Two-Digit Addition:  Overcoming Challenges for Children with Autism

Is your child ready for two-digit addition? Here I will describe to you how we dealt with the first step:  learning to add two digits to one digit.

Perhaps your child has successfully learned the basic addition facts, and now you believe she’s ready for the next level. 

Here’s what I've been doing to help my son learn two-digit addition.

Two-Digit Plus One-Digit Addition

As I mentioned before, the first place you’ll start is with the addition of two-digit numbers to one-digit numbers. 

Now when C saw this, it threw him off.



                                  +    3


I had to explain that, in the tens column, he’s adding two plus nothing, which is the same as two plus zero. He automatically started writing a zero under the number in the tens column to help him with that concept. 

That was fine with me.  It worked, and it helped him visualize that concept.

He’s still writing zeros in the tens column in these types of equations, and I don’t see any reason why he can’t continue this if it helps him. 

After your child can do this type of problem without any carrying, you’ll want to introduce the concept of carrying (regrouping). 

A Two-Digit Addition Challenge

If your child with autism ever has difficulties in connection with regrouping, he’s not alone.  This is where my son has had struggles.

When I taught him how to carry the 1 and then add it to the tens column, he learned it just fine.  But when we went back to an equation that required no carrying, we ran into a dilemma.  Take a look at this:

                             1                     1

                 48                   48                   53

                 + 4                   + 2                  + 3

                 52                    50                  66

If you look carefully at how these equations have been solved, you’ll see that he got used to adding a 1 to the tens column.  But when I put in an equation without carrying, it threw him off.  He was so used to adding in a 1 that he kept up that habit, even when there was no carried 1 in the tens column.

I think this is a problem that may be unique to autism.  Children with autism tend to get stuck in a rut because they think the task is supposed to be done one certain way.  They may have a hard time adjusting a procedure to suit the circumstances.

He had previously mastered the procedure of two-digit addition that required no carrying.  And he was actually quite good at it.  But changing the procedure still threw him off because it was hard to switch back and forth between carrying and not carrying.

How to Solve This

I try to talk him through each problem.  For the first equation above, I would say, “8 plus 4 equals ______.  And what does 1 plus 4 equal?”

I also continue to give him lots of practice going back and forth between equations that require carrying and those that don’t. I mix them all up on the same worksheet.

Hopefully, the repetition of having to switch back and forth will train him to adapt the procedure to the type of equation he's solving.

If your child has had struggles like my son has, it may take a lot of practice to overcome this.  It may be a good idea to make sure your child understands this concept before moving on to the next step, adding two digits to two digits.

But if this issue continues to confuse him and he just can’t seem to get past it, you may decide to move on anyway.  As in many other circumstances, you often have to use your own judgment.

Of course, your child may have completely different challenges when learning two-digit addition.  But I hope that telling you about our struggles can help you somehow.

What is the most important concept to remember? To always, always, always approach everything we do for our kids with a lot of love, patience and understanding.

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