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.





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.



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. 


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.

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

Renee Hamilton-Newman, President,