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I Have a Numeracy Difficulty and with Maths, What Can Help?

It is quite common for people with dyslexia to have other specific learning difficulties. These co-occurring difficulties or co-morbidities include dyscalculia, a specific difficulty in processing number concepts and mastering basic numeracy skills. Note that some people have difficulties with maths and arithmetic, which are not necessarily related to dyscalculia.

Identifying the problems

Learners with numeracy difficulties may:

  • Struggle with the basic concept of numbers, e.g. recognising a group of four counters as "four" or equate the numeral '4' with four concrete objects
  • Have difficulty with fundamental numerical concepts, e.g. addition, subtraction, multiplication and division
  • Have limited skills in estimation tasks or sensing whether their answer is correct or approximately correct
  • Have no devised strategies to compensate for lack of recall
  • Find it hard to lay out their work neatly, resulting in mistakes, e.g. in adding up a column of numbers
  • Struggle with mental arithmetic, possibly as a result of short-term and working memory issues
  • Display high levels of maths anxiety and deploy avoidance tactics

Some ways technology can help

Technology - in conjunction with other strategies - can help to address the support needs of the dyscalculic learner. These may be the same assistive technologies that can benefit the dyslexic learner too. For example, if reading text in a novel is problematic then it stands to reason that reading a maths problem in a text book is a barrier to the learner. In this scenario, text to speech software would enable the text to be read out loud using a computer voice.

The TeeJay and Heinemann Scottish Primary maths books are available for Scottish pupils with print disabilities from the Books for All Scotland database.

There can be issues with using text to speech software with mathematical formulae, e.g. x2 will generally be read as “x2”, rather than “x squared”, which can be confusing. The technique is still very useful for word-based problems.

Other technology solutions to make the reading of maths problems easier for someone with dyslexia and dyscalculia include:

  • Text (font, spacing) and page background colours can be changed or coloured overlays used to help learners with a combination of visual stress and dyscalculia e.g. ssOverlay will allow the user to have a colour tint to the whole computer screen.
  • Isolating or enlarging text to focus on one question at a time e.g. Vu-Bar, an on-screen slotted ruler which helps the user not to skip a line or drop to the line below.
  • Using a Scanning Pen for text to speech - A scanning pen, such as the C-Pen Reader-Pen can be useful for reading paper-based problems. Simply scan over a word, or a line of text, to have it read out loud.

What areas of mathematics can technology support?

  • Number, money and measure
  • Shape, position and movement (including Time)
  • Information handling

Early numeracy support - Case Study

David struggles with all aspects of early numeracy. He is unable to make 1:1 correspondence when counting concrete objects and cannot make an estimation of how many counters are in a pile on the desk. He is provided with manipulatives (cubes, cars, pencils) to provide a concrete, visible model that will support him to solve problems and develop concepts.

How can technology help with his learning?

Computers, mobile devices, touch screen tablets and smartphones are engaging and motivating. For learners struggling with basic numeracy these devices can be used to access activities, software, apps and games that can support the concepts they are trying to grasp. For David, using technology for maths activities is a fun experience and reduces his levels of anxiety and has boosted his self esteem.


Interactive maths games and activities online

Here are some examples of good websites with maths activities to support the dyscalculic learner:


Apps to support dyscalculic learners

  • Number Line - Number Line helps students visualize number sequences and demonstrate strategies for counting, comparing, adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing.
  • Pattern Sets - Helps learner to practice subitising and estimating skills.
  • Geoboard - Learners stretch bands around the pegs to form line segments and polygons and make discoveries about perimeter, area, angles, congruence, fractions, and more.
  • Virtual Manipulatives - Uses manipulatives to help learners visually understand the relationships among percentages, fractions, and decimals.
  • Jungle Time - Easy to use practice with digital and analogue clock.
  • Interactive Telling Time Lite - Simple app for practising setting time on a clock.
  • Money Maths - British Pound Coins - Simple app, with few distractions, to help with money handling.

CALL Scotland are currently working on a Maths Wheel of Apps (similar to the CALL Scotland Dyslexic wheel of apps) which will give a full range of effective apps to support a dyscalculic learner.


Dyscalculia and Dysgraphia - Casestudy 1

Shona has been diagnosed with dysgraphia in addition to dyscalculia. Despite putting in a lot of effort, her writing output - specifically the laying out work in maths - can be disorganised which causes her further difficulties with calculations. Writing requires a complex set of fine motor and language processing skills - the mind of a dyslexic / dyscalculic learner can easily be overloaded.

Correctly laying out the numbers in a sum is vital to ensure the calculation is done correctly.

This is Shona's handwritten maths homework:

How can technology help with her learning?

Using technology to support Shona carry out this task will allow her a good chance of making the correct calculation.  This is the same sum laid out using the iOS Mod Math app.


Dyscalculia and Dysgraphia - Casestudy 2

Callum has difficulty remembering basic maths fact such as multiplication tables. He used to refer to posters round the classroom in primary school but now in high school he may be required to do a multiplication sum in a class where he does not have visual support.

How can technology help with her learning?

  • Store reminders and support cues on a tablet or phone for easy access in all classes
  • Use a calculator to ease the stress of having to remember something he thinks should be easy
  • Use a talking calculator to hear the answer out loud