by Faith Berens, M.ED. Dyslexia and Reading Specialist, HSLDA Special Needs Consultant and SPED Homeschool Board Member

 

As a very young student, I struggled with mastering and recalling basic addition and subtraction facts.  At 9 years old, I still had failed to grasp the foundation of place value.  I had a very difficult time conceptualizing and visualizing mathematics-numbers were simply symbols on a page—they did not carry any meaning.  It literally “would not compute” because the symbols did not turn into pictures or translate into a meaningful concept.    

I continually thought, “Am I stupid?  Is there something wrong with me?  Why didn’t God make me smart like my older sister who flew through her school work with ease making A’s?”  In my mind, I was a failure; I was not good at math, and never would be. 

But along came hope…I vividly remember the day when my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Gingery, began the process of unlocking the mystery of math for me.  She gently and quietly led me to the carpet and pulled out the popsicle sticks, while the rest of my peers quietly worked on their math worksheet at their desks. “They all get subtraction with regrouping….so why don’t I?  They can remember their math multiplication facts….so why can’t I?  Maybe I am just not as smart as them…”

I am so grateful my teacher did not berate or belittle me. Instead, she was calm, patient, and compassionate.  She obviously understood that the traditional way of  textbook learning and rote memory was not working for me, so she changed her approach, demonstrated concretely, with modeling and repetition so that I could understand the concepts, the “why” behind the process, as well as engaged multi-sensory teaching with me.  These methods of teaching were invaluable in unlocking math for me.  Despite solid teaching in the elementary grades and even remediation classes in middle school, my math challenges continued. 

In fact all through high school, I continued to wrestle with understanding quantities and fractions, retaining formulas and conversions, and steps in processes for solving equations.  These difficulties led to fear, frustration, anxiety, and needless to say, evenings consisting of hours of math homework filled with tears.  My mother, who was a single parent, hired a wonderfully gifted math tutor who patiently worked with me.  With his support, I was able to get through Algebra 1 and 2 and Geometry. Despite the fact that my high school guidance counselor said I was “not college material”, I was still determined to go to university!  One summer, I even took a math course to help sharpen my math skills. However, the road was hard and I still did not know WHY learning math was so difficult for me.  

Finally, in my sophomore year of college, when I went to the special student services department to seek assistance with my university math classes and to ask for testing accommodations, the answer to why learning math was so challenging came! One of the educators in the special student services department gave me a diagnosis, “a label” if you will.  I was told, “You have dyscalculia.”  And as a young adult, with that “label” came a sigh of relief and such freedom!  “You mean there is actually a name for this problem??  I’m not dumb?  I can learn?  I don’t have something wrong with me?”  This “label” replaced all the other labels and lies I had been putting on myself since childhood. Oh the joy and stress relief to finally know—to be able to put a name on this thing that had plagued me for so long!  To know what “it” was and that there was help available was a wonderful gift to me and I embraced it.  Additionally, I continued to work with the staff and tutors at my university to learn strategies and techniques to help work around my learning difficulties. 

 

Defining Dyscalculia:

Dyscalculia is a specific learning disability and is sometimes referred to as the math version of dyslexia.  It is often diagnosed or termed math learning disability or a mathematic disorder.  Often students with a learning disability or difference, also have underlying slow processing speed and weak working memory.  

According to  www.dyscalculia.org, dyscalculia is “defined as a failure to achieve in mathematics commensurate with chronological age, normal intelligence, and adequate instruction. It is marked by difficulties with:  visualization;  visual-spatial perception, processing and discrimination;  counting;  pattern recognition;  sequential memory;  working-memory for numbers;  retrieval of learned facts and procedures;  directional confusion; quantitative processing speed;  kinesthetic sequences;  and perception of time.” 

As an adult, I still deal with having poor visual spatial skills.  So, please don’t ask me to help rearrange your living room furniture because I can’t picture what that couch will look like turned a different angle nor am I good at estimating or “seeing” in my mind’s eye if said couch will fit on the opposite wall!  In fact, it wasn’t until well into my 40’s that I learned, through a cognitive development therapy program, to hold a sequence of numbers or an amount in my mind’s eye and then do something with it (visualizing and working memory skills) thus mental math has always been really challenging! Math is still hard for me….but as my good friend and colleague, Dr. Carol Brown says, “Hard is good!” and I am getting better with these cognitive skills and continue to grow and be stretched with games, puzzles, and the hope that the brain can change and learn new pathways!  

So, what’s a homeschooling parent-teacher to do when their student struggles with these skills and mathematical thinking?  

Practical Tips and Strategies:

  • First and foremost, if and when the student is diagnosed with dyscalculia, the parents, as the teacher and administrator of their home school, can allow for student accommodations, such as extra time, use of a calculator, and accessing math reference sheets.  The HSLDA Special Needs Consultants encourage families to document these accommodations on a parent written home education accommodation plan and maintain this document, along with the diagnostic test report, in your student’s homeschool file.  
  • Provide lots of time for hands-on and sensory experiences that build visual memory, visual-spatial, number sense, patterning, etc. skills that are foundational for mathematic thinking
  • Use a multi-sensory (visual, tactile, kinesthetic, and auditory) math program/curricula
  • Teaching should be systematic, sequential, and explicit
  • Allow for repetition and practice
  • Model mathematical thinking, problem solving, and relate math skills to real life situations
  • Tap into your child’s strengths (such as auditory memory or musical/rhythmic) areas to help them practice math, learn math facts, and memorize math vocabulary and steps in the process 
  • Play games, such as board games that utilize mathematical skills
  • Consider utilizing a math tutor or learning disability specialist, if you need support in teaching your child
  • Color code steps in the process, place value columns, and use mnemonic devices, or songs/rhymes, chants and jingles to teach math vocabulary and steps in problem solving, conversions, and formulas
  • Your student does not have to simply settle for accommodations and compensatory strategies alone!  Consider the fact that a cognitive therapy development program, such as Equipping Minds or  Brain Sprints can address and strengthen the underlying weak cognitive skills (working memory, visual memory, visual-perceptual, sequencing, language processing, visual discrimination, directionality, and processing speed) which are causing the math dysfunction 

 

Recommended Math Curricula and Teaching Resources:

 

Read another homeschooling mother’s story about her life with a learning disability

Don’t forget to check out our trusted math curriculum partners.

