Numeracy for Learners with Disabilities: Strategies for Teaching Maths 

Maths is not just a subject that is part of school curriculum. We use numbers regularly in our everyday lives and hence numeracy is an important skill to acquire. But learners with disabilities may have trouble understanding numbers and their relevance. So, we may need to employ instruction strategies that are tailored for teaching Maths to people with cognitive, cognitive, and language deficits. This will equip them with the necessary numeracy skills that enable them to lead independent and fulfilling lives in society.

teaching math strategies for visual learners

Real World Instruction

We may begin numeracy instruction for neurotypical children by teaching them to identify numbers and to count. But learners with disabilities may need a different approach since they may find it easier to understand concepts when they are connected to the real world. Hence we may need to focus on teaching functional numeracy skills through  everyday scenarios. Here are a few examples:

  • Breakfast time: 

Your bowl has more food than mine.  –  less/more

How many apple slices are there on your plate? – Counting

  • While Cooking:

Can you help me put 5 teaspoons of sugar in this mug? – Counting and Measurement

I need to cook this for 10 minutes – Time

  • Craft Time:

I need a 5 cm long ribbon to make the bow. – Measurement

I paid 5 coins for one box. How many should I pay for 2 boxes? – Money

Fun & Games

Children may learn better if concepts are taught through fun activities. It may be especially helpful if we teach using the learner’s favourite item/activity.

For example, for a kid who loves pizza, teaching maths can be a lot more interesting if it was taught with the pizza pie.

  • Bigger slice/ smaller slice
  • Number of slices
  • More sauce/less sauce
  • The shape of the pizza
  • The shape of the slices
  • Circumference, radius, diameter, Fraction, and Pi

For a child into art and crafts, here are the number concepts you can teach using the activity

  • How many flowers have you drawn?  (counting)
  • Which flower is the biggest/smallest?
  • Which flower has the longest/shortest stem?

You can also teach number concepts through board games such as snakes and ladders or even something simple as playing cards. Running a Play restaurant where children pay with actual or play money to get their favourite snack can teach them a lot about money. 

Visual Supports

Verbal instructions may be difficult to comprehend for learners with auditory processing difficulties and cognitive challenges. Using visual aids such as visual schedules and communication boards can help in teaching number concepts. Less/More and money exchange can also be explained better through pictures and worksheets. 

For example, the concept of time may be very abstract for learners with developmental disabilities. Visual schedules can help in explaining the concept of before, after, later, now, etc. to such learners. They’ll be able to understand that swimming is scheduled after reading and before Mealtime. Calendars are also great tools to teach time. Children who are looking forward to the premiere of their favourite TV show or the arrival of grandparents can countdown to the day they are very excited about. 

AAC for Teaching Maths

AAC(Augmentative and Alternative Communication) can be incorporated into Math instruction so that learners with complex communication needs can understand number concepts and communicate what they know and don’t know. AAC can also help them be an active participant in an inclusive learning environment where children do group projects.

The learner’s AAC system needs to have the vocabulary for numbers, measurement units, concepts of time, and money. It’s important to include mathematical terms relevant to the learner’s curriculum such as fractions, estimate, rounding, etc. Descriptive teaching model can help a great deal in explaining advanced concepts.

Here’s a free Math Communication board for emergent learners:

Avaz Math Communication Board

Hope you find these strategies for teaching maths useful. If you have any feedback or suggestions, please give them in the comment section below.

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