Math. A simple word. Some students wince when they hear this word, and some students jump for joy. Students with autism usually want to run the other way, taking advantage of their flight response when math is mentioned in their daily routine. Fortunately, a program called TouchMath was invented 30 years ago by Janet Bullock, a teacher searching for a way to help her students understand how a symbol represents a quantity.

What is TouchMath?

Most teachers would answer that this is one of the best programs they have ever used. TouchMath uses mutli-sensory techniques to teach students that numbers are associated with real values. Each number has TouchPoints, which are dots assigned to the number that correspond to the number’s value. Numbers 1-5 have single TouchPoints, and numbers 6-9 have double Touchpoints (a dot within a concentric circle, which is touched twice). Students touch the TouchPoints in the correct pattern, and when they count forward, they are adding. When they count backwards, they are subtracting. Students eventually learn to skip count in order to multiply and divide.

What is Included in TouchMath?

TouchMath’s grade levels span from pre-K to upper grades. Programs include money, time, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions and word problems. Pre-K and Kindergarten programs focus a great deal on number concept. Manipulatives are available for all levels. TouchMath is a colorful, visually appealing program that offers many different elements to reach students of varying levels and disabilities.

Why is TouchMath Effective for Students with Autism?

TouchMath helps students with autism make that very critical connection between numbers and quantity. In a study completed by David Berry, Ph.D., ten students with autism were followed over a two-year period as they completed the addition and subtraction sequences of the TouchMath program. The results indicated a three-year gain in addition and subtraction skills. Berry’s conclusion to this study was that, “Children with autism are best served using TouchMath as it has been proven an effective curriculum for this population.”

The TouchMath program offers everything that should be implemented in teaching students with autism. It is a highly structured program, following a step-by-step format. Worksheets are not cluttered and busy; they are visually pleasing with large print and adequate workspace. Manipulatives are interesting and fun to work with. The TouchPoints, eventually faded, offer a mental manipulative that students will use as they move into higher math levels. Visual cues help with left/right directionality, reduce number reversals and reinforce place value. TouchMath allows students with autism to truly understand the concept behind the number.

It is important for teachers to follow the given sequence of TouchMath when teaching math to students with autism. Skipping steps and/or concepts is not advisable, as these students need the “in-between” steps that are often picked up quite easily by typical students. It is also important to make use of TouchMath’s manipulatives. Since students with autism usually have a strong visual sense, these manipulatives can reinforce math concepts even more.

TouchMath is a research-based, effective program for use with students with autism. Math is often abstract and beyond the reach of many of these students. TouchMath makes real connections, and it provides a successful base for higher level math. It is a definite breakthrough in reaching those students who have rarely experienced success with math skills in the past. To find out more, visit TouchMath.