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I am a student with LD about to enter ninth grade. I am dysgraphic and have fine motor skills difficulties. My school is wonderful about accommodations and such, but I have encountered some difficulties with math. Math was always my strong subject in elementary school. I was found to be gifted with an IQ of 138 and attended honors classes for math, science, and social studies in middle school.

I did well in sixth grade, but had difficulties in seventh. In eighth grade, I had tremendous difficulties and am going to repeat Algebra I, which I took a year early. I wonder if my poor understanding has more to do with my inability to listen and take good notes during class or just because I’m not a good student or just bad at Algebra. If it is the first reason, do you feel it is fair for me to repeat the class and if not what would think would be the best route for me to take?

One reason that math might have become more of a problem for you as you moved into higher levels of mathematics is that the concepts you were learning about became more abstract. Early math is fairly concrete and easy to visualize - adding 12 and 26 is something you can picture in your head, or represent using blocks or counters. When you start to move into subjects like Algebra and Calculus, many of the concepts are more abstract and can be harder to understand.

There is also a great deal of writing involved in these higher level classes, with lengthy formulas and multiple steps that need to be copied exactly. When you combine these challenges with dysgraphia and the difficulty that many people have with more abstract thinking, it isn’t surprising that you’d find Algebra tricky!

There are a couple of things you can try, both high and low-tech. For a low-tech solution, you might try asking your teacher to provide you with copies of the formulas you need, or worksheets with the formulas pre-printed, so you don’t have to worry about copying information down incorrectly. You could also ask if your teacher would review your notes after class to make sure that you haven’t missed any important information.

If note-taking is the primary reason that you’re having difficulty understanding the material, working with your teacher can be an easy solution. If you’re also having difficulty understanding the concepts, using a software program that helps you visualize the mathematics might be beneficial for you. Riverdeep has a series of math programs available that might be helpful. Some of their programs are only available to schools, but the Mighty Math series might be good to look at.

You might also want to check out virtual manipulatives. Like the counting blocks you may have used in elementary school, virtual manipulatives can help you visualize a math problem or process and make an abstract concept more concrete. A number of websites have virtual manipulatives for different areas and levels of math:

Note from LD OnLine: Visit Dr. Silver’s Technology section to see a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist’s response to the same question.

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