By Alissa Talamo, Ph.D.
May 14, 2018
Did you know research shows that 43-65% of students diagnosed with Dyslexia also struggle with math at a level that meets criteria for a Specific Learning Disability in Math? This is in comparison to the general population, where 5-7 % of the population meet criteria for a Specific Math Disability (Dyscalculia – difficulties with number sense, number facts, or calculations).
I recently attended a lecture given by Dr. Joanna A. Christodoulou, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital and leader of the Brain, Education, and Mind (BEAM) Team in the Center for Health and Rehabilitation Research at MGH. The topic of discussion? How language difficulties can negatively impact math development.
How do language difficulties impact math development?
When asked to learn math, a student with language problems may:
- Have difficulty with the vocabulary of math;
- Be confused by language word problems;
- Not know when irrelevant information is included or when information is given out of sequence;
- Have difficulty understanding directions;
- Have difficulty explaining and communicating about math including asking and answering questions;
- Have difficulty reading texts to direct their own learning;
- Have difficulty remembering assigned values or definitions in specific problems,
It is helpful to have an understanding of typical math development in children. With this information, a parent can monitor their child’s development relative to grade level expectations.
Math difficulties often looks different at different ages. It becomes more apparent as children get older but symptoms can be observed as early as preschool.
Here are some things to look for:
- Has trouble learning to count;
- Skips over numbers long after kids the same age can remember numbers in the right order;
- Struggles to recognize patterns, such as smallest to largest or tallest to shortest;
- Has trouble recognizing number symbols (knowing that “7” means seven);
- Unable to demonstrate the meaning of counting. For example, when asked to give you 6 crayons, the child provides a handful, rather than counting out the crayons.
In grades One to Three, a child should:
- Begin to perform simple addition and subtraction computations efficiently;
- Master basic math facts (such as 2+3=5);
- Recognize and respond accurately to mathematical signs;
- Begin to grasp multiplication (grade 3);
- Understand the concept of measurement and be able to apply this understanding;
- Improve their concept of time and money.
Clearly, as a child continues through school, demands to understanding abstract math concepts increases. For example, in middle school, a child will be expected to understand concepts such as place value and changing fractions to percentiles, and when in high school, a child will be expected to understand increasingly complex formulas as well as be able to find different approaches to solve the same math problem.
What should I do if I suspect my child has challenges with math?
If you suspect your child is struggling to gain math skills, have your child receive an independent comprehensive evaluation so that you understand your child’s areas of cognitive and learning strengths and weaknesses. This evaluation should also include specific, tailored recommendations to address your child’s learning difficulties.
What if I am not sure whether my child needs a neuropsychological evaluation?
When determining whether an initial neuropsychological evaluation or updated neuropsychological evaluation is needed, parents often choose to start with a consultation. A neuropsychological consultation begins with a review of the child's academic records (e.g., report card, progress reports, prior evaluation reports), followed by a parent meeting, during which concerns and questions are discussed about the child's profile and potential needs.
Based on that consultation, the neuropsychologist can offer diagnostic hypotheses and suggestions for next steps, which might include a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation, work with a transition specialist, or initiation of therapy or tutoring.
While a more comprehensive understanding of the child would be gleaned through a full assessment, a consultation is a good place to start when parents need additional help with decision making about first steps.
About the Author
With NESCA since its inception in 2007, Dr. Talamo had previously practiced for many years as a child and adolescent clinical psychologist before completing postdoctoral re-training in pediatric neuropsychology at the Children’s Evaluation Center.
After receiving her undergraduate degree from Columbia University, Dr. Talamo earned her doctorate in clinical health psychology from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University.
Dr. Talamo specializes in working with children and adolescents with language-based learning disabilities including dyslexia, attentional disorders and emotional issues. She is also interested in working with highly gifted children.