Dyslexia and Math: How to Teach Kids with Learning Issues

Dyslexia affects as many as 17 percent of the U.S. population. It’s a common learning issue. In fact, here’s a short list of celebrities who have struggled with dyslexia and other common learning issues:

Anderson Cooper (news journalist)

Justin Timberlake (singer, actor)

Cher (singer, actor)

Michael Phelps (all-time most Olympic gold medals for swimming)

Jimmy Liautaud (founder Jimmy John’s)

Steven Spielberg (producer)

Henry Winkler (actor and director)

Jamie Oliver (celebrity chef)

These high-achieving people all were diagnosed with learning or attention issues, including dyslexia, dyscalculia, and ADHD, which caused them to struggle in school. In many cases, their learning differences also helped them achieve at the highest levels in their field.

In this article, I’ll touch on how to spot potential signs of dyslexia, one of the most common learning issues, and ways to help kids master math facts even with this unconventional way they learn. 

What Is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a learning issue that affects reading, according to Understood.com. People with dyslexia have trouble reading at a good pace and without mistakes. They may also have a hard time with reading comprehension, spelling, and writing. But these challenges aren’t a problem with intelligence.

Dyslexia impacts people in different ways and at different ages. A key sign of dyslexia is trouble decoding words. This is the ability to match letters to sounds. Kids can also struggle with a more basic skill called phonemic awareness. This is the ability to recognize the sounds in words. Problems with phonemic awareness can show up as early as preschool.

In some people, dyslexia isn’t picked up until later on, when they have trouble with more complex skills. These can include grammar, reading comprehension, reading fluency, sentence structure, and more in-depth writing.

Some of the signs of dyslexia have to do with emotions and behavior. People with dyslexia might avoid reading, both out loud and to themselves. They may even get anxious or frustrated when reading. This can happen even after they’ve mastered the basics of reading.

Dyslexia doesn’t just affect learning. It can also impact everyday skills and activities. These include social interaction, memory, and dealing with stress. (You can download a quick guide to spotting dyslexia in kids at different ages.)

Becoming a Math Whiz

Having these challenges can be tough on kids and adults. Elijah Ditchendorf was diagnosed with dyslexia early in his schooling. Many teachers failed to see how he was able to still excel in his studies, especially in math and science. Finally, one teacher saw his potential and advocated for him to be placed in accelerated math and science. Elijah went on to become a math and science whiz!

Thriving with Dyslexia: Math Whiz Elijah Ditchendorf (Watch the video)

If you think your child has dyslexia, you may worry about what it means. There are a few things to know, according to Understood.com:

First, dyslexia is very common. Second, kids who have it are just as smart as other kids. And third, there are proven methods for teaching kids with dyslexia to read and improve skills.

If you’re concerned that your child may have dyslexia, here are seven steps you can take to pave the way for learning success.

Dyslexia and Math

Diana Kennedy, a learning disabilities expert, says, “Approximately 70% to 80% of children with dyslexia also have a math learning disability (MLD). That means teachers who work with children with dyslexia are almost certainly working with children who have a math learning disability. On the flip side, 50% to 60% of children with MLD also have dyslexia. Children with MLD and comorbid dyslexia experience more severe math learning disabilities than those with only an MLD.”

Dyslexia doesn’t have anything to do with intelligence. So why do some children with dyslexia find it difficult to memorize the times tables? One reason is that children with dyslexia aren’t always able to hold information in working memory— that part of the brain that lays details out for quick access. 

Marianne Sunderland, a homeschool mom and expert on dyslexia, explains how working memory weakness affects math and reading:

“Working memory refers to the brain processes used for temporary storage and use of information and affects our ability to remember instructions and recall rules such as in games, reading, or math.

Doing math in ‘your head,’ mental math, requires significant amounts of working memory. Children need to store the information, hold it in mind for the time necessary to use it, retrieve the math facts that they have presumably learned, and then process the information.

Low working memory causes problems with the efficient learning of both calculations and higher-level problem-solving.”

A Work-Around for Working Memory

In a Study.com article, Laura, a fourth-grade teacher, says she has learned that many people with dyslexia are visual learners, meaning that they benefit from working with images and graphic organizers, rather than words alone when internalizing new skills and concepts.”

The “work-around” that caters to visual learners comes in the form of stories and pictures to associate the math facts with the answers. These mental images are a proven way for a student to learn the basic math facts when multiplication tables are needed for so many mathematical operations including multiplication, division, fractions, ratios, and algebra. Without these basic facts committed to memory, math class is a bore and next to impossible.

Online Times Alive is based on the book Times Tables the Fun Way. The animated stories are an effective and fun way for kids with learning differences to finally be able to memorize the facts when nothing has helped in the past. Online Times Alive teaches all the zeros-nines times tables with stories, songs, quizzes, and games. Keeps track of student progress, too.

Dyslexics often are good at seeing the big picture and operating in a visual environment. Times Tables the Fun Way can provide the breakthrough your child needs for making math fun and unforgettable. Start a free trial of Online Times Alive today.

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