Accommodating Math Students with Learning Disabilities

Mathematics-based learning disabilities- or dyscalculia- are described along with common problems that learners with dyscalculia may encounter.  Some teaching strategies and accommodations are summarized for instructors working with adults with such learning disabilities.

Rochelle Kenyon
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
21st Century Creative Consulting, Inc.
Publication Year
Resource Type
Instructional Material
Number of Pages
Product Type

NOTE: This reference list updates and revises some of those included in the article:

New and Revised References

California State University, Fresno- Services for Students with Disabilities Website: Website:

LDA Minnesota Website:

LD Online Website: Math Learning Disabilities, by Kate Garnett, 1998

Paula’s Special Education Resources: The Math Page: (Formerly called: Math Remediation and Learning Strategies Website - This website no longer includes the references it had when the article was written.)

Montana State University: Accommodation To The Mathematics Core Curriculum Requirement For Students With Math Learning Problems Caused By Learning Disabilities Website:

University of Washington’s Do-It: The Faculty Room Website:

What the experts say

Adult education programs have a large percentage of adult students with learning disabilities, including math disabilities, although many of those students have never been formally diagnosed by a licensed professional.  However, many of those students will be able to learn and remediate in the area of math when instruction is individualized with specific strategies and/or accommodations to meet their specific needs and strengths. 

This article provides a lot of ideas for instructional strategies and accommodations in the area of math.  It would be helpful, however, to have more clarification regarding the difference between a strategy and an accommodation, especially regarding what accommodations might be requested for the GED tests and the criteria for approving or denying those requests. There are also important differences between legal and reasonable accommodations and this should be clarified for ABE teachers who may be responsible for providing them.

Another aspect of this article to note has to do with its periodic use of the term ‘learning disabled students’ instead of the more accepted term ‘students with learning disabilities’.

The most useful features of this article include:

  • A comprehensive definition of dyscalculia, or mathematics disability;
  • Teaching strategies and accommodations for students with math disabilities; and
  • The list of common problems of students with dyscalculia.

The strength of this resource is the strategies for teaching students with dyscalculia or math difficulties; especially the CSA sequence: begin teaching with the concrete (manipulatives or hands-on), then move to the semi-concrete (pictures), and finally teach the abstract (numbers or symbols).  They are appropriate for any math difficulty and supported by numerous references.

Most students we encounter in ABE math classes have struggled with math.  While many may not have dyscalculia, the strategies outlined in the article would certainly be helpful to these students.  I particularly liked the strategies outlined in the green boxes which gave a variety of different techniques to use.  I wished the author had developed these more in her case studies. None the less, this is an important topic to adult education teachers in the field and any article providing teachers with techniques to make the learning of math easier is worthwhile. The value of this article is in its description of dyscalculia in adults.  This definition, with examples, will be illuminating to many instructors.  The list of appropriate teaching strategies and modifications is helpful. 

More clarification on accommodations may be needed for the reader from other sources.  Yes, accommodations are required by law, when the learning disabilities have been diagnosed with approved assessment instruments.  These assessments can be very expensive, and in my experience in Oregon, they are not funded by public resources.  In addition, many adult learners did not have their learning disabilities identified when the learners were in school, or the assessments may now be considered to be not recent enough.  It becomes a Catch-22 for many adults.  Nevertheless, instructors can use many of the suggestions for appropriate teaching and learning strategies.

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