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If an elementary school student is having difficulty learning math, what are the possible cognitive issues that could be interfering with the student’s learning? For each cognitive issue you identify, what other deficits might also be observed? Focus on possible cognitive deficits while providing examples to support your thinking. As you respond to your classmates, think about examples of classroom learning difficulties you have seen during your own schooling.

To complete this assignment, review the Discussion Rubric document.



For elementary students experiencing difficulties with learning mathematic concepts, an psycho-educational evaluation may be proposed in order to determine possible cognitive deficits that are the cause for the student’s difficulties with learning. Some possible disabilities that a psychologist may consider are a specific learning disability, intellectual disability, or other health impairment. While each of these disability categories are different, they can cause deficits in a student’s ability to grasp academic concepts, especially mathematics.

A specific learning disability interferes “with a student’s ability to listen, think, speak, write, spell or do mathematical calculations” (Churchhill Center and School, n.d.). Students with a specific learning disability may experience issues in only mathematics class or could also display deficits in reading and/or writing. Types of specific learning disabilities can include but are not limited to dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia (Churchhill Center and School, n.d).

An intellectual disability limits “intellectual functions (reasoning, learning, problem solving)” and adaptive behavior of social and life skills (AAIDD, 2020). Conceptual skills that are required for mathematics are one of the deficits of an intellectual disability. In addition to this, students with an intellectual disability will also experience deficits in the areas of social skills and life skills (CITATION).

The umbrella diagnosis of other health impairment, specifically for students with ADD and ADHD, may also contribute to issues with mathematics. For students with ADD and ADHD, their disorders result in limited focus, which contributes to academic participation and performance. Students with ADD or ADHD not only struggle with focus in the classroom, but also throughout different areas of their life, which adversely produces other deficits for the individual (Other Health Impairment, n.d.).


AAIDD. (2020). Frequently asked questions on intellectual disability. AAIDD. https://www.aaidd.org/intellectual-disability/definition/faqs-on-intellectual-disability

Churchhill Center and School. (n.d.) What is a specific learning disability? Churchhill Center and School. https://www.churchillstl.org/learning-disability-resources/specific-learning-disabilities/

Other Health Impairment. (n.d.) ARK SPED. Retrieved May 13, 2020 https://arksped.k12.ar.us/rules_regs_08/3.%20SPED%20ELIGIBILITY%20CRITERIA%20AND%20PROGRAM%20GUIDELINES%20FOR%20CHILDREN/PART%20I%20ELIGIBILITY%20CRITERIA%20AGES%205-21/H.%20OTHER%20HEALTH%20IMPAIRMENT.pdf


Math is a complex subject that all elementary school students will learn. Even at the first level of education (e.g., preschool) will learn to count. When a student has a difficult time learning the subject it may be hard to distinguish what type of cognitive deficit this child may have because math does not just involve numbers. It involves arithmetic, procedures, and sometimes even visual comprehension (Geary, 2004). So, where would you start? Some students may realize right away that the subject is difficult for them but the majority of the time the teacher will realize during that first quiz or during standardized testing. But if we focus on the concepts involved in math then we may be to understand what part of our brain may have difficulty learning the material.

The first deficit may be a memory deficit. We can see this when children are counting or using arithmetic to solve a word problem (Geary, 2004). Geary (2004) discusses how children who usually struggle with a math word problem or counting most of the time will use their fingers to assist in counting or with sequencing because it reduces the working memory demands while counting. It is noted that memory may be the reason children over count something or undercount because of their working memory because the child can forget or lose track of where they left off (Geary, 2004). Andersson and Östergren (2012) also not that working memory is associated with storing data while completing a math word problem and not allowing irrelevant information to enter as the child completes the task. As a child grows and learns more concepts and rules about math memory also is required (Andersson & Östergren, 2012). If there is a deficit it can cause it to become more difficult for the child to move on.

Visual deficits can cause a child to learn their shapes and once they advance there may be some difficulty in learning geometry. Geary (2004) discusses a study that was completed in 1999 where children with math learning disabilities had a different time with visuospatial working memory but also noted that it could other things like maintaining their attention math problem. This could be from disorders like ADHD or ADD.


Geary, D. C. (2004). Mathematics and learning disabilities. Journal of learning disabilities, 37(1), 4-15.

Andersson, U., & Östergren, R. (2012). Number magnitude processing and basic cognitive functions in children with mathematical learning disabilities. Learning and Individual Differences, 22(6), 701-714.