Math Difficulties in Adults

Dyscalculia is a common term used to describe individuals with math disabilities.  Similar to above, this term means “difficulty with calculations” and the reasons for these difficulties are varied.  Students with math challenges may struggle from visual processing difficulties, challenges with working memory, lagging executive functioning skills, or difficulties with anxiety.

Understanding Math Challenges

  • LDonline.org has a page dedicated to articles, resources and video presentations about math difficulties and math-related disabilities.  Make sure you also check out LDonline’s page specifically for adults with Learning Disabilities.
  • Understood.org has short, targeted articles related to math difficulties, suggestions for interventions, and the many reasons students struggle with math.

Math Interventions and Supports

  • Apps: 
    • Students with visual processing or visual-motor challenges often struggle with math due to copying and organizational errors.  ModMath is an app that helps students organize their work without having to physically write.  It’s like having digital graph paper.  Work can then be easily emailed to a professor as part of homework or classwork.
    • Math Workout and other SmartPhone games are ideal for developing fluency with basic math facts.  Once you’ve developed basic fluency, it frees up your brain to deal with the higher-order calculations.
  • Extra Help: Kahn Academy is an online resource with instructional videos for students to learn any level of math.  Learn at your own pace and keep track of your progress.
  • The Real World: Translating a math equation into a real(ish)-world scenario can help your brain access other skills sets to help out in solving the problem.  Ask your professor, where would I see this?  Putting yourself in an actual situation can help you make sense of abstract, multi-step concepts.

A Note About Math Anxiety

Math anxiety is a common and significant barrier to math.  In fact, it’s such a common and specific type of anxiety, it has it’s own name.  Even those who do not usually suffer anxiety may have anxiety around math.

Anxiety is a fear response: it puts your brain into fight or flight mode, which shuts down your reasoning abilities.

If there is a truly dangerous situation, like a tiger in the room, you don’t want to think through all the possible options – you just want to run! Your brain shuts down your reasoning centers to protect you: very useful when encountering a tiger, not so useful when encountering a math problem.

Taking a deep breath or doing other relaxation techniques can convince your brain that this is not a dangerous situation – and open up those reasoning centers again.

If you suffer from math anxiety, talk to a mental health professional about a full range of interventions.

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