Improving Math Skills in Children with ADHD

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Children with attention difficulties or ADHD often experience problems with academic skills. Approximately 20 to 30% of children who struggle with math and display signs of ADHD may have a formal diagnosis of a learning disability. However, an even larger number of alternative learners may struggle with traditional academic classrooms, and are likely to display signs of both attention problems and difficulty in math. Some of these children can become easily frustrated with math or may appear to understand a math concept one day, only to lose it the next.

Fortunately, computer and web-based programs for teaching math have many characteristics that keep alternative learners and children with attention problems engaged in the learning process. As a result, alternative learners may be much more willing to put in the necessary practice to hone their skills. My friend George DuPaul and his co-author Kenji Otar examined how even a drill-and-skill, practice-based computerized math instruction increased active engagement in academic performance and decreased off-task behavior for children with ADHD. Many parents and educators have observed the same thing when they watch children use simple mobile apps such as electronic flashcards and video games that require math in order to succeed. This high level of engagement is what makes digital media a powerful tool for improving math skills in children with ADHD

Dreambox Learning, an online program for math instruction, provides far more powerful tools, with a game-like, interactive teaching approach that can be individualized to a child’s needs. The program conducts an assessment to determine a child’s proficiencies, and responds with customized lesson plans tailored to meet that child’s needs. This type of immediate and specific feedback can be a powerful tool for all children but particularly for those with attention difficulties.

As a parent, I was impressed with the nature of the feedback I received while using Dreambox Learning. I was able to quickly to learn about what my child had done on the program and, more importantly, his level of progress in a number of specific mathematical skills. Parents could choose to sit with the child as he is involved in the program, in addition to using the feedback to work on tasks outside of Dreambox Learning.

Other programs that are similar to Dreambox Learning are also available, including IXL Math  and Sokikom. If you want to use online and computer-based math programs for children with attention and other learning issues, here are some basic strategies to follow:

l. Meet the teacher. Talk to your child’s teacher about the math program he is learning in school to  ensure that the computerized instruction is consistent with what he is learning in the classroom.

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2.) Practice makes perfect. While interactive programming is often better at maintaining  attention and task persistence in children with attention difficulties, there is still no substitute for practice. Once your child has learned a concept be sure he has opportunities for practice not only on the computer program but also in real-life situations and daily activities.

3.) Try it for yourself. If the program allows it, get an account for yourself and try the game. This could help you  knowledgeably discuss what your child is learning.

4.) Highlight everyday math. Find other ways to make math fun and useful in your lives. Activities such as baking, small construction projects, rearranging furniture, following sports teams and players, and saving money with a particular goal require mathematical skills.

5.) Family game night.  Play board and card games that require math.  For example have your child be the banker on Monopoly, play Texas Hold’em, or have a family Yahtzee night.


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