Dyslexia’s Effect on Math, and How to Help!

Dyslexia can affect a student’s ability to do math. In this video, I discuss the effects that dyslexia has on math, as well as strategies you can use to help a student with dyslexia do better in math!

What are some of the ways that dyslexia can affect math ability?

First of all, math facts tend to be very difficult for students with dyslexia to memorize. The memorization of multiplication and division tables tends to be very challenging, and requires tremendous amounts of repetition. Even after they seem to have mastered these math facts, a student with dyslexia may still need refreshers from time to time. They may have days in which they really struggle with those facts again.

Math facts are fundamental to being able to do math, and for that reason, they are heavily emphasized in the early grades. Memorizing math facts helps students establish number sense, and they are also important to other concepts that come later. Math is a building block subject, and it’s important to establish the fundamentals before moving on. Due to the challenges of memorizing math facts, multiplication and division tend to be difficult for kids with dyslexia. Multiplying and dividing numbers, and having a sense of how these concepts work, may be challenging.

Secondly, copying or organizing problems can be difficult for students with dyslexia. For example, if a teacher is reading a problem and asking students to write it down, a student with dyslexia may have a very difficult time writing it down accurately. They may hear a number, but copy it down on their paper differently, or they may have trouble lining the elements of the problem up. To correctly do math problems on paper, it is necessary to line up digits accurately. Each digit needs to be in a specific place, and lined up in columns and rows. Doing this accurately can be tough for a student who has dyslexia. A student may accidentally put numbers in the wrong column, or copy the numbers incorrectly. If a student does not start out with the correct problem, it is unlikely that they will get the correct answer. Anything that is off in the setup of a math problem can cause the answer to be incorrect.

Additionally, word problems tend to be very difficult for a student with dyslexia, and there are many word problems in math books these days. Since difficulty with reading accuracy is a typical symptom of dyslexia, a student with dyslexia may have a hard time reading a word problem accurately. They may mix up words, substitute one word for another, or miss certain words completely. This is a big issue in reading comprehension, and it is also a major issue in math. In word problems, every word in the problem is heavily weighted with specific meaning. For example, the word “is” means “equals”. If a student is not able to read a word problem accurately, they are going to have trouble doing the problem.

What are some strategies that we can use to help a student with dyslexia in math?

A lot of repetition is required for memorizing math facts.

Try varying the way in which you practice math facts with them. Practicing these facts in a variety of ways is going to make it more likely that they will remember the math facts.

Practice counting up by certain numbers! This helps them establish a better understanding of how multiplication and division work. For example, if trying to find the answer for 3 X 3, count up by fours (3, 6, 9). When a student with dyslexia sees these steps, multiplication and division start to make more sense.

Use multi-sensory tools. You can use money for counting, multiplication, division, adding, etc. You can use play money, if you prefer that. Try having the student “buy” things with that money, and determine how much change they get back. They can also be the cashier, which will require them to add up items you are purchasing, and determine how much change to give back to you. Counters, such as little plastic circles or beads, can also be helpful for practicing different math concepts. For division, plastic pie pieces are great! For example, you have a pie split into eighths, and you ask the student how many are left once you remove two of them.

Make practice into a game! There are lots of math games available for purchase. You can also turn a regular game into a math game! You can do this with any game that uses dice. One method is to have the student roll, and then count up by the number they get. For example, if they roll a five, you can have them count up by fives (5, 10, 15, 20, etc.) You can determine the number that they stop counting at. After they do this, they can move. You can also have a student multiply the numbers on the dice that they roll. If they roll a four and a six, have them multiply 4 X 6 before moving. You can also use multiplication flash cards with any game, and have the student simply provide one math fact before taking their turn.

In conclusion, it is very common for dyslexia to cause difficulties with math, but with the right approach and strategies, we can help students who have dyslexia make progress in this subject.

Peter Groth
Dyslexia Connect Online Tutoring.

2 thoughts on “Dyslexia’s Effect on Math, and How to Help!”

  1. Now imagine being an adult where you can’t have any jobs because you’ve the mafh ability of a 2nd or early 3rd grader.
    There was no name for the condition yet when I was in middle or high school. I’d get tested by someone with the state education department at the beginning of each new school year, and as a way to update my IEP. I can’t memorize more than 5 random numbers, sometimes not even 5.
    Imagine looking at the numbers on the back on a gift card so you can buy something online with it and you mix up the numbers completely but thankfully you’re in live chat with customer support and they tell you to look again and suddenly the numbers look how they should. This is how my brain works and I can’t have any jobs because of it and I also can’t get disability either.
    I’ll die never getting a job because of this and there’s no help for adults with this because it’s not considered a “true” disability.
    Even my senior year of high school they tried once more to see if I could do middle school word problems. I failed each one.
    I still have some school IEP papers, but sadly they’re no help.
    We’re thought of as just too dumb to even be a maid at a motel, or a janitor. Who knows how many of us there are in the world, made to feel too stupid.

    1. Dyslexia Connect

      Hi, Sarah. I’m so sorry to hear about those difficult experiences and struggles. Have you ever been evaluated for dyslexia or dyscalculia?

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