Special Needs



Special Needs

This community supports the engagement in discussion and support materials for the teaching of mathematics to students with disability and special needs.

Students with Autism

The term Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is used to describe a group of closely related disorders, which all belong to the same diagnostic category and share the same core symptoms. These disorders include Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder not otherwise specified. Autism is a complex, life-long developmental disability which is neurobiological in origin.

In considering teaching and learning mathematics for students who have ASD,  teachers need to consider some common characteristics that fall into three main areas:

  • impaired social relating:  impaired social interaction, lack of spontaneous interest in sharing in activities, interests with others, lack of appropriate social responsiveness
  • impaired communication: absence of language, echoing of language, language used in a very literal way, impaired ability to initiate or sustain a conversation
  • restricted and repetitive behaviours and interests:  lack of make-believe imagination,lack of make-believe play: distress or difficulty with change to a routine; narrow and restricted range of interests e.g. may have a preoccupation with an object, may only be interested in lining up objects or making collections of particular items, may only be interested in a single topic or amassing facts about a single interest

Autism and learning Mathematics

It is a common misconception that children on the autism spectrum find mathematics easy. In fact, the opposite is true for some, and exposure to basic mathematics in the early years can be crucial in establishing the foundations for understanding later in life.  It is important to incorporate a child's special interest into learning in order to help them engage fully with new concepts including the use of colours, shapes, categories, numerals, sequencing, addition and subtraction and using money; activities incorporating mathematics into daily living skills.

Click here to read more about students with Autism and special needs for teaching Mathematics.

Students with Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a condition that affects the ability to process language. Dyslexic learners often have difficulties in the acquisition of literacy skills and, in some cases, problems may manifest themselves in mathematics. It is not surprising that those who have difficulties in deciphering written words should also have difficulty in learning the sets of facts, notations and symbols that are used in mathematics. This pattern of abilities and weaknesses is known as ‘specific learning difficulties’.

Dyslexia and Mathematics

Problems often occur with the language of mathematics, sequencing, orientation and memory, rather than with mathematics itself. Dyslexic learners find it difficult to produce mental or written answers quickly, and the need to ‘learn by heart’ for pupils who have poor memory systems may well result in failure and lack of self-confidence. Some dyslexic learners will enjoy flexibility of approach and methods while, for others, choice creates uncertainty, confusion and anxiety. (Reference Department of Education and Schools UK)

Discalculia and Mathematics

Dyscalculia is a condition that affects the ability to acquire arithmetical skills.Dyscalculic learners may have difficulty understanding simple number concepts, lack an intuitive grasp of numbers, and have problems learning number facts and procedures. Even if they produce a correct answer or use a correct method, they may do so mechanically and without confidence.

Very little is known about the prevalence of dyscalculia, its causes, or treatment. Purely dyscalculic learners who have difficulties only with number will have cognitive and language abilities in the normal range, and may excel in non-mathematical subjects. However, it is more likely that difficulties with numeracy accompany the language difficulties of dyslexia.

Some researchers suggest that there may be several subsets of mathematical difficulties other than the number-based definition of dyscalculia given above, although each of these would require further investigation. They include difficulties in:

  • procedure and sequencing
  • algebra
  • geometry
  • trigonometry

cited from: What do we know about Dyslexia and Supporting Dyslexic Pupils in the Secondary Curriculum by Moira Thompson

Click here to read more about students with Dyslexia and Discalculia and special needs for teaching Mathematics.