed by opportunities to manipulate, prove, apply, practice, and master the concepts. Such programs will track progress and mastery of the curriculum and will not allow advancement without requisite mastery.

CREDIT Credit should be given for the completion of the established curriculum, and all courses with math components should be graded PASS/FAIL to mitigate MLD's direct impact on GPA, academic standing and progress, access to financial aid and scholarships, and access to academic programs.


Classroom instruction, and tutoring by someone unskilled in the treatment of learning disabilities, is NOT advised. Typical instruction will only frustrate the instructors and students alike.

Math LD students need to prove concepts with hands-on applications and verbal reasoning.

MLDs may have limited visualization ability but exceptional verbal reasoning, and must strongly associate math concepts with familiar spoken and written language.

In light of the facts presented above, repeating a failed math class with student tutorial assistance, will not result in efficient mathematical processing in a person with a specific learning disability in mathematics. Even if the dyscalculic achieves procedural success with a tutor, it is very likely that the student will fail the exam due to glitches in processing, copying, interpretation, and translation.

OVERLOAD Cognitive thresholds are quickly exceeded when task demands compound to overwhelm processing capacity. It is possible for dyscalculics to repeat patterns/algorithms successfully; but knowledge of the supporting facts, processes, and reasoning is not stored in memory for future retrieval. This explains why these students can perform well enough with a tutor or teacher or on homework, but then fail examinations miserably.


  1. All classes involving math, should be taken on a Pass/Fail basis so that math disability does not penalize and stigmatize the student by severely diminishing the grade point average.

  2. Unlimited time and use of a calculator and reference handbook on all quizzes and exams.

  3. Utilize multimedia computerized instruction whenever possible to minimize transcription errors, provide tracking, & allow for review, practice and mastery at the student's pace.

  4. According to Dyscalculia expert, Professor Mahesh Sharma, math instruction should incorporate both of the methods below in this order:


      • (a) Explain the linguistic aspects of the concept.

      • (b) Introduce the general principle, truth or law that other truths hinge on.

      • (c) Let students use investigations with concrete materials to discover proofs of these truths.

      • (d) Give many specific examples using concrete materials.

      • (e) Have student talk about their discoveries about how concepts work.

      • (f) Then show how these individual experiences can be integrated into a general principle or rule that pertains equally to each example.


      • g.) Reemphasize the general law, rule, principle, or truth that other mathematical truths hinge on.

      • h.) Then show how several specific examples obey the general rule.

      • i.) Have students state the rule and offer specific examples that obey it.

      • j.) Have students explain the linguistic elements of the concept.


Where math classes were taken without accommodations and failed, remove the grade from the factoring of the grade point average: adjust the grade to P (pass) or F (fail) without grade points, then recalculate GPA.


  1. Use graph paper to organize numbers on the page.

  2. Use guides to isolate rows and columns of numbers.

  3. Use colored erasable pens to color-code operations (+/-/*/÷) (subtraction=red, addition=black, multiplication=blue, division=green).

  4. Use reference sheets for math facts, rules, vocabulary, and steps.

  5. Allow space to illustrate problems.

  6. Allow the dyscalculic to talk through math processes and reasoning.

  7. Assign a teaching assistant or partner to listen and look for dyscalculic errors and to provide appropriate correction and direction.

  8. Provide waivers and substitutes to math course requirements in college.

  9. Provide literary or project-based substitutes for math-intensive assignments.

  10. Reduce practice and test items by 75%,

  11. Purify/simplify math problems on tests and assignments.

  12. Provide one-on-one testing and instruction whenever possible.

  13. Teach math as a foreign language.

  14. The vocabulary of math must be taught explicitly, reinforced daily, used matter-of-factly, and synonyms used interchangeably and fluently.

  15. Read children’s math books: write about, illustrate & teach the concepts.

  16. All instructors of a Math LD student should be educated about dyscalculia.

  17. MATH TEST SUBSTITUTIONS: (a) student creates own tests and test keys; (b) student creates a presentation on the lesson & presents it as a review lesson to the class or to the teacher.

  18. The student should regularly engage in visuospatial exercises. Some suggestions follow:


Math LD students must rely upon their strengths in reading and verbalizing to become fluent in the language of mathematics.

Math LD students should learn everything with a sensory integrative method. They must employ their strengths in verbalizing to speak about, demonstrate, and illustrate the concepts simultaneously.

STUDENT TEACHES TO REMEMBER Math LD students will not do well with passive learning methods. Even teaching the concepts to others, several repetitions of the teaching exercise will be required to move the information into long-term memory that is easily accessible for future recall and application. Periodic repetition over time will be required to facilitate recall.

MLDs require visual supports and visual discrimination training that is tactile with auditory and verbal components.

  1. Math LD students must assume the role of teacher for themselves. They must do whatever talking, explaining, drawing, building, writing, and demonstrating that is necessary to absolutely convince themselves of the logical facts they must learn. Then they must convince others of these facts.

  2. While these may seem like daunting orders, we must assume that the dyscalculic will not adequately retain information for future use unless they achieve deep understanding through experiential learning.

  3. Superficial, quick, passive, rote, one-dimensional presentations of concepts will not be effective. Where these inferior methods are the only exposure to material, students should receive accommodations.

  4. Standard accommodations for memory disabilities include untimed tests, open-book exams, projects substituted for tests, reference charts, the heavier weighting of assignments and review activities, multi-sensory and interactive computer instruction, review and game exercises; and electronic or oral presentations/demonstrations substituted for tests.

  5. Teaching/learning must occur in a tight framework of properly sequenced scaffolding, as in the CLSO (concepts, language, symbols, operations) system [see], and the student and instructor must be skilled in the identification and mitigation of dyscalculic tendencies. The proper methodology must be used, and daily exercises performed, to achieve a working mathematical processing faculty. Dyscalculia is essentially a cognitive impairment in mathematical ability.

- Renee M. Newman, M.S.-SpEd, M.Ed.-ID, PDC-Distance Ed

Renee Hamilton-Newman, President,