Expert Advice

Ask Dr. Silver

All Questions by Topic

« Back To Category List

Math & Dyscalculia

The following are past questions and answers from Dr. Larry Silver on this topic.

My first grader has trouble focusing and is falling behind in reading and math. How can I help him succeed?

My son is 6. He just started first grade at a public elementary school. He is struggling. His reading and math are not to grade level. He zones out and cannot answer simple questions.

He was read a word problem by his teacher: John has five apples and Sue has four apples. How many apples altogether? He drew 20 apples on the paper. He is on a PEP at school and goes to tutoring every Monday for an hour after school. I am worried about him not passing the first grade. What should I do?

I understand your concerns. You describe several difficulties that might suggest that your son might have a learning or language disability. If he is in a PEP program, the professionals at the program probably share a similar concern. Have you discussed your concerns with them? Usually several professionals are part of the PEP team. Another approach would be to meet with the principal of his school, requesting a meeting with the special education team to discuss what they see as his problems and what they are doing to address them. Do not lose time. Keep pushing to get clarification on what his areas of difficulty are and what can be done to help.

What would you call an almost total inability to rote memorize?

What would you call an almost total inability to rote memorize?

I am talking about a child, otherwise quite intelligent, an excellent reader with a high level of what used to be called "number sense," who otherwise cannot memorize. For example: This child has tried for months to memorize the times tables and is unable to do so. The child can multiply but just cannot memorize the tables. I am at a loss to help.

Concerned parent,


I would need the child's age to be specific. I would be more concerned about why this child is having this difficulty than what to call it. Have you discussed this problem with a school professional or a private special education professional? Specific testing should both clarify why the problems exist and what to do to help.

I spend hours helping my daughter with her schoolwork each night, so she appears to be doing better than she is. How do I get the school to test her without letting her fail?

Dr. Silver,

I would love some advice on how to help my daughter.

At this time she has had no formal diagnosis of a learning disability. She is now in second grade and it seems she struggles with everything. I work a lot with her and try to help her understand things, but she never seems to quite "get it."

It now results in tears, frustration, and her thinking she is stupid and hating school. With the huge amount of work we do at home she has managed to be passing her classes, but I don't know that she is really learning.

She barely passed on into first grade because she was having a lot of problems in reading and was behind. That summer I sought the help of a friend who tutors kids in reading using a program that is supposed to be great for learning disabilities. With her help and a lot of work at home, we got her to grade level in reading.

All of her teachers so far have said that they can't quite put their finger on it — she is very hit or miss with things. One day she seems to know it, but then the next she doesn't. She still reverses letters a lot in reading and spelling. I have been told that she should grow out of this — but when?

At this time she struggles greatly with math. She seems to not understand how numbers work. My 5-year-old is able to do a lot of the work she can now do, because of just overhearing all the work I do with her. This is sending up a red flag to me. I know the schools are hard-pressed for the funds to do a lot of what is needed and I hate to waste their time. But that being said, I want to see my daughter get help and not have to work so hard if there is something we can do.

Unfortunately, the problems have not been bad enough for a teacher to say we need to test, but I wonder if I slacked off at home if they would be. It is a terrible place as a mother to be feeling like you need to let your child fail so she can get noticed.

Should I push the school into testing? Do you have any suggestions in helping me figure out what is going on? Thanks for any help you may be able to give.

I share your concerns. From your description, your daughter might have a learning disability. You are correct. By spending so much time with her each night, she appears to be doing better than she really is. Yet, you do not want to take away this help and have her do poorly just to show the school what you mean.

She should be evaluated. A psycho-educational assessment would be best. The first step is to submit a written letter to the principal, requesting a meeting to discuss your concerns with your daughter. The principal is required under education law to schedule this meeting. The classroom teacher, principal, school counselor, and special education person should be present. Share your concerns, using as many examples as you can. Be sure to explain just how much work you do each night. If the school agrees, they will do a formal assessment.

I need to warn you. Most school systems will not evaluate a child until the end of third grade. It is only then that they show enough of a discrepancy to meet their criteria for doing an assessment. If so, you might explore if it is possible to have these studies done privately and then take the results to the school.

Good luck.

My son reverses letters and can't see the difference between adding and subtracting. He wears glasses but they don't seem to help. Where do I take him next?

My son of 8 years old shows symptoms of learning disabilities. At first, his teachers thought it was due to vision problems. He is wearing glasses and still doesn't show improvements.

He reverses letters and numbers and has problems with reading. He also cannot see the difference between adding and subtracting, no matter how I teach him. I don't know if I should bring him to a psychologist or neurologist.

Please help! Thanks.

The problems you describe are not the result of a vision problem. They might be the result of a learning disability. I would start with a psychologist who is skilled at doing the necessary studies to clarify why he has such problems.

My 6-year-old son is reversing letters and numbers. Should I get him tested?

I have a 6-year-old son that is having trouble at school. He reads a lot of common words backwards, such as reading pan for nap or dull for pull. He can do basic math, but if the answer is 32, sometimes he'll write 23.

It was upsetting me that he was making simple mistakes because he wouldn't take the time to look at things, and then I noticed he was having trouble focusing his eyes. I had his vision tested and it's fine.

I asked his teacher if she would refer him to get tested for a learning disability. She told me the school's waiting list is about 60 days. Am I going about it the right way by getting him tested? Where do I go from here? Can my son's doctor have him tested or refer me to a testing center? What kind of test do you do to identify learning disabilities? I feel completely lost and worry that I am failing my son. Please help!

Sometimes, 6 year olds still reverse letters and numbers. If this is his only problem, you might wait a little longer. If, however, you find that he is not mastering his first grade skills (reading, writing, math), then I would not wait.

Don't discuss this with the teacher. The process is for you to write a letter to the principal, requesting a meeting to discuss your son's difficulties. The principal must call such a meeting. The school psychologist and special education person will be present. Discuss your concerns with this team. If they agree, they will schedule testing. If they do not feel testing is needed now, you will still have focused everyone on his difficulties. If in the fall he has not made progress, request another meeting.

You can always have him evaluated privately. The testing is called psycho-educational testing.

As an adult, how can I determine if I have dyscalculia?

How can I go about determining if I have dyscalculia? Do you know of anyone who can make this determination in an adult in the San Antonio, Texas area? I have always had difficulty with math but now that I am in intermediate algebra in college, it's impossible.

I use a tutor two hours a week, the professor is wonderful, and I still don't get it. As they explain it one-on-one to me, it makes sense. Twenty-four hours later, I might as well be looking at Japanese writings. It does not make sense. I can't even look at the examples given to figure out a solution. A friend suggested I may have dyscalculia. I thank you in advance for your assistance.

Dyscalculia, or difficulty learning and applying math, is considered a type of a learning disability. If you have never had studies done to answer your question, you should do so now. Go to the Office of Disability Services at your college and ask how you can be evaluated for your math disability.