Specific Learning Disability-impairment in Mathematics in Adults

ICD-10 code: F81.2

Specific Learning Disorder, Impairment in Mathematics is part of a cluster of diagnoses called Specific Learning Disorders. Specific Learning Disorders are a group of psychiatric conditions that include:

  • Impairment in Reading
  • Impairment in Written Expression
  • Impairment in Mathematics

These disorders are categorized by a persistent difficulty learning keystone academic sills with an onset during the years of formal schooling. Key academic skills include reading of single words accurately and fluently, reading comprehension, written expression and spelling, arithmetic calculation, and mathematical reasoning. Difficulties learning to map letters with the sound of one’s language- to read printed words- is one of the most common manifestations of specific learning disorder. 

Learning difficulties are usually readily apparent in the early school years in most individuals. Academic skills that were not mastered during the school-age years remain difficult. They are a persisting problem that evolves throughout the developmental continuum. The academic difficulties an individual might experience as a grade-school student can be very different from what is manifested as an adult with a learning disability.  Thus, learning disabilities in adulthood present different themes, challenges, and issues. Social and emotional problems are not uncommon with adults with learning disabilities. An overall feeling of lack of self-worth, low self-esteem, and a poor self-concept can be pervasive. Many adults with learning disabilities have had negative experiences since their school-age years. Consequently, it is not uncommon for them to have carried their self-attributions of feeling incompetent and unintelligent into adulthood. Adults with learning disorders also have considerable strengths that include development of compensatory strategies to bypass academic impairments and resiliency to recover and persist despite challenges.

Adults with Specific Learning Disorders perform well below average for their age, and average achievement is only attained through extraordinarily high levels of effort or support. The low academic skills cause significant interference with vocational or workplace skills. These learning difficulties are considered “specific” for four reasons: (1) they are not attributable to an intellectual disability; (2) they cannot be attributed to external factors such as economic or environmental disadvantage, chronic absenteeism, or lack of education in the individual’s community context; (3) they cannot be attributed to a neurological or motor disorder and (4) the difficulties may be restricted to one academic skill or domain (i.e., reading single words, retrieving or calculating number facts).

Note that Dyscalculia is a general term used to describe difficulty in mathematics. If dyscalculia is used to specify this particular pattern of difficulties, it is important to specify what difficulties are present.

What is Specific Learning Disorder, Impairment in Mathematics?

Approximately 4% of adults in the general population have a learning disorder. In the 2010 census, 4.6 million adults reported have a learning disorder. Of the children who have a specific learning disability, approximately half have a mathematics impairment. 

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Understanding Impairment in Mathematics

Impairment in Mathematics is a condition that makes it difficult to make sense of numbers and math concepts. Adults with math impairments have difficulty learning and memorizing basic number facts. They struggle to understand the logic behind math and how to apply their knowledge to solving problems. Impairments in mathematics severity can range from mild to severe. The most common problem seen with adults is with “number sense.” This is an intuitive understanding of how numbers work, and how to compare and estimate quantities on a number line.

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How is Impairment in Mathematics treated?

Impairments in mathematics are treatable using a targeted, individualized intervention. The intervention is uniquely tailored to remedy the individual’s weaknesses in a targeted area of mathematics (e.g., number sense, memorization of math facts, accurate or fluent calculation, accurate math reasoning). Although interventions should be individualized to take into account an individuals’ academic strengths and weaknesses, there are recommendations of what a math intervention should include: Intervention Practices in Adult Literacy Education; Best Practices in Math Interventions

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