Teaching Math to Children With Language Disabilities

Language and auditory processing deficits affect the ability to learn language and math concepts and solve problems. Students may have receptive or expressive language problems that not only substantially affect their learning but also impact their ability to express what they don't understand or show how they solved problems.

As a parent, you may be wondering how to address these issues and help your child be successful. Here are some tips that you can utilize to help your child learn to work around their auditory processing difficulties or learning disability (LD) to successfully complete their math work.


Partner With Teachers

Boy learning math

Matthias Tunger / LOOK-foto / Getty

All parents must be actively involved in their children's education. This fact is especially true when kids have learning differences. To support your child's learning at home, ask your child's teacher to:

  • Provide you with scoring criteria as well as specify exactly what they want your child to do when completing their math work
  • Send you detailed instructions for homework
  • Show you examples of good work to clarify their expectations
  • Teach you the specific strategies they are using successfully with your child that also can be used at home

Use this information to help your child understand instructions and accurately complete their homework.

It's likely you will need to set aside time each night to help them with the math concepts they are learning at school. But, if you make this time together a regular part of your routine, your child will benefit from the repetition.


Use Hands-on Materials

Improve your child's understanding of math concepts by giving them tools that will support them as they learn math concepts.

  • Consider using flash cards to go over math facts that need to be memorized.
  • Incorporate computerized math toys and software with visual and auditory prompts, such as the GeoSafari Math Whiz, a portable game that teaches addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
  • Practice using a calculator.
  • Teach them math concepts using multisensory methods to stimulate their thinking skills.
  • Use familiar objects to set up and solve math problems. Items such as money, candy, or other small objects can be used to demonstrate concepts such as adding, subtracting, and fractions as well as show greater than, less than, and equal to.

If you're having trouble coming up with tools that will benefit your student, ask the teacher for suggestions on how to support your child at home. You also can ask a math tutor what they would recommend.


Re-Write Word Problems

How math word problems are written can have a significant impact on how well children can interpret and solve them, particularly for children with language disabilities. You can help by making your child's word problems more user-friendly.

  • Avoid double negatives such as "There are no cars that are not red."
  • Choose words the student already knows and can visualize.
  • Create active sentences such as "Joe drove the car" and avoid passive sentences such as "The car was driven by Joe."
  • Reduce the number of words in sentences, leaving only those words important to solving the problem.
  • Select simple commands where "you" is implied, such as "Add these numbers."
  • Use simple sentence structure including just the subject, verb, and object.
  • Use specific words and avoid pronouns.
  • Write the most important sentence first.

If you find that after re-writing math problems, your student has an easier time solving them, share this information with the teacher. You also might be able to request accommodations for word problems on tests and quizzes. Talk to your child's educational team to determine if this is an option.


Provide Step-by-Step Models

For specific learning disabilities (SLDs) in basic math or applied math, provide step-by-step models demonstrating how to solve math problems. Math books often include word problems requiring the student to make leaps in logic to learn new skills without showing the steps required to do those problems.

This practice may frustrate students with language processing deficits because they have difficulty with the language-based mental reasoning skills needed to make those leaps.

Instead, provide the child with models to solve all types of problems included in the assignment so they can learn without language processing difficulties getting in the way.

Basically, using models in teaching kids math skills involves drawing boxes, rectangles, and other shapes to represent numbers. Doing so enables kids to break down math problems while comparing numbers, fractions, ratios, percentages, and more.

For parents who have never solved math problems using these tools and strategies, there may be a slight learning curve in implementing them to help your student. Ask the teacher to give you a quick tutorial or use online resources.

You also can look for YouTube videos to help you learn how to draw math models. Or, you might want to use Thinking Blocks on the website Math Playground, which provides sample models you can draw to help with basic math through algebra.


Request Modifications for Math

If your child has a diagnosed learning disability or has a Section 504 plan, request an IEP or Section 504 conference to discuss strategies to help your child.

Together, you and your child's educational team can decide what needs to be incorporated into the plan to create a learning environment that benefits your student. Try to build a partnership between your family, your child's teachers, the intervention specialists, and your advocate if you're working with one.

A Word From Verywell

Children with learning disabilities often struggle with schoolwork, regardless of their intellectual abilities. For this reason, they need tailored learning strategies that not only help them meet their potential in the classroom but also guard against self-esteem issues down the road.

As a parent of a child with learning differences, you need to be persistent in ensuring that your child receives the help, support, and intervention they need both in the classroom and at home. Work with your child's educational team to build a partnership and to ensure your child gets all the support they need to succeed.

Then, supplement that support with activities at home. Together, you can ensure that your child learns how to be successful in spite of the challenges they face.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Derderian A. Best practices in service provisions in mathematics for students with learning difficulties/high incidence disabilities (RTI, specific strategies, specific interventions). J Sci Res Rep. 2014;3(20):2665-2684. doi:10.9734/JSRR/2014/11496

  2. Gibby-Leversuch R, Hartwell BK, Wright S. Dyslexia, literacy difficulties and the self-perceptions of children and young people: A systematic reviewCurr Psychol. 2019. doi:10.1007/s12144-019-00444-1

By Ann Logsdon
Ann Logsdon is a school psychologist specializing in helping parents and teachers support students with a range of educational and developmental disabilities.