Updated: Sep 9, 2022
Often I get a student who is in 5th grade whose parents say to me: "He can read just fine. We have spent years with an OG tutor. But we were so focused on reading we neglected math, and now he is struggling."
Math tends to get complicated for some dyslexics around 3rd grade because students at this level must memorize their times tables. Decimals and fractions can also prove challenging as students go from working with whole numbers to partial quantities. A whole lot of new terminology comes along with these concepts as well. Numerator, denominator, product, factor, and place values such as tenths, hundredths, and thousandths are some new words students will need to read and understand to be successful at this math level. Careful, explicit teaching of concepts and terminology is vital to success in math for kids with dyslexia.
Dyscalculia is often co-morbid with dyslexia. Like dyslexia, the "dys" in dyscalculia means "difficulty with". The "calculia" is Latin for "calculate". So dyscalculia is difficulty with calculating. If a child has dyscalculia, they need an explicit concrete to abstract instruction process to learn to use numbers effectively. These instruction methods require extensive use of manipulatives and patterns. Yet, math instruction using manipulatives tends to end by third grade. The teachers tend to teach more with numerals at this level, leaving behind some students who need a more concrete visual representation of the concepts. Students with dyslexia and dyscalculia benefit from using manipulatives for their work with fractions, multiplication and division, and decimal concepts. These manipulatives should also be in their hands at their desks, not just up on the screen or board. They need to move them around to make the connections.
If you have a student with dyslexia, be sure to monitor math understanding closely. As with reading, implement early intervention at the first sign of struggle. Waiting for a student to fall far behind before starting intervention is a terrible strategy! They will continue to fall further and further behind. A delay in understanding can be disastrous for a subject like math, which depends on cumulative instruction and knowledge. If your student does not keep up with math, you will need to go back to the beginning when they fell behind and teach that instead of grade-level material. Falling behind in math can affect a student's self-esteem as well. Check math understanding early and often to create a strong foundation. If you need assistance, seek a math tutor familiar with dyslexia and dyscalculia.