Teaching Addition to Students with Special Needs

Instructor: Lori Sturdivant

Lori has a specialist's degree in Instructional Leadership/Mild Moderate and currently serves as the Lead Teacher for The University of Southern Mississippi's Autism Project.

Are you looking for an engaging way to teach addition to your students with special needs? This lesson provides multisensory strategies and examples for helping students with special needs learn to solve addition problems.

Special Needs Students and Math

Memorizing math facts often doesn't work for students with special needs. However, there are ways to teach addition and make it fun! These include the use of manipulatives and touch math points. Let's take a look at these two approaches in more depth.


Manipulatives are objects or materials that students can touch and move around in order to help them learn mathematical and other concepts in the classroom. They include blocks, tiles, cubes, popsicle sticks, beads and cereal, among other items. Manipulatives are multisensory as they engage learners physically and visually, which leads to a deeper level of understanding. To really engage learners, use items they prefer, such as favorite characters or colors, stickers and toy cars.

Teaching with Manipulatives

When beginning a lesson with manipulatives, start with small groups of items. Use the same kinds of items in each group, for example, a group of three popsicle sticks and a group of four popsicle sticks. Have students count the number of items in each group. Next, ask students to put all the items together and count the total number of objects. Let them know that they have just added! Do this several more times with a different number of items in each group.

To deepen the concept of addition, have students come up with different problems using a set amount of an item. For example, give a student eight blocks and ask him or her how many different groups can add up to '8', such as 7+1, 6+2, 5 + 3 and 4 + 4. This will help him or her understand that a number represents a certain amount.

Touch Math Points

This strategy is visually based and inexpensive; you can make your own materials. The numbers are actually manipulatives within themselves because you touch them to count. When students have mastered counting the items, introduce the numbers with their corresponding touch points, which are the dots on the numbers. Note that the dots with circles around them should be counted twice, meaning that both the dot and the circle should be counted.

Touch Point Numbers
Touch Point Numbers

Teaching Touch Math Points

Do not try to teach the points on numbers 1-9 in one lesson. Students with special needs need information broken down so that they can process it and are not overwhelmed. Depending on a student's ability level, you might teach numbers 1-3, then 4-6 and finally 7-9. You can make more or less groups of numbers depending on the individual student, such as, 1-5 and 6-9 or 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 and 7-9.

Have your students practice touching and counting the points on a daily basis until they have the numbers memorized. You can make learning the touch points fun by using a different or a student's favorite color for each number.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account