Learning Challenges

No More Math Anxiety!

Four easy math tips that really add up for kids with ADHD or dyscalculia.

Some kids with ADHD have trouble with math
Some kids with ADHD have trouble with math

I am not a fan of math, but I had to set aside my own math antipathies and do my best to help my children, especially those who struggle with ADHD and dyscalculia, a math learning disability. Together, through trial and error, we developed some math strategies that really work.

Concept Over Memorization

We learned with our daughters, who have dyscalculia, that memorization of math facts wasn’t going to happen. While they got some facts down pat, others never stuck. By teaching the principle or concept over memorization, we gave them the tools to solve larger math problems. For example, my child may not know 8 x 9 off the top of her head, but she knows that 8 x 9 is the same as adding eight together nine times. She knows that she can add four more eights to 8 x 5, which she knows is 40, to come up with the answer. When a child struggles with math, understanding the concepts behind what she’s doing creates a foundation to build on.

Turn Off the Timer

Pressure has never been a friend to the ADHD brain. Timed math fact tests are intimidating, causing more problems than they solve. My ADHDers complain all the time about how their brains freeze the minute the timer starts, making it impossible to think and be successful. Since memorization is the goal, turning off the timer and letting a child work at her own pace can make math facts more approachable. How to handle timed math fact tests is a great item for discussion and action in an IEP or 504 Plan.

[Self-Test: Does Your Child Have Dyscalculia?]

Use Scratch Paper Wisely

Turning lined paper sideways is a great way to make columns, which helps can make keeping larger math problems easier to work without getting lost in a sea of numbers. It especially helps students with dyslexia and dyscalculia, who often accidentally swap numbers a lot. We taught our kids from an early age to turn their lined paper sideways and to use the lines as columns. Laying out problems one number per column helps them solve math problems with more accuracy. Another option is to have your children create their own columns on blank paper before they start to work a problem.

Get Creative

Every mind is different, so be creative in helping your child learn math. Triangle-shaped flash cards, while confusing to most of our kids, were a godsend to one of our daughters, who understood the concept of division better than she did multiplication. We used that strength to conquer her weaknesses. Colored markers, salt trays (where our tactile daughter could draw and work math problems in a tray of salt), making pictures out of numbers and math problems – don’t be afraid to think outside the box when conventional means fail.