Today, we are going to discuss Dyscalculia. And not because of the fact that is something close to something that causes us anxiety or fear, but an interesting situation that should be embraced and clarified. But let’s start with the definition of the term…
What exactly is Dyscalculia?
Dyscalculia is a common learning issue that has an impact on kids’ ability towards Mathematics. The term was coined in the 1940s, but become fully recognized in 1974 through the work of Czechoslovakian researcher Ladislav Kosc, who defined it as “a structural disorder of mathematical abilities, caused by impairment to the parts of the brain used in mathematical calculations, without simultaneous impairment to one’s general mental abilities”. Struggling with algebra or calculus in universities doesn’t mean you have dyscalculia. On the contrary… this condition affects the most basic skills, such as struggling with the most basic arithmetic facts, 5+2=7.
Just to define it simply, dyscalculia is a condition that makes it difficult for children to perform mathematical tasks, such as understanding number-related concepts or using symbols or functions needed for math problems. Sometimes, children are not able to understand quantities or concepts like biggest or smallest or to combine the numeral 5 with the correspondent word five (number sense). It is quite reasonable the fact that children with dyscalculia may understand the logic behind math, but not how or when to apply their knowledge, when they have to solve a math problem. What is really impressive is the fact that children with dyscalculia may hold many and large numbers in mind, but they are really struggling to solve a math problem (working memory). However, you should not worry or fell anxious in case your child has dyscalculia as we are going to discuss are various strategies that can help kids understand this specific condition and gain the skills they need. Do you believe that your child might have dyscalculia? The first thing is to diagnose it, before to eliminate or at least to limit it.
How to identify Dyscalculia?
To be clear, it is undefined what causes dyscalculia. However, researchers have identified certain factors that possibly cause dyscalculia:
Genes: Research shows that differences in genetics may affect math performance of children, that is why we have met lots of cases where Dyscalculia tends to run in families.
Brain development: Studies have shown that people with dyscalculia show differences in the surface area, thickness and volume of certain parts of the brain. Moreover, there are also differences in the activation of brain areas that are linked to numerical and mathematical processing. Be informed about brain differences in kids with dyscalculia.
Environment: Prematurity, low birth weight and several factors linked to everyday life background may also affect the appearance of dyscalculia.
Brain injury: Studies show that injury to certain parts of the brain can result in what researchers call acquired dyscalculia.
Help your child identify his/her strengths through this activity. It is quite expected the fact that dyscalculia’ symptoms appear in preschool age and become more apparent as children get older. So, let’s make a short list of these symptoms, in regards to each educational level:
Symptoms in Preschool Age (click here)
- Trouble in counting process
- Skip over numbers – Not remember numbers in the right order
- Not recognize patterns (ex. smallest/largest)
- Trouble in recognizing number symbols
- Not understand the meaning of counting
Symptoms in Grade School Age (click here)
- Difficulty in learning and recalling basic math facts (ex. 5 + 3 = 8)
- Difficulty in identifying and using correctly numerical symbols, such as +, ‒
- Making use of fingers to count instead of mental math
- Difