More Math Strategies for NLD

  • Posted on: 3 March 2015
  • By: Tina McCoy

I want to thank the person who commented on my last post that she would like to hear more strategies for helping students with a Nonverbal Learning Disability organize math work. Here are some other suggestions.

There are so many times that a child -- any child -- does a math problem and thinks that he or she has done everything correctly and then does not seem to have a clue that his or her answer is so far off that it would be impossible if not highly unlikely. The child will look at the details but not see the whole picture: the child cannot see the forest for the trees. For this reason, it is helpful to teach estimating before doing, and reasoning after doing. In other words, help the child to think about the problem and the possible range in which the answer will lie (if he or she has to add three single-digit numbers, the answer will not be in triple digits!), and then, once the calculation is complete, have the child ask him or herself if the answer makes sense from what is known about the problem. 

Children often get bored with things that are difficult for them, especially if they have an attention problem on top of their processing problem. If you use color highlighting for the places where answers go or for important information, it will increase the stimulus value of the worksheet and draw the child's attention to it. It's like the worksheet is standing there with a megaphone announcing, "Here I am, look at me!" in case the child's attention wavers.

You can also use color-coding to help the child become aware of how and when rules are in play (e.g. making the bigger numbers in a group of subtraction problems green, the smaller numbers in each problem blue, and using highlighting or underlining to identify plus or minus signs).

It also helps to put math computations in the context of real situations, such as going to the movies or shopping.

For children with NLD and working memory problems, it might help to provide a checklist that outlines the steps to problem solving. For example: 

  1. Look over the entire problem,
  2. Break the problem into parts and identify which parts require calculation,
  3. Choose the algorithm to be applied for each part, and
  4. Solve the problem, reflecting on the answers at each step. 

Teach the child to look at math problems in different ways and through different sensory modalities, such as writing problems horizontally and vertically, as well as saying them aloud, singing them and acting them out in some way.

I recently spoke to one student whose basic math skills were good, but when there were a lot of numbers on a page, such as when multiplying or subtracting two multiple-digit numbers, she would lose track of which digits or numbers she had already worked on. We decided to have her do these calculations while holding at red pen or pencil, and writing over each number in red once she was finished with that number.

I am sure that there are other creative ideas out there from parents, educators, learning disability specialists and people who have Nonverbal Learning Disability, and I would love to hear them.