Tutoring kids with dyscalculia: What you need to know

Kids with dyscalculia who are getting math support in school may also benefit from tutoring outside of school. It’s best if your child’s tutor uses a multisensory structured approach to teaching math and math concepts.

Kids with dyscalculia may be getting supports and services in school to help them with math challenges. But they may also benefit from tutoring outside of school.

What to look for in a tutor

Tutors who help kids with are often trained in specific reading programs. They can also get certification in those programs. The same doesn’t really exist for tutors who help kids with dyscalculia.

There hasn’t been as much research done on dyscalculia as on some other learning differences. There are few evidence-based programs designed to help students with dyscalculia.

That doesn’t mean you can’t find a good tutor for your child, however. Or that there aren’t teaching methods that benefit kids who struggle with math. The research that has been done suggests that a multisensory structured approach can help kids with dyscalculia.

One math program that uses this approach is Stern Structural Arithmetic. It appears to be effective, though there are not large studies to confirm this. The Stern method is similar to some effective dyslexia reading programs.

You can try to find a tutor who uses the Stern system. But what’s most important is that the tutor uses elements like those found in Stern Structural Arithmetic. The tutor’s approach should be:

  • Structured. The tutor should break math down into smaller skills and build on them over time.

  • Multisensory. The tutor should use sight, hearing, touch, and movement to help kids understand math and math concepts. For example, the tutor may have your child count out fuzzy cotton balls. Or your child may count by tens while hopping from one line on the ground to another.

  • Focused on verbal reasoning. The tutor should have students “talk through” math problems and concepts. Using written and spoken words can help kids understand the basic logic behind math.

The tutor should set goals for your child and also provide you with regular progress updates.

Who can provide tutoring

Not many people call themselves a “dyscalculia tutor.” What type of professional can help your child with dyscalculia? The best options include:

  • Special education teachers. This might be a teacher who’s looking for extra income. Or it might be a retired teacher. You might even consider a graduate student working toward an advanced degree in special education. Teachers are the people most likely to have experience with instructional programs in math. That includes programs that use a multisensory approach.

  • Educational therapists. These instructors are trained to work with kids who have learning and thinking differences. They focus on building a foundation for learning. They may not have a specialty in working with kids who have dyscalculia, however. In fact, some may not have much experience with it at all. There are also no regulations about who gets to use this title. (However, members of the Association of Educational Therapists must meet certain standards to be admitted.)

  • Reading specialists and dyslexia tutors. Some reading specialists or tutors who teach students with dyslexia may also help kids with dyscalculia. This is because many use a multisensory structured approach to teach reading. And this approach can be applied to math. A tutor who uses the approach, or a reading program based on it, might be a possible candidate.

  • Psychologists. Some who evaluate kids for learning and thinking differences may be trained to teach math concepts with a multisensory structured approach.

  • Veteran teachers. They may not have the background the others have. But they probably have what matters most: experience helping kids with dyscalculia.

  • A regular math tutor. Someone who has experience working with kids who have dyscalculia might be a great candidate.

Where to find help

Your child’s school is the best place to start. The special education teacher, math teacher, or caseworker may even have a list of qualified tutors.

Getting referrals from other parents who have kids with dyscalculia is another good option.

You can also contact the Association of Educational Therapists or the National Institute for Learning Development. Both organizations keep lists of certified educational therapists.

Most commercial tutoring centers won’t have the specialized instruction your child needs. One exception is the Lindamood–Bell Program. It’s best known for its reading program. But it also offers math tutoring that may be helpful for kids with dyscalculia. Lindamood–Bell has many centers throughout the United States.

The best teaching approach for dyscalculia may be multisensory. Online tutoring might not be a great option.

How much tutoring to get

There’s no real time frame for when tutoring should start or how long kids will need it. It’s ideal to find outside help as soon as your child is identified as having dyscalculia. This is true even if your child has an or a and is getting math support in school.

At first, intensive instruction is the best way for kids to learn basic math concepts. That gives them the best shot at catching up with their peers.

But new concepts are constantly introduced in math. If your child struggles to keep up as new concepts are introduced, ongoing outside support may help. It may be possible to scale back the frequency of tutoring sessions, though.

Paying for tutoring

Parents usually have to pay out of pocket for private tutoring. The costs can be considerable: Rates can range from $25 to $100 an hour. It can be much higher in large cities.

Private tutoring can require a major commitment of time and money. But it can help your child develop a better understanding of math and math concepts. Learn more about questions to ask potential tutors. And find out what steps you can take to offset tutoring expenses.


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