Maths and ASD

A popular misconception is that everyone with ASD is excellent at maths and science. A 2013 study supports this idea by suggesting that children with ASD may have some cognitive strengths that boost their mathematical ability. Typically, those with ASD, use parts of the brain to solve maths problems that their peers don’t often use. It is said that those with ASD breakdown the problem into smaller steps, twice as often as their non ASD peers. Suggesting that ASD children have a deeper understanding of the mathematical principles present in the problem being solved.

For some ASD children this world of simple maths and whizzing through problems is a world away from their mathematical experiences. ASD comes in a variety of forms, it has no rules and presents itself in entirely unique ways in each person.

This being said it is not at all surprising that some ASD children have no interest in maths at all. They no purpose or relevance to learning a series of facts. It is too far removed from what they believe they need and most importantly what they are currently experiencing. Other ASD children struggle with the verbal nature of maths. Maths requires a great deal of communication and for ASD children that is a daunting prospect, many ASD children are non-verbal and this makes maths a mountain to climb.

Even those that appear to have maths sorted have struggles. ASD affects the memory, attention, and organisation; this creates a world of problems when words enter the realm of numbers. A seemingly simple word problem can be a world of chaos and confusion for ASD children. Take this question:

Rosie has 6 baskets with apples she has collected. Each basket has 5 apples in. Her brother, Jack also has 6 baskets of apples. He has 4 apples in each basket. How many more apples does Rosie have?

Photo by Olya Kobruseva on

This question has so much information that is not relevant to the maths, however, will potentially divert the attention of ASD child. Who is Rosie? Where is Rosie? Apples don’t grow this time of year. Why didn’t Jack collect as many apples? These are all questions that may arise. There is also no way of knowing the answer to them. Then the problem has many steps, it requires, two multiplications and a subtraction. The organisation of which order to undertake these steps is a hurdle in itself. Then add into the mix that many ASD children are reluctant to write down their workings out. They are now wondering about all these questions, unsure of the order to undertake the maths and trying to keep what they have worked out in their memory, along with finding the answer to the next step. I’m exhausted just thinking about that process! It suddenly becomes clear why there is frustration and avoidance.

What can we do to help?

There are a number of things we, as adults, can do to help our ASD children.

  1. If finding the relevance of maths is the first issue you are facing, adapt tasks and questions to focus on the interests of your child.
  2. Use objects, ten frames, blocks, online counters and anything else you can find to show the maths, move them, share them, pick them up, place them in a new place. Let the objects make the maths come to life,
  3. For non-verbal children or those that shy away from long conversation, show the maths practically with limited words, allow your child to express their answers how they are comfortable and photograph it, then write it for them.
  4. Use fact sheets for times tables, fraction walls, decimal conversion charts, to hold some of the information for your child, this will allow them to focus on the bigger picture.
  5. Word problems- let them make up a story for Rosie, it will clear this part of their brain, allowing them to focus on the maths.

Why not join the Facebook Group? The group focuses on strategies for Maths Anxiety, however, many resources will be useful for ASD children. You might even have a top tip to share with another parent. This week there is a PDF available to breakdown answering word problems.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: