Back in elementary school, there were short quizzes of about 20 multiplication problems that you had to try to complete in one minute. For most young minds, those 60 seconds were seriously stressful.

Now, imagine doing that exercise, but not being able to keep track of all these operations in your head and constantly losing focus on the problem. This is what most ADHD children face when they look at a math problem. 

Here are some issues kids with ADHD typically face — and some   solutions for making things easier.

Issue: Word problems

Students with ADHD often have a hard time with math because of memory problems. Memory is one of the many executive function skills, such as as reasoning, task switching and planning. Kids with ADHD do not have strong executive function skills.

Word problems are tough because they require remembering combinations of words and numbers. 

Solution: Tackle the problem in pieces. Have the child read the problem in parts and draw a picture of each part. Breaking the problem into chunks allows the student to process. Adding a tactile and visual dimension with drawing strengthens memory.


Issue: Order of things

Math problems that require kids to conjure up the correct order of operations is a challenge for those who struggle to maintain focus.

Solution: Make it visual. Have your student work with markers and highlighters. ADDitude magazine recommends highlighting math signs because it is a visual reminder to the student of the kind of math operation needed to solve the problem.


Issue: Finishing up

Aside from problems with working memory, the challenge with focus is why students with ADHD tend to struggle with math problems. Staying intently focused on a single task takes a ton of mental energy, which often conflicts with the desire many kids with ADHD have for constant stimulation.

Solution: Have the child take a focus break. Focus breaks are two- to five-minute breaks when the student steps away from the work, even if it’s in the middle of a long mathematical problem, and does something unrelated. This might be spending a few minutes on the phone, playing fetch with the dog or, better yet, completing a brain exercise to improve focus.

By using these strategies, children with ADHD can feel much more confident in their studies and strengthen their math foundation. JN


Christine Rosenfeld has tutored students from pre-K to college at Educational Connections Tutoring.    

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