 

 

 

 

 


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by Brandi Timmons, M.Ed., BCBA, LBA, SPED Homeschool Partner at Incuentro and Social Motion Skills

 

April is Autism Awareness Month and we here at SPED Homeschool understand how autism can affect learning and the education process. SPED Homeschool Founder and CEO, Peggy Ployhar, started their family’s homeschooling journey after their son’s autism diagnosis 19 years ago. We hope that our resources will empower your homeschool and your student will reach his/her full potential.

 

“He doesn’t talk much. He reads at a 1st grade level. We’re working on coloring and staying in the lines.”

 

As a public school special education teacher, nothing upset me more than statements like these in an IEP meeting. An incoming 6th grader, the student went on to gain three years of academic growth that year. By the end of 7th grade, he was in all mainstream classes, played baritone in the band, and was a fantastic cross-country athlete. 

 

The most recent prevalence study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that almost half (44%) of children identified with ASD have average to above-average intellectual ability. A 2016 study of 1,470 children discovered that nearly half of individuals with minimally-verbal autism had high nonverbal intelligence (Zeliadt, 2016). Compare that to a 2015 study–less than 20% of students with autism in Texas public schools are in a mainstream setting and, in New York, less than 10% (Kurth, J., 2015, pp. 249-256). Those students are not being educated with and in the same setting as their peers. For adults with autism, the statistics are just as alarming. National data indicates that most adults with autism are unemployed or underemployed (Migliore, Butterworth & Zalewska, 2012). Some sites report the percentage as high as 90%. How has this even happened?

 

What are the consequences of presuming incompetence? Learners are often educated in more restricted settings. We communicate with them differently–we use more basic vocabulary or “baby talk.” How many times have you heard someone talking to a teenager with autism as if they are 5 or 6 years old? What an insult to someone who may have the cognitive abilities of a genius! They also often don’t get invited to participate in groups and activities in which their peers do. 

 

What is the harm of assuming competence? NONE! Yes, in some instances, we might spend some time working to find supports that help them be successful, but in no way have they been denied their right to try. A large part of the level of success learners will ultimately achieve depends on the level of expectation we set for them. When you set high expectations for students, the amazing tends to happen–they meet them! 

 

The following intentional strategies will help empower your program or organization to create a climate of high expectations for all learners:

  • Know your learners. Find out their interests. Ask about their learning styles. What supports do they already receive that help them succeed? 
  • Set short-term goals. Set goals for them that you are certain they will achieve. When they master a short-term goal, use the momentum from that success to introduce another slightly more difficult goal.
  • Utilize the Goldilocks Principle—give students tasks that aren’t too easy, aren’t too hard, but are just right for them. (Estrada 2018)
  • Build on the learner’s strengths. Set goals that allow the student to utilize natural abilities. Incorporate those strengths into other tasks as much as possible. 
  • Make expectations explicit. Define instructions clearly and concisely. Don’t “dumb down” your language, but rather cut out any unnecessary words. Give instructions one or two steps at a time if necessary. Use visuals to support understanding of expectations.
  • Provide praise at a 7:1 ratio to correction. There is ALWAYS something good you can say about someone!
  • Use positive language. Re-frame your corrections in a positive way. Instead of saying, “Don’t run!” you should say, “Walk in the hallway, please.” 
  • Don’t GIVE the correct answer. Probe for answers. Ask leading questions. When a student solves a problem or realizes a solution on their own, he or she is much more likely to remember. 
  • Don’t just tell a learner what they’ve done wrong. Again, probe. When a learner understands the rationale for a skill and recognizes the personal value of that skill, he or she is much more likely to use that skill. 
  • Give longer response time. Wait at least 5 seconds before you repeat a question. For some, this time may need to be longer. As you get to know your learner, you will begin to recognize what length of wait time is sufficient. 
  • Always remember that behavior is communication. Take a course in Behavior 101. Understand the four functions of behavior (escape, attention, tangible, and sensory) and be familiar with strategies to address behaviors related to each function. 
  • Provide equal response opportunities. Because the level of support needed for them to practice may be high and they might take more “work,” our inclination might be to not call on them as often. Be assured they will recognize this slight. 
  • Treat them like everyone else. Talk to them about the same, age-appropriate topics. If a student is non-verbal, have a conversation with them anyway. Never talk about them in front of them. Include them in age-appropriate activities. Everything their peers do, they should do as well. 
  • Do not ever give up. Provide high levels of support. Finding supports that work may take trial and error. Don’t get frustrated. Often finding the right supports requires thinking outside the box. Consult with others who might have great ideas. 

 

You may be thinking that these strategies are obvious and should be done anyway. You’re right. They should. But unfortunately, they often aren’t. Very sadly, many individuals with disabilities are often denied the dignity of being treated as capable individuals and knowing someone believes in them. When strategies for creating a climate of high expectations are implemented, students will know. Students will trust you because they understand you are going to treat them with dignity and respect. Those on the spectrum need us to see them as a person first. They need us to believe in them. Most importantly, they need us to provide a climate of high expectations so they have the freedom to learn, succeed, and fulfill their potential. 

 

 

 

 


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