As we learn more about dyslexia, definitions change.
The following definition was adopted by the British Dyslexia Association (BDA) in 2005.
What is Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a combination of abilities and difficulties that affect the learning process in one or more of reading, spelling, writing and sometimes numeracy. It is a persistent condition. Accompanying weaknesses may be identified in areas of speed of processing, short term memory, organization, sequencing, spoken language and motor skills. There may be difficulties with auditory and/or visual perception. It is particularly related to mastering and using written language, which may include alphabetic, numeric and musical notation.
Dyslexia can occur despite normal intellectual ability and teaching. It is constitutional in origin, part of one’s makeup and independent of socioeconomic or language background.
Some learners have very well developed creative skills and interpersonal skills, others have strong oral skills. Some have no outstanding talents. All have strengths.
This article was first published in the Dyslexia Handbook 2006 and is reproduced with the kind permission of the British Dyslexia Association.
Using the BDA’s definition of dyslexia published in the 2005 Handbook, it’s easy to see how as many as 60% of dyslexic learners could have significant difficulties with maths (Joffe, L. 1980). The BDA definition describes how dyslexic learners have weaknesses in some or all of the following areas:
 Speed of processing.
 Shortterm memory.
 Visual and auditory perception.
 Sequencing.
 Spoken language.
 Motor skills.
 Mastering written language including numeric notation.
All of these can have an effect on numeracy and maths skills (see the table below).
If we take Joffe’s figure of 60%, this means 40% of dyslexic learners do not have a maths difficulty! Many dyslexic learners are successful mathematicians and in future careers combine their creative talents and mathematical skills to become engineers and architects.
However, some successful adult dyslexic learners describe their earlier experiences of learning maths as being difficult. They often refer to learning tables and remembering methods of working as being troublesome. With the appropriate support they have been able to overcome these memory difficulties and develop the higher order maths skills necessary for success.
Area of Weakness  Impact on Maths Learning  
Speed of processing 


Short term memory and sequencing 


Auditory and visual perception 


Language 


Motor skills 

Supporting Dyslexic Learners in Maths
1. Identify the ‘Point of Breakdown’
 the procedure/process for working through the sum;
 which is the most efficient method of working, e.g. rewriting in column format, or add 50 then take away 4;
 about place value and partitioning;
 what the symbol ‘+’ means;
 how to count on (add);
 how to write the numerals; and
 how to write numbers such as 13 (dyslexic learners often transpose the digits in the teen numbers, e.g. 13 could be written as 31).
Conceptual knowledge
 Counting.
 Adding.
 Place Value.
 Sense of number, e.g. to round the 46 to 50.
Linguistic knowledge
 Add.
 Hundreds, tens, units.
 (+) means add or count on.
Procedural knowledge
 How to start.
 Choosing a procedure.
 Working through the procedure.
 Writing numbers.
Of course, in practice, these are all linked, but it is a useful way of looking at the skills needed for each topic and where things are going wrong for a particular learner. Support can then focus on the individual needs of that learner; for example, two children, one who transposes the digits when writing the teen numbers and one who cannot remember the method of working, would need quite different programs of support.
2. Consider Appropriate Bypass Strategies
Dr Melvyn Levine suggests dividing a support programme into what he calls bypass strategies and direct intervention. Bypass strategies should be designed literally to enable learners to ‘bypass’ any difficulties they have.
The following table suggests some appropriate bypass strategies:
Area of Weakness  Bypass Strategies 
Speed of processing 

Short term memory and
sequencing 

Auditory and visual perception 

Language 

Motor skills 

3. Use a Multisensory Approach
Multisensory teaching works just as well for maths and numeracy as it does for improving literacy skills. One way of ensuring a multisensory approach is to use the sequence described by Pamela Liebeck. She explains how children develop abstract thought by progressing through a sequence.
First, children experience the maths with physical objects. Second, they use language to describe the experience. Next they use pictures to represent the experience, and finally use the symbols to generalize the experience.
For example, a lesson on recognizing equivalent fractions might begin with the experience of cutting pieces of card, pizzas, chocolate, cakes etc. into halves, quarters and eighths. The teacher and learner play a game exchanging pieces with each other e.g. swapping two quarters for one half. The teacher models the activity by demonstrating and explaining using the appropriate language such as:
 exchange
 equivalent
 the same as
 part
 whole
 half
 quarter
 out of
(e.g. I have one out of a possible four pieces which make up the whole). The learner copies and is encouraged to use the appropriate language to explain what he is doing.
The learner then draws pictures to illustrate the experience and activities. This also encourages learners to visualise and use their creative strengths. Finally, the correct symbols and notation for fractions can be used e.g. ½ = 2/4 = 4/8
Finally, Does Maths Really Matter?
The Skills for Life Survey published by the Department for Education and Skills in 2003 found that the connection between numeracy skills and earnings is more significant than the connection between literacy skills and earnings. Other research published by the Basic Skills Agency found that difficulties with numeracy impact more negatively on job prospects than literacy difficulties.
Maths certainly does matter. By supporting dyslexic learners who have maths difficulties we will be improving their life chances, earning potential and career opportunities.
References
 Bynner, J and Parsons, S. (1997) Does Numeracy Matter? London: The Basic Skills Agency
 DfES (2003) The Skills for Life Survey: A national needs and impact survey of literacy, numeracy, and ICT skills. Reserach brief RB490.
 Joffe, L. (1980) 'Dyslexia and attainment in school mathematics'. Dyslexia Review, 3(1)
 Levine. M (1994) Educational Care, Boston: Educators Publishing Services Inc.
 Liebeck, P (1984) How Children Learn Mathematics: A Guide for Parents and Teachers. London: Penguin Books
 Sharma, M. 1990 'Dyslexia, dyscalculia and some remedial perspectives for mathematics learning problems' Math Notebook, Volume 8, numbers 7, 8, 1 & 10