As a child Adrian Tan dreaded math. For a good part of his childhood, they were just numbers but as he moved to higher classes, they started adding letters to the problems. And problems, indeed they were!
Even as his peers were quick at doing the simplest calculations, Adrian would have to rely on his fingers. Buying candy seemed like a task, and panic attacks before the math paper turned out to be a regular affair. He’d just want to run away as soon as he saw the numbers on the question paper. It was unusual to be struggling with basic math problems at the age of 13 years.
Surprisingly, that wasn’t the case with history, science, geography or languages. He’d sail right through without a problem. So what went wrong with math? Turns out, little did Adrian know then that he is suffering from dyscalculia. It’s a math learning disability that you’ve probably never heard of. And unsurprisingly, a lot of haven’t.
It’s often confused with dyslexia, which is a reading disorder or is even termed as ‘math dyslexia.’ However, dyscalculia is unrelated to dyslexia and affects the child differently too.
So, what is it? How can you identify it and what’s the dyscalculia treatment? We try and answer all your concerns below.
What Is Dyscalculia?
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People with dyscalculia have difficulty understanding math concepts and equations. The level of dyscalculia differs from person to person.
While some may find it difficult to solve even simple math problems, there are others for whom equations and sums will seem completely foreign despite trying several times.
Sadly, dyscalculia isn’t as widely known and often overlapped with dyslexia. But students who suffer from the former may not necessarily have the latter.
Scientists too are still figuring out more details about dyscalculia and how it affects those people. Most scientists do believe that the disability is as common as dyslexia but not as widely known.
Studies suggest that about 60 per cent of people who’ve been diagnosed with deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are also likely to have dyscalculia.
What Causes Dyscalculia?
There’s no determined reason for dyscalculia in children. However, some experts believe that these reasons could be the major contributing factors:
- Genes: Dyscalculia could run in families and may pass from one generation to another.
- Brain development: Children with dyscalculia have shown to have slightly different brain development when compared to those who don’t have this learning disability.
Do remember, it wasn’t until the 1990s that people became aware of dyslexia and ADHD, so the road to dyscalculia is still steep. Experts suggest that about five to 10 per cent of the global population suffers from dyscalculia.
How Dyscalculia Affects Everyday Life
Math Struggles That Go Beyond Numbers
Dyscalculia, a learning disorder affecting math skills, can have a significant impact on academic performance. Students with dyscalculia may find it challenging to grasp number concepts, perform basic calculations, or understand mathematical symbols and relationships.
Dyscalculia can extend its reach beyond the math classroom and affect everyday life. Individuals with dyscalculia may experience difficulties with time management. Concepts like estimating the duration of tasks or understanding the passage of time may pose challenges, making it harder to plan and organise daily activities.
Dyscalculia can also impact financial skills. Handling money, calculating change, or managing budgets may be more challenging for individuals with dyscalculia. These difficulties can potentially affect personal finances, shopping experiences, and overall financial literacy.
Spatial organisation is another area affected by dyscalculia. Concepts like orientation, direction, and spatial relationships may be more difficult to comprehend. This can influence skills such as reading maps, following directions, and understanding diagrams or graphs.
Self-Esteem and Confidence
The impact of dyscalculia reaches beyond academic and practical challenges. Struggling with math can lead to decreased self-esteem and confidence. Students may feel discouraged, anxious, or frustrated, which can have a ripple effect on their overall academic motivation and well-being.
What Are Dyscalculia Symptoms?
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If your child is unable to cope with understanding math year-on-year, and you think they may have dyscalculia, here are some of the signs to watch out for:
- Kids find it difficult to count numbers, do basic math like addition, subtraction, multiplication
- They find it difficult to remember math-related formulas
- Kids struggle to count money and make change
- They are unable to judge speed and distance
- Kids with dyscalculia find it difficult to read a clock or remember phone numbers
- Concepts like fractions and integers seem alien to them
- They find it difficult to keep score during a game
Kids with dyscalculia may also be unable to read numbers on a dice without really counting. They also are more prone to having panic attacks or severe anxiety around numbers. So, like Adrian, kids detest doing their math-related homework.
How Do You Diagnose Dyscalculia?
If you think your child requires dyscalculia treatment or has a history in the family, make sure to speak to your paediatrician or a psychologist. They will first rule out vision and hearing problems before checking for any learning disabilities in the child.
You must also speak to their math teacher to see how exactly are they lacking in the subject, while also confirming with other subject teachers on your child’s overall performance.
Doctors may also recommend you see a learning specialist who will speak to your child and help determine how severe is your child’s learning disability.
Specialists run educational and psychosocial tests on children that help determine the following:
1. Computational skills
To check how many how a young child solves simple problems like addition and subtraction, while an older kid may have to sold multiplication and fractions.
2. Math fluency
This test determines the child’s ability to recall basic math concepts like multiplication. So, 10 x 5 = 50.
3. Mental computation
More commonly known as mental math, this test will check your child’s ability to solve basic to intermediate math problems in their head.
4. Quantitative reasoning
This test checks the child’s ability to understand and comprehend a word problem and then solve the same.
How to Support Your Child with Dyscalculia
Familiarise yourself with the common signs of dyscalculia, such as difficulty understanding number concepts, struggling with calculations, or having trouble with spatial organisation. Early identification is crucial, so stay vigilant and consult with professionals if you suspect your child may have dyscalculia.
Provide individualised instruction tailored to your child’s specific needs.
Break down math concepts into smaller, more manageable steps, and use visual aids, manipulatives, and real-life examples to make abstract concepts more concrete. Adapt teaching methods to suit their learning style, whether it’s visual, auditory, or kinesthetic.
Here’s what learning specialists recommend when it comes to dyscalculia treatment:
- Try math-based learning games at home
- Let your child practice math equations and sums more often to get a grasp of it
- Give them time to solve a problem
- Some students may require a calculator to complete their equations
- Praise their hard work and let them know that it’s okay to take time
- Opt for a private math tutor who has experience in handling children with learning disabilities
- Keep reassuring them from time to time that they will be able to solve the problem
Parents should also speak to school authorities and their child’s math teacher on how to approach the subject keeping dyscalculia in mind. Here’s what you should ask for:
- Extra time to complete exams, tests
- The option to record lectures so your child can replay them
- Using a calculator in class
- Specialised coaching
Engage multiple senses to enhance learning.
Incorporate hands-on activities, such as using counters, blocks, or measuring tools, to reinforce mathematical concepts. Encourage verbal explanations and discussions to promote a deeper understanding. By stimulating different senses, you can help children with dyscalculia connect with and internalise mathematical concepts more effectively.
Build confidence and self-esteem.
Dyscalculia can impact a child’s self-esteem and confidence. Celebrate their achievements, no matter how small, and provide positive reinforcement. Focus on their strengths and provide opportunities for success in non-mathematical areas. Encourage a growth mindset, emphasising that mistakes are part of the learning process, and that progress is more important than perfection.
Collaborate with professionals.
Seek support from professionals, such as special education teachers or educational psychologists, who specialise in dyscalculia. They can offer valuable insights, assessment tools, and personalised strategies to support your child’s learning journey. Collaborate with the school to develop an individualised education plan to ensure your child receives appropriate accommodations and support in the classroom.
If your child is diagnosed with dyscalculia, they will just need a little bit of help from you, their teachers and even peers to get by. Do remember, kids with this learning ability may just do fine in other subjects, so it’s really about just giving them time to catch up.
As a parent of a child with dyscalculia, this disability requires a different educational approach. That’s why parents will have to be extremely supportive of their children as they do not feel like social outcasts.
At the same time, children need not feel that there is something lacking in them. While we don’t say your child will start loving math, with the help of dyscalculia treatment, they might be able to overcome several hurdles in learning.
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Updates from Camille Eusebio
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