Maths and ADHD

As part of Children’s Mental Health Week, this month I will writing a series of This is me… posts-helping us all to understand how different brains view and explore maths. This week is the turn of ADHD.

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) is often associated with the inability to keep still or ‘pay attention’, but it is much more to it than those common perceptions. ADHD affects all aspects of a child’s (or adult’s) life. Today I am exploring the relationship between Maths and ADHD, alongside strategies to help.

The nature of ADHD and the nature of Maths, means that the two often don’t mix well together- this does not mean that children with ADHD are not capable of Maths. Maths simply needs to be approached in a different way.

A child I taught once told me that their brain was like London, thousands of people rushing around and no time to stop and talk. The people being their thoughts, constantly whizzing around and not stopping long enough for them to be properly processed. Now think about what Maths requires from our brains: memory, attention, organisation and problem solving. Then there are the facts to learn, the rules to follow and specific vocabulary to understand. It is no wonder Maths can become overwhelming.

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In a previous post I talked about learning maths, being like building a house. For many with ADHD, the foundations of that house were built far too quickly, meaning their house wobbles as the maths becomes more complex. This is due to the capacity with that child’s working memory. Remember the thousands of ideas whizzing around? A maths question doesn’t remove them, it adds to them, making even less space in a child’s working memory. This means it is incredibly hard for the child to focus on the maths. The clutter in the working memory makes it difficult to find the facts they already know, let alone apply them to the problem in front of them. The more steps involved in the problem, the more difficult this becomes.

The working memory is full, the child’s attention then aimlessly wanders to everything being stored there. This often leads to a very confused and frustrated child. These feelings often manifest in a number of ways: tears, shouting, anger or even giving up and walking away.

It is difficult to be organised when you live with ADHD, which further adds to the overwhelm that working memory and diverted attention have already caused. Processing speeds are often slower as a result, causing ADHD children to feel they are unable to do maths well because they are not as quick ad their peers. It is really important to emphasise to your child that fast does not equal good. ADHD children are using a great deal more energy than others to process and answer each question. This is what slows them down, not their mathematical ability

Strategies to help:

  1. Provide some of the facts they may need, a problem area is usually times tables. Your child may know them, but trying to recall them when processing new maths, will further fill the working memory. Having their times tables next to them is in no way ‘cheating’, it is letting them focus on processing the new areas of maths they are learning.
  2. Write down the steps your child needs to follow to be able to complete the questions they are working on. New learning is just that-learning! Providing the steps again allows your child to have a written point of reference rather than relying on working memory.
  3. Break up their tasks. Reduce the sense of overwhelm by reducing the number of questions to answer before a break. Remember then extra energy they are using to answer each question.
  4. Try and use squared paper, this reduces the need for your child to be organised as the squares do it for them.
  5. Complete a row of calculations, then you check them, or look at their progress. This creates a natural break and allows you to be less involved.

For more support, hints and tips join our Facebook Group here.

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