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Characteristics of Students with Learning

Disabilities in Mathematics

- F. D. Rivera, Ph.D.
- Department of Mathematics
- San Jose State University, CA
- Module 15, Session 1

Characteristics of Students with Learning

Disabilities in Math

- 1. They have trouble performing computations,

doing problem solving, understanding terms and

concepts, establishing correct inferences, and

connecting prior or new knowledge (Jarrett, 1999,

p. 3).

Characteristics of Students with Learning

Disabilities in Math

- 2. They have visual-spatial-motor or

perceptual-motor deficiencies. - They lack the perceptual skills necessary for

number sense and conceptual understanding,

including poor spatial and written

representational skills (Garrett, 1998). - Their motor skills are deficient as evidenced by

how they write their numbers and symbols (i.e.,

they are oftentimes illegible or slow) (Mercer,

1997 Culatta, Tompkins, Werts, 2003).

Characteristics of Students with Learning

Disabilities in Math

- 3. They have weak memory skills related to

achieving mastery, recall, and retrieval of

facts. - They could not follow procedures and processes

orally and in written form and deal with problems

that have multiple parts (Mercer, 1997 Culatta,

Tompkins, Werts, 2003 Bley Thornton, 1995).

Characteristics of Students with Learning

Disabilities in Math

- 4. They have weak language skills as evidenced

by their difficulty in processing terms that have

multiple meanings. - They are unsuccessful in oral problem solving

(Mercer, 1997 Culatta, Tompkins, Werts, 2003).

- They especially find it difficult to understand

mathematical terms and concepts. For instance,

they easily get confused with spatial and

quantitative references such as before, after,

between, one more than, and one less than

(Perspectives, 1998, p. 1) and have trouble with

terms that have several available

interpretations.

Characteristics of students with learning

disabilities in math

- 5. They have weak abstract reasoning skills as

indicated by their inability to deal with word

problem solving, comparing, and interpreting

symbols (Mercer, 1997 Culatta, Tompkins,

Werts, 2003).

Characteristics of students with learning

disabilities in math

- 6. They have weak metacognitive abilities as

indicated by their inability to determine a

priori strategies that could assist them solve a

problem successfully. - They experience difficulty recognizing and

establishing patterns of actions (or schemes)

even if they are or have been presented with a

series of similar problems and problem solutions

(Mercer, 1997 Culatta, Tompkins, Werts, 2003

Montague Applegate, 1993).

Characteristics of students with learning

disabilities in math

- 7. They are usually developmentally delayed

(Cawley Miller, 1989).

Characteristics of students with learning

disabilities in math

- 8. They have weak generalization skills

(Woodward, 1991 Rivera Smith, 1987) that

affect the way they perform computations (Kirby

Becker, 1988) and solve applied problems

(Montague, 1992).

Characteristics of Students with Learning

Disabilities in Math

- 9. They are not entirely deficient in all domains

of the mathematics being learned. For instance,

some children may have poor skills in one or

several areas in arithmetic but have average to

better skills in other areas (Geary, 2004).

Characteristics of Students with Learning

Disabilities in Math

- 10. They can recall formulas and use them but

they do not understand why they work

(Perspectives, 1998).

Characteristics of Students with Learning

Disabilities in Math

- 11. They have difficulty seeing the forest from

the trees, and vice-versa. That is, some could

either see the big picture of a process but are

unable to successfully perform the corresponding

operations in detail or could proceed one step at

a time but remain unable to understand what the

whole process is all about (Perspectives, 1998

Garnett, 1998). - This view is similar to cases with some students

with learning disabilities in math who could

easily grasp concepts but fail to exhibit

computational competence (Garnett, 1998). - Further, they have difficulty making a connection

and integrating between parts and the

corresponding wholes because of their weak memory

skills and poor sequencing strategies

(Perspectives, 1998).

Characteristics of Students with Learning

Disabilities in Math

- 12. They get the ideas and are eager to solve,

however, their answers are oftentimes inaccurate

(Perspectives, 1998).

Characteristics of Students with Learning

Disabilities in Math (Geary, 2004)

- 13. With respect to number concepts such as

understanding place-value structures or

associating a number with a quantity and its

correct symbol and word, it appears that

mathematical disability among primary-grades

children is not an authentic disability. That

is, students with and without mathematical

disability experience relatively the same

difficulty understanding numbers.

Characteristics of students with learning

disabilities in math (Geary, 2004)

- 14. With respect to counting, primary-grades

children, both with and without mathematical

disability, understand the principles of

one-to-one correspondence, stable order, and

cardinality which are all necessary in being able

to count competently. - One area in which the two groups differ is their

understanding of order irrelevance. students with

learning disabilities in math have difficulty

with tasks that require counting objects in their

non-adjacent order. For them, counting is a

fixed, mechanical activity (p. 3). - Another area that students with learning

disabilities in math have difficulty with is in

remembering the correct number counted for a

given set of objects.

Characteristics of students with learning

disabilities in math (Geary, 2004)

- 15. With respect to arithmetic and arithmetical

strategies, students with learning disabilities

in math have weak memory skills. This means that

even if they are capable of recalling a basic

fact, they still find it difficult to master and

recall as many basic facts such as 7 2 or 2 x 6

as they could unlike their regular counterparts

who could accomplish this in a systematic manner.

- Further, they tend to forget facts rather

quickly (p. 3). Having weak memory skills is an

indication that students with learning

disabilities in math have difficulty storing

information in long-term memory. - Another source of memory weakness is due to the

fact that even if students with learning

disabilities in math could recall a fact in

long-term memory, they have difficulty

suppressing other information that they think is

relevant but actually is not which only confuses

them. For instance, a child could easily recall

how to obtain the sum of 2 and 3. The problem

starts when the child thinks that 4 and 6 are

also possible answers since 4 follows

sequentially after 2 and 3 and that the product

of 2 and 3 is 6 (pp. 3-4).

Students with Learning Disabilities in Math

- 16. Concerning arithmetical strategies, students

with learning disabilities in math employ and get

stuck at performing immature procedures for

combining numbers more often than the unlabeled

students. For instance, in finding the sum of 3

5, students with learning disabilities in math

tend to do a count-all (i.e., raise 5 fingers,

raise 3 fingers, then count 1 through 8) instead

of a count-on strategy (i.e., raise 5 fingers and

then count on through 8) that is more efficient

and practical. - In the case of more complex additions, say, the

sum of two two-digit numbers, while students with

learning disabilities in math could perform

additions correctly by columns, they have

difficulty putting them all together in the

right order (p. 4).

Cognitive Competences of students with learning

disabilities in math (Parmar Cawley, 1997)

- 1. Their level of mathematical ability is two to

four grades lower than the unlabeled students. - 2. Their growth rate in mathematical ability is

one year of grade equivalent for at least two

years of formal schooling. - 3. They finish high school with a mathematical

proficiency of a 5th or a 6th grader.

Cognitive Competences of students with learning

disabilities in math (Parmar Cawley, 1997

- 4. They could only accomplish one full year of

growth in high school for the entire four years

of secondary schooling. - 5. They manifest limited competence on tests that

target minimum skills at the high school level. - 6. They produce unusual error patterns.

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