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Success In Math for the Child With ADHD

By Melissa Katz, M.S.
Skills Needed for Success In Math

The foundation for math competency is established in the early grades. Your child needs to grasp key math concepts and rules. Then he or she must be able to combine information to perform calculations and solve word problems. These concepts and rules become more complex as the grade level increases and they are often interrelated. The skill of basic addition for example, begins with single digit numbers. The child must understand the concept of place value. He must be able to line up the numbers, use the appropriate symbol, and perform the operation of addition. Then he learns to add two digit numbers, then three digits. This is followed by addition with regrouping etc.

ADD: Impact of Behavior on Math Performance
The child with ADD may fail to gain mastery of early concepts and rules. In addition, he may omit some or all information, process information slowly, fail to recall facts, copy information inaccurately, make careless errors, have difficulty following directions and doing problem-solving. These behaviors impede learning and progress in math. A child with ADD may be unable to perform successfully, even in areas where he comprehends. Deficits in any of these areas can, in turn, lead to frustration, anxiety, avoidance and a lack of confidence.

Strategies for Math Success
Strategies should be implemented which help your ADD child to gain core knowledge, while improving processing ability, comprehension, critical thinking, fluency, accuracy, and speed in math. By using these strategies on a regular basis he will be able to perform successfully in math. As he experiences achievement in math skills he will develop confidence. The following strategies are helpful to your ADD child: circling or marking, special paper, manipulatives, daily card drills, visualization, numbering steps, timing drills, graphic organizers, modeling, visual prompts and cues, self-checking, assisstive technology, and finger tricks.

Circling or Marking
When your child is adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing he or she must first take notice of the sign, which indicates which operation is to be performed. If he has difficulty focusing on details or makes careless errors due to a lack of attention, you can have him circle the sign. This will help draw his attention to it and help him to discriminate it from other signs. Whenever there are details that he can easily miss he can circle them, underline them, or place parentheses around them.

Special Paper
It is important that your child aligns numbers properly before solving problems that involve computing. He needs to know the concept of place value so that he will be able to line up the numbers correctly. You should provide him with a visual number model with the places marked. Have him use graph paper to solve problems that involve computing. This will help him to align the numbers. You can enlarge the boxes if you have a younger child. Have him place a number in each box. Your child can also use lined paper and turn it vertically. This will help him to be more precise and avoid making careless errors.

Use concrete hands-on materials such as manipulatives and number lines to help your child to visualize concepts. This makes the learning process a lot more interesting as well. If it stimulates curiosity, then there is more of a chance that he will remember it over time. Your ADD child may experience difficulty with abstract concepts, especially if he has other language and/or learning disabilities. If this is the case, then he will benefit from multi-sensory tools, which engage his senses through real experience. For example, if the problem involves understanding the concept of the area of a cube, have your child examine a cube figure. He should see how many sides it has, say it, and write it. Then he can compare it to other three dimensional figures.

It is important that your child develop the habit of checking his own work. Sometimes students miss mistakes because they are not sure how to check their work. It is helpful to provide your child with a list of steps so that he knows what to look for. He can check off each area that is correct and circle any errors. Then he should go back and fix any errors.

Assisstive Technology
You may want to suggest that your child be allowed to use a calculator on tests, which assess problem-solving rather than calculating skills. Other assisstive technology can be used, such as computer software, which teaches concepts and provides your child with review and feedback. One such program is Flashmaster. This is a handheld device for children to practice number drills.

Daily Drills
Ideally, your child should do verbal and written math drills. He should always go back and review old skills. The use of flash cards is a good way to retain information and gain mastery. He can record a specific math skill and/or rule on one side of the flash card and then record an example on the other. You can have him recite the information on the cards. You can also adapt the flash cards games. Your child should also do written drills. Worksheets can be created which isolate specific skills for practice. Once he masters a skill in isolation, you can combine it with old skills (mixed practice).

Numbering Steps
It is helpful to take math tasks and break them into steps. Your child should see, write, and say the sequence. You can also give himan outline and have him write a paragraph, describing the sequence of directions to follow for a type of problem; for example "How to Solve an Addition Problem with Borrowing".

Visual Cues
Visual cues should signal the student as to what to do, where, and in what order. Providing these cues can be very helpful, especially for word problems. They enhance the child’s ability recall information. Visual cues can be in the form of pictures, symbols, a line of text, etc. An example of a visual cue is an arrow, which shows the child where to begin a problem and the direction in which to proceed.

You should make sure that your child is provided with a model for each type of problem. The information should be presented in a way that it is very clear and simple. Use colors to emphasize important details. You can draw pictures to help him visualize the concepts. After the information is presented he should be given ample time to do practice problems.

Number Lines
A number line can be used to help your child learn to add and subtract. It will help him to visualize, conceptualize and to physically carry out the process of simple calculation. The numbers on the line should be written in large print and bolded for easy recognition.

Mnemonic Devices
A mnemonic device is a line of text in which the first letter of each word has a meaning related to a specific skill. You can use mnemonic devices to help your child to remember the steps to solve problems. When developing a mnemonic device, make up a phrase that is humorous, interesting, and simple so that the child will remember it easily. An example of a mnemonic device would be PEMDAS.

Charts and Graphic Organizers
Charts and organizers are good for arranging and categorizing information in a logical way. One example of a chart for math is a multiplication table chart. It is important that you make sure that your child knows how to use the chart effectively. This requires attention to details. He should use his finger to track the numbers one row at a time and to locate specific facts. Word problems involve the use of reasoning and critical thinking. They also require a lot of attention to detail and multiple steps. This can be especially challenging for the child with ADD. To make this task easier you can create an organizer or flow chart. This will help him to process the information step by step.

Finger Tricks
Your child can learn to use his fingers to do tricks to solve certain problems. For example there is a 9x rule that can be worked out on the hands. This involves using two hands. First your child spreads out two hands, then to multiply 9 by 3, he should fold down the 3rd finger from the left. He will then see 2 on the left and seven after that. Similarly if the problem is 9x4, it would be the 4th finger from the left, and so on. This works up to 9 times 10.

Time Management
Some children with ADD have difficulty sitting for extended periods. If your child has this difficulty, give him short breaks. You can divide the work into smaller parts. When your child completes a task you can have him check it off as completed.

Vocabulary Cards
Math involves a lot of vocabulary. You can help your child to make cards for math vocabulary words. The cards should be kept in categories, by skill. Make sure the definition is written in simple language so that it is easy for him to understand. A picture can accompany the definition, when it is helpful. You should always review old terms with your child, in addition to spending time on the new words.

Your ADD child should be placed in a workspace that is organized, clutter free, and has limited distractions. The materials he needs should be prepared ahead of time. They should be in a place where he can reach them easily. He will feel more relaxed, focus better, and learn more effectively in such an environment.

Strategies Lead to Results
By taking the time to incorporate these math strategies into your ADD child's academic routine, on a consistent basis, you can help him to limit frustration, anxiety, and avoidance behavior. The negative feelings associated with math can be replaced by ever increasing confidence and a willingness to take risks.

Ms. Katz is a learning specialist in private practice who does reading therapy, educational therapy, teacher and parent training, and consulting in Long Island and NYC. Her training includes Orton-Gillingham and Wilson Reading in addition to multi-sensory writing, skill-building, and multi-sensory math. She can be contacted at Her website is".

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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