Friday, March 28, 2014

Mod Math Improves Math Skills in Kids With Dysgraphia

When people ask me what is the biggest stumbling block for my son, Henry, who has dyslexia and ADHD, I tell them that it’s his handwriting. If they’re in the know about learning disabilities, I’ll use the clinical term for horrific handwriting, dysgraphia.

Speech-to-text programs, like Dragon, are a godsend for kids like Henry. My son uses it to for almost every subject. It’s useless, however, for mathematics.

This is a big problem because Henry’s handwriting is so bad that often even he can’t read it. And, because the ADHD impairs his working memory, by the time he gets to step two of any equation, even he’s not sure if the number he wrote down was meant to be, say, a four or a nine. As for creating number columns neat enough to effectively add, subtract, multiply, or divide multi-digit equations, forget it. A 5 from the tens column, for example, will migrate to the space below a 7 from the hundreds column. The final calculations are wildly off base.
 Our only option was for Henry to dictate to me how to work through each problem. I would write down what he said. This was not a great long-term solution, unless he wanted me as his college roommate some day. Every so often, I'd force him to work independently. But this resulted in frustration, tears, and disappointment.  
 We tried lots of interventions, everything from pencil huggers to alternative grip pens, and special paper with raised lines to keep his writing more uniform. Years of occupational therapy went nowhere, as did more controversial interventions like vision therapy. 
Through it all, I searched for an assistive technology to circumvent this problem. I queried teachers, learning specialists, and other parents in the LD community. I scoured the Internet for leads, but found nothing.
One evening, after Henry had gotten through another homework-related meltdown, I voiced my frustration to my husband, stupefied that I couldn’t find anything to help our son. I wasn’t looking for a solution, just a sympathetic ear. But my husband doesn’t like talking about problems that don’t have solutions. Sometimes, I just feel like bitching, and sometimes he’s willing to listen. But sometimes we both end up irked by our personality differences. In this case, however, his pragmatism was a stroke of genius. “Why don’t we make one?” he suggested.
 So began our journey to create an app that could help not just our son, but any child who struggles with dysgraphia. The app, which works on the iPad, is called ModMath. It eliminates the need for students to write out math equations long hand. Think Excel, but without a calculator to do the calculations. Kids use the touch screen and on-screen keypad to set up and solve problems. Henry can now work through complicated math concepts, including multiplying multi-digit numbers, long division, regrouping and adding fractions with unlike deonominators. His assignments are laid out on virtual graph paper that can be printed out or e-mailed to the teacher. When he does make a calculation error, his teachers can now easily see where he went wrong and offer guidance because it’s all legibly laid out.

Don’t be too impressed with our ingenuity. We didn’t write a single line of code. My husband is a creative director and co-owner of a boutique ad agency called Division of Labor. He regularly contracts with software developers to create content for clients. So we knew where to go to get the job done. (Thanks Tall Tale Digital)

Friends and colleagues were incredulous that we had decided not to charge for the product.  “Anyone who has an iPad can afford an app that costs a couple bucks” was a refrain we heard a lot. We don’t disagree with that logic, but our goal is to get ModMath into the hands of as many LD kids as possible. If we don’t charge, organizations are much more willing to give us free publicity. This increases our opportunity to reach the children and families who need it most.
We do hope to create a ModMath 2.0 with additional features. However, we've already over-invested our personal funds. So we started a Kickstarter campaign to raise the necessary dollars. 

If you’d like to tell us about additional features you'd like to see, or if you just want to let us know how ModMath has helped your child, we'd love to hear from you at

Oh, and if you would, please like our Facebook page and/or write a positive review of the app for people in the iTunes store to read would greatly appreciate. 


  1. My child has dyslexia and dysgraphia too and I have shared this app with our school's special ed department so this app will hopfully be on our schools ipads soon!