Math for Children With Dyslexia

By Dixie Parnell
Math difficulties are common in students with dyslexia.
Math difficulties are common in students with dyslexia.

The study of mathematics can pose challenges for many students, but for children with dyslexia, math can be a struggle requiring accommodations and interventions. Dyslexia is a learning disability that affects approximately 5 to 17 percent of children, causing difficulties with reading, writing and spelling, according to Boston Children's Hospital. The University of Michigan Dyslexia Help website estimates that between 60 and 100 percent of children with dyslexia also have significant math difficulties. While trying to help your dyslexic child with math can be frustrating for all involved, modifications will increase your child's understanding.

Target Specific Skills

Historically, math and language arts have been viewed differently. The overall skills of reading and writing are broken into a series of more specific skills. When a child is having a problem with a specific skill, that particular area can be targeted and assistance can be given to aid comprehension. Math also requires a number of different skills and methods of thought, but is usually regarded more generally. Your child may be considered "poor" at math, when in fact she may be struggling with only a specific area that needs to be identified and addressed, notes Christopher Woodin, head of the math department at Landmark School.

Alternate Learning Styles

Providing visual aids along with verbal instruction, repeating directions and presenting material in small sequential steps may be helpful to the dyslexic learner, suggests the National Center for Learning Disabilities. When helping your child at home, you can include math tools such as number lines and hundred's charts, which your child's teacher could provide. It may also be worthwhile to purchase items that can be manipulated such as counters, pattern blocks and cubes, like the ones your child uses in school. Older children who are using long methods in multiplication and division may find turning the paper sideways to form columns, or using graph paper, to be helpful. These modifications provide visual and organizational support when placing numbers in columns.

The Language of Math

The language used in the study of mathematics can be complex for the dyslexic learner. Word problems not only use language that must be decoded but also multiple steps that must be calculated, both of which present a challenge. Math vocabulary is also confusing, because different terms mean the same thing in some processes, such as in addition and subtraction. Symbols also represent math language. Create a chart at home listing math symbols with their definitions to provide a visual aid after the symbols are introduced to your child in school.


Math is cumulative. To achieve a solid foundation, each level of math skills must be mastered before moving on to the next. For the dyslexic student, material should be mastered and even over-learned before moving on to the next skill or concept. It is vital that you have frequent communication with your child's teacher to be aware of expectations, pacing of math lessons and your child's level of mastery of important skills. It is also important that your child's teacher is informed of methods you are using to help your child at home. Together you can identify techniques that best fit your child's style of learning, which will lessen anxiety, boost confidence and help build a firm math foundation.

About the Author

An elementary educator for the past 18 years, Dixie Parnell has taught in both the public and private sectors. She earned a Bachelor of Science in elementary education from the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga and a Master of Arts in education from Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Prior to entering the teaching field, Parnell worked at Hamilton County Juvenile Court and served on the foster care review board.