10 Things You Need to Know about Students with Visual & Auditory Disabilities

Auditory and Visual Disabilities are caused by a difficulty processing visual or auditory information in the brain. And man, oh man, do these processing difficulties make learning more difficult for them at school.

For many of our kids, we identify weaknesses in reading, and often times, qualify them as having a specific learning disability in reading. However, we need to be aware and looking for times when these processing difficulties might also be occurring in math!

1. Students Might Lose Their Place

Students with difficulty processing visual information often lose their place as they’re solving math problems. For example, I often use a hundreds chart with my students. They might look at their paper and see 4 + 3. They use their hundreds chart to solve and discover that the answer is 7.

However, students who struggle to find their place might have a hard time finding the original problem on the paper. Meaning, now they KNOW the answer, however, they can’t record it in the correct place to show what they know.

Strategy: I like to use bingo markers, fun erasers, desk pets, or child specific objects to indicate where they should write their answer or return to after finding the answer.

2. Unable to Locate Relevant Information On Their Own

Have you ever asked your students to point to a number on a page or find a specific word and they cannot do it? For students with visual processing difficulties, scanning a page for specific information can be extremely difficult for them. You might see that they cannot locate symbols, numbers, or words, despite their ability to recognize those when they are shown them in isolation.

Strategy: Use colored overlays to help your students focus in on a small portion of the page. You can also use clue words, such as near the top or at the bottom to help your students be able to locate the correct information.

3. Difficulty Copying

Copying can be very hard for so many of our students. They might find it difficult to copy from the board, a neighbor, their ChromeBook, a book, or even from the top of a worksheet to the bottom half of the worksheet.

Strategy: Explicitly teach and train them to use their hand, marker, or crayon to mark their place. When possible, provide additional time.

4. Mixing Up Numbers

We all do it, but some of our students do it frequently. Be on the lookout for students who have a combination of the numbers that were used but they’re written in the incorrect order, such 293 but writing 239. This is not quite the same as reversals, such as confusing the letters d and p.

Strategy: Have students read it aloud (or whisper) and repeat it as they write in order to rely on their auditory and working memory skills rather than their visual skills.

5. Copying Problems Incorrectly

Again, this is not referring to reversals. You might notice students who are copying from the board and grab a number from one problem and a completely different (and incorrect) number from another problem. This will more than likely result in the wrong answer and we might laugh it off. However, if this is happening often, it might be the result of a visual processing disability.

Strategy: Have students use highlighters to check off what is done, fingers to point, or desk pets to indicate where they have already been and what’s coming next. They need a place to remind their eyes where to go.

6. Numbers Being Written Backward

I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve see the numbers 2, 3, 5, 7, and 9 written backward.

Strategy: I use a hundreds chart to help my students self check before they write or record a number. I also like to have students who do this often self-monitor themselves before or after they write a number that they know is difficult for them.

7. Mixing Up Teen Numbers

We’ve all heard it: 9, 10, 11, 12, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 100! 🎉

Students with auditory based processing difficulties are often unable to differentiate between those teen numbers and numbers that sound a bit similar.

Strategy: You can never go wrong with a hundreds chart! Have students point as you count aloud. And don’t forget, you can’t rely on the one that is hanging in the front of the classroom. Allow students to have their own hundreds chart and point as the group or class count.

8. Regrouping Struggles

For some of our students, they often struggle to place numbers in the proper places when regrouping, whether that be for addition or subtraction. This can be the result of not understand place value well enough OR it could be that the student is getting lost visually on the paper.

Strategy: Write “tiny” versions of the sums and have your students draw arrows to the correct columns. I often rely on repetitive phrases that are used over and over, such as “Carry the one.” When dealing with three or more digit numbers, they can use a ruler to slide from one column to another.

9. Subitizing

Students with difficulty processing visual information are often unable to identify standard groups of objects, such as the dots on dice. This slows down their ability to recognize groups of objects and counting quickly.

Strategy: Dedicate more time for the memorization of groups of objects that would require students to subitize. If that isn’t effective, teach students to begin making groups of two!

10. Always Behind

As we are rushing through our small groups and daily lessons, some of our students just struggle to keep up. BE on the lookout for students who are processing auditory information. Have you ever had a student (or maybe yourself), and say, “Huh?” or “What did you say?” but then immediately answer the question you just asked? They are often in need of extra time to think.

Strategy: Begin teaching students some self-advocacy strategies. When the pace is too fast, we begin creating environments that are too much for our students. So, for yourself, slow down. And for your students, teach them that it’s ok to politely ask you to repeat information, slow down, or give them time to think.

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