Friday, September 11, 2009

How to Spot Math Learning Disabilities

If you think maybe your child is struggling with math, but aren’t sure, here are some guidelines on identifying math learning disabilities.
Signs of Math Learning Disability By Age(adapted from the book The Mislabeled Child):
-Children are unable to (or late) count 4 objects by the age of four and understand the quantity of four.
-Children are unable to count 15 objects and understand the quantity of 15 by the age of 5.

-Children still struggle to read and write three digit numbers at the age of 8.
-Children can’t do simple multiplication and division by the age of 9.
-Children can’t perform basic math operations (multiplication, division, add, subtract) by the age of 12.
Non Age Specific Signs of Math Learning Disabilities (if any one of these is present, your child likely has a learning difference):
-Poor handwriting that contributes to errors. For example, a 3 is written to where it looks like a 5 which skews the entire math problem.
-Inability to tell when number is bigger than another along with reversals while reading numbers. E.g. 15 instead of 51. Or seeing 6 instead of 9. Or can’t tell the difference between the greater than or less than signs. Or often mixes up the + and x operators. Or can’t spot errors in their work. Basically, numbers are just one big blind spot.
-Poor memory. We call it ‘teflon head’ at our house. Information just bounces off, whether it’s remembering to put dirty dishes in the sink or how to divide fractions, the result is the same; a stubborn inability to accept and retain new information no matter how often it is repeated or explained or screamed at the top of mom’s lungs. Kids with learning disabilities don’t know their times tables and often can’t remember that 4+3 =7, they have to count it out every time, like they’ve never seen it before in their lives.
-Creative workarounds that are inefficient and often incorrect. Some kids will take 8 x8 and just go 8+8+8+8+8+8+8+8+8+8 and still get the wrong answer because their brains can’t keep track of so many numbers. If you check what I wrote, you’ll see 9 eights instead of 8–this kind of error is common.
However, I like to take the presence of creative workarounds as a positive sign because it means the child is still trying–kids who have given up don’t bother and are harder to help. Also, it demonstrates rudimentary critical thinking and problem solving skills. So I’m always happy to see convoluted pretzel math. Ideally, though, we want to get these kids up-to-speed on their math facts and well grounded in the basics of math theory.
-Inability to organize math operations and sequence steps correctly.  These are the kids who take 2/3 x 3/4 and try to divide.  They can’t orient themselves to the problem solving sequence and don’t know the first step from the middle step from the last step. Math is a maze and they are lost in the middle with the Failure Monster ready to eat them alive.
As a child, I exhibited all of these traits and it wasn’t until I became an adult that I mastered basic math. So there is hope! All is not lost!
If your child fits one or more of the descriptions above, please contact their teacher as soon as possible to request a learning disability assessment and tutoring. Do not wait because the longer you wait, the worse the math disconnect gets. While you’re wading your way through the school bureaucracy, invest in some math games and fun activities for use at home. See the links in the side bar for some math resources suggestions.

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