What is a math disability?

         MD ranges in intensity and the skill areas that students experience difficulty.  However, while students may experience profound problems within one area, strengths can be seen in other areas of math.

1.   Mastering basic number facts

                    Student writing on a chalkboardExamples of math facts are 5 + 5 = 10, 4 - 2 = 2, 3 x 4 = 12, 10/2 = 5.

Many students experiencing math difficulties are unable to memorize many basic math facts.  While these students are able to remember some, they memorize fewer and forget facts much more quickly than their classmates. These student rely on elementary strategies such as counting fingers. 

Memorizing basic math facts is important because it allows for higher level mathematics problem solving without getting bogged down in the basics.

Some students experience difficulty with memorizing basic number facts but are able to do the higher level problem solving. For these students it is suggested that they be able to use a pocket size fact chart so they can move onto higher level problems.  Once a fact has been mastered, the fact can be blacked out or removed from the chart. 

Try this basic math skills activity to see what it's like to have trouble with basic number facts:


2.  Arithmetic Weaknesses

Some students are inconsistent with computations.  They may misread signs or carry numbers incorrectly. 

These students also tend to engage in immature arithmetic strategies such as counting all instead of counting up. For example, if given the problem 5 + 2, the student may count 5 on one hand and 2 on the other hand, and then count all fingers to get 7.  Counting up strategies involves counting 5, 6, 7 on one hand to get 7. 

Again, some students may experience difficulty with arithmetic but still be able to do higher level problems. 

To see what it feels like to have trouble with following a sequence of steps in math, try this:


3.  The written symbol system/concrete materials

Difficulty with understanding the abstract nature of mathematics.

Many younger students encounter trouble with connecting their informal knowledge about mathematics to the more formal procedures, language, and symbolic notation of school math.  For example students beginning school may have difficulty understanding the relation between numbers and the quantities they represent.

Some educators suggest that there is not enough time spent making math concepts concrete for students and that more hands on teaching and practice should be given.

4.  The Language of Math

If students are experiencing reading difficulties than reading understanding word problems and basic directions is difficult. Students also may have difficulty following verbal explanations, and/or weak verbal skills for monitoring the steps of complex calculations.  These language difficulties are compounded by the confusing and difficult mathematical terminology that students encounter which is sometimes only relevant for math.

5.  Visual-Spatial Aspects of Math

Inability to visualize mathematical concepts.  For example, being unable to judge the relative size among three dissimilar objects or being unable to to determine what shape will result when a 3-D figure is rotated.

Students are often left to rely on rote memorization, because can not engage in meaningful learning processes.

This is a skill deficit that is less common than arithmetic difficulties, but is considered to be the most severe.  Difficulties in this area often result in weak or lack of understanding of concepts, poor number sense, difficulty with pictorial representations, and confused arrangements of numerals and signs.

To experience a difficult spatial task, try this activity:



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