Learning Disabilities–ADHD, Dyslexia, and Dyscalculia (page 2)
During these first years of formal schooling, there are a few learning disabilities that can manifest themselves. Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder, dyslexia, and dyscalculia are three that can have an impact on how children learn mathematics. The growing emphasis on formal education requires close attention to the teacher, or to the educational task or activity (Rosselli, Matute, Pinto, & Ardila, 2006). These learning disabilities can make this difficult for the affected child.
Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) results when the portion of the brain that processes attention and self-control is less active than it should be. Therefore, these children can exhibit hyperactive behavior, inattention, poor impulse control, or any combination or these factors (Monuteaux, Fraone, Herzig, Navsaria, & Biederman, 2005). ADHD is most often diagnosed in boys, but recent evidence suggests that the incidence in girls may be underreported, as girls tend to exhibit mainly inattention, without hyperactive or impulsive characteristics (Gurian, Henley, & Trueman, 2002; Gurian & Stevens, 2005; Pollack, 1999). Children with any form of ADHD will have trouble staying on task or paying attention. The more demands on their attention that are made, the more this problem becomes evident.
While the primary treatment for ADHD is medication to stimulate the portion of the brain that is underfunctioning this is usually only a partial solution; there are a number of things teachers can do to help children with ADHD during mathematics lessons.
- Individual attention—ADHD children benefit from having a teacher to keep them on task. This may not be possible for the entire mathematics activity, but the teacher should know which children may need special help.
- Games—Many ADHD children do well with games due to the fast-paced nature of the activity. Incorporating math games as much as possible will help give these children an active way to achieve mathematics goals.
- Computers—For many ADHD children, computer activities and games can be a great benefit. As with math games, the changing graphics and fast-paced nature of many of these games help keep children on task and attending to the mathematics concepts.
- To-Do lists—To help keep them on task, it is sometimes helpful to make lists of tasks these children need to complete within a specific time limit. Timers can be very helpful during these activities.
- Limit distractions—The more distractions there are, the harder it is for the ADHD child to work. Many times, the very things that make the classroom more appealing to students are the things that make it hard for the ADHD child to focus. Find a quiet place in the room that has limited visual and auditory distractions for the child to do his mathematics work. The teacher should be careful not to make this seem like punishment.
- Play to the child’s strengths—The ADHD child may have trouble attending in the classroom, but may have other skills that can be linked to mathematics. Try to find ways to use his strengths to teach mathematics concepts. (Monuteaux et al., 2005)
Dyslexia and dyscalculia (Birsh, Potts, Potts, & Vineyard Video, 1997) are learning disabilities that result in difficulty understanding and decoding words or numbers. Children with dyslexia have trouble with the automaticity of reading. When most people learn to read, they don’t have to read or sound out each word. Our brains develop an automatic recognition that allows normal readers to develop speed and fluency (Chinn et al., 2001). Children with dyslexia find this fluency difficult to achieve and end up having to read and sound out each word, often leading to letter reversals and mistakes. This disability may be evidenced in reading delays and the child’s dislike or avoidance of reading. Dyslexia worsens as the child gets older and stricter reading demands are placed him, so the reading problems it causes are best addressed when it is caught early (Mazzocco & Myers, 2003).
These reading problems can affect mathematics learning, because children may have trouble understanding word problems or directions for assignments (Malmer, 2000; Miles, Wheeler, & Haslum, 2003). However, one of the “red flags” for dyslexia is a child that is poor in reading skills, but excels in mathematics. Poor reading skills are often attributed to the child being developmentally delayed or even “lazy.” However, if the child excells in mathematics or other areas, and has a specific deficiency just in reading, this can be an indicator of dyslexia (D’Arcangelo, 2001).
Dyscalculia is a similar problem except that it affects mathematical functioning. The cause of dyscalculia is less defined, but results from a combination of poor visual processing and a deficiency in mathematical memory. The slightest misunderstanding or break in logic can overwhelm the student and cause emotional distress. It is typical for these students to study until they know the material well; then, get every problem wrong on the test. A few minutes later, they can perform the test with just the teacher, using the chalkboard, and get all problems correct (Birsh et al., 1997).
Some of the “red flags” for dyscalculia are:
- Students might have spatial problems and difficulty aligning numbers (Fortescue-Hubbard, 2006).
- Have trouble with sequence, including left/right orientation. They may read numbers out of sequence and do operations backwards. They may also become confused over the sequences of past or future events.
- Students typically have problems with mathematics concepts in word problems and confuse similar numbers (e.g., 7 and 9; 3 and 8).
- It is common for students with dyscalculia to have normal or accelerated language acquisition: verbal, reading, writing, and good visual memory for the printed word. They are typically good in the areas of science (until a level requiring higher mathematics skills is reached), geometry (figures with logic not formulas), and creative arts (Helland & Asbjornsen, 2004).
- Students may have difficulty with the abstract concepts of time and direction (e.g., inability to recall schedules, and unable to keep track of time). They may be chronically late.
- Students may have inconsistent results in addition and may have poor mental mathematics ability. They are poor with money and credit and cannot do financial planning or budgeting (e.g., balancing a checkbook). They have short-term, not long-term financial thinking. They may have a fear of money and cash transactions and may be unable to mentally figure change due back, the amounts to pay for tips, taxes, etc.
- When writing, reading, and recalling numbers, these common mistakes are made: number additions, substitutions, transpositions, omissions, and reversals.
- Difficulty grasping and remembering mathematics concepts, rules, formulas, sequence (order of operations), and basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts.
- Poor long-term memory (retention and retrieval) of concept mastery. Students understand the material as it is being presented, but when they must retrieve this information, they become confused and are unable to do so. They may be able to perform mathematics operations one day, but draw a blank the next. They may be able to do book work but fail all tests and quizzes (George, 2005).
- Poor ability to “visualize or picture” the location of the numbers on the face of a clock and the geographical locations of states, countries, oceans, streets, etc.
- Difficulty keeping score or remembering how to keep score during games. Often lose track of whose turn it is during card and board games. Limited strategic planning ability for games like chess (Ruth, Orly, & Varda, 2005).
Be patient with helping children with dyscalculia or trouble learning mathematics (Vaidya, 2004). Realize that mathematics can be a traumatic experience and is highly emotional because of past and future failures. (Adapted from http:/ /www. as. wvu. edu/ ˜scidis/ dyscalcula. html.)
It is important to keep in mind that all children are different and have their own unique learning styles. Children’s minds are very active and constantly questioning and it is important not to underestimate these unique abilities. To address differences in learning styles, teachers can use questioning techniques to assess what they know about these concepts. They may find that a child knows much more than has been presented here. Teachers should use their observations and authentic assessments to understand each student’s unique abilities, and how to support him or her mathematically.
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