Math requires students to continually learn new mathematical concepts, as skills develop in a more cumulative manner in comparison to reading or writing (Saino et al., 2019), which increases the likelihood of making errors and meeting roadblocks over time.

A teacher using explicit instruction for math

Dyscalculia is one example of a specific learning disability in the area of mathematics. Dyscalculia affects approximately 5% of children, impairing their ability to acquire even the most basic numerical and mathematical skills.

For more information about dyscalculia, click here to access the recording of the webinar Understanding Developmental Dyscalculia: A Math Learning Disability.

However, the cumulative nature of math means it is not only students diagnosed with a specific learning disability in mathematics that struggle. Learning difficulties in math can spring from any one of the following areas or from several in combination:

  • Difficulties with phonological processing can affect:
    • Understanding relationships between words and symbols, reading/decoding word problems
  • Difficulties with language processing can affect:
    • Understanding math vocabulary, following steps, comprehending word problems
  • Difficulties with visual-motor skills can affect:
    • Drawing shapes and graphs, lining up columns
  • Difficulties with visual-spatial processing can affect: 
    • Understanding patterns, understanding measurements, spatial reasoning
  •  Memory challenges can affect:
    • Remembering steps and number facts, extracting information from word problems, holding information in mind temporarily while simultaneously performing another problem-solving task
  • Processing speed may affect a student’s ability to:
    • Retrieve math facts, read word problems fluently, complete math problems in a set amount of time
  • Challenges with executive function may lead to difficulties with:
    • Multi-step problem solving, choosing appropriate strategies, managing mistakes

Finally, students with attention difficulties may struggle to maintain consistent levels of attention and may miss details or fail to complete tasks.

The list above only includes some of the ways that processing areas can affect math learning. To learn more about how processing difficulties can lead students to struggle with math, click here to access the York Waterfall Chart for Math - Understanding Learning Disabilities: How Processing Affects Mathematics Learning.

To learn more about the relationship between the brain and math, click here to access a printable PDF version of LD@school's diagram of brain areas and math skills.

It is important to remember that no two students are the same, and LDs will present differently in each student. Take time to get to know your students’ strengths and needs. Understand their IEP and psychoeducational report, which will give you better insight into the ways in which their LDs affect their math learning. Remember to help them leverage their strengths when faced with challenging tasks.

The following video, created in partnership with the York Region District School Board, will introduce you to a comprehensive math program that engages all learners through deep learning, innovative teaching and sound assessment. The elements of this program support and enhance the math outcomes for all students, including students with LDs, and can be applied in your own classroom.

Click here to view the transcript of this video.

The following sections of the learning module provide strategies and tools that educators can use to help support students in their areas of need to succeed in the math class.