Mathematics and LDs

According to the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat document Supporting Numeracy, numeracy is about recognizing and using mathematics in a variety of contexts and using math as a tool to explore problems. Students with learning disabilities (LDs) that affect mathematics may struggle in various aspects of numeracy (click here to access the document "Supporting Numeracy"). Sometimes the term Dyscalculia is used for learning disabilities which affect mathematics.

Mathematics is a diverse field and requires many different skills, including logical and strategic thinking, fact retrieval from memory, and the ability to order, organize, sequence and focus on a problem.

Math skills and Learning Disabilities

Learning difficulties in math can spring from any one of the following areas or from several in combination:

  • Research has shown that many young students who go on to have math LDs demonstrate early difficulties in estimating quantities, and associating small quantities of items with printed numerals.
  • Many students with math LDs have persistent trouble "memorizing" basic number facts and seem unable to develop efficient memory strategies on their own.
  • Some students with math LDs have an excellent grasp of math concepts, but are inconsistent in calculating and paying attention to the operational sign, at borrowing or carrying appropriately, and at sequencing the steps in complex operations.
  • Some students with math LDs are particularly hampered by the language aspects of math, resulting in confusion about terminology, difficulty following verbal explanations, and/or weak verbal skills for monitoring the steps of complex calculations.
  • Some students with math LDs have difficulties in visual-spatial organization, which may result in confused arrangements of numerals and signs on the page, poor ‘number sense’, specific difficulty with pictorial representations and/or weak understanding of math concepts.
  • Recent research has shown that working memory difficulties interfere with math problem-solving, where students must keep a number of items in mind at the same time.

In order to help students with math LDs it is important to understand the underlying skill areas where they are struggling and work specifically on those areas.

Relevant Resources on the LD@school Website

Click here to access the article LDs in Mathematics: Evidence-Based Interventions, Strategies, and Resources

Click here to begin the learning module Concrete, Representational, and Abstract Strategies for Mathematics Instruction

Click here to access the article Helping Students with LDs Learn to Diagram Math Problems

Click here to view a recording of the webinar Understanding Developmental Dyscalculia: A Math Learning Disability

Click here to view the video Using Collaborative Teacher Inquiry to Support Students with LDs in Math

Further Resources

In this video professor Daniel Ansari from the University of Western Ontario discusses "Dyscalculia" from a neuroscience perspective.

In this video professor Brian Butterworth discusses "Dyscalculia" from the educators perspective.

Click here for an article about Learning Disabilities in Mathematics.

Click for an article "Mathematics Instruction for Students with Learning Disabilities or Difficulty Learning Mathematics, A Guide for Teachers".