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How Teachers and Parents Can Help Elementary Students With Math LD

math learning disabilities - dyscalculia helpAs I explained in an earlier post, elementary school students who are at risk for mathematical learning disabilities (MLD) often have trouble with even the most basic number processing skills. The good news is that researchers are developing remedial approaches to helping these children early on, and some relatively simple strategies are available for parents to assist their children in developing and practicing fundamental math skills.

Designing Remedial StrategiesResearchers are in the process of developing and testing promising remedial techniques which could eventually be modified for use by special educators. Once those instructional methods are used by teachers, we’ll know if classroom applications of the kind of intervention research I’ve described can minimize the difficulties children with MLD (also known as dyscalculia) have with basic number processing. The objective of such approaches will be to increase the likelihood that the complexities of progressively higher levels of arithmetic won’t pose such serious challenges for these children.

How Parents Can Help Children With MLDFirst, parents should consider approaching their child’s teacher or school if they notice some early indications of difficulties at home in learning to count, correctly naming Arabic numerals, understanding spoken number words, or quickly apprehending the number of objects in small sets of two or three without counting, One-on-one parent-teacher conferences certainly provide such an opportunity. However, if concerns arise well before such a meeting is scheduled, parents should feel comfortable requesting a brief meeting or phone conversation with the teacher in order to raise these concerns. Both general education teachers and special educators are frequently eager to learn more about their students from a parent’s perspective.

Researchers at the University of Chicago have found that most parents of preschool- and kindergarten-age children are unsure how to help their children develop “number sense.” No doubt parents become even more uncertain during the elementary and middle school years, especially if their children are increasingly falling behind in math. Although our knowledge is limited as to the types of strategies parents can use to help children with MLD become proficient in basic number processing and math skills, there are activities that can be helpful for children in preschool up through the elementary grades.

It’s important for parents to understand that what may seem to be simple number processing activities might nevertheless be quite challenging and frustrating for children who have MLD or are at risk for development such a learning disability. In that situation, parents can best help their children by being patient and offering support and encouragement. Any math activities done at home will ideally give a child practice without pressure, while also providing opportunities for enjoyable interactions with parents and siblings.

For more tips, read these articles:


Dr. Daniel B. Berch, is Professor of Special Education and Applied Developmental Science and Senior Advisor to the Dean at the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education. He has authored various articles and book chapters on mathematical learning disabilities, and is senior editor of the book, Why is Math So Hard For Some Children?: The Nature and Origins of Mathematical Learning Difficulties and Disabilities.

Tags: grade3-8, preK-grade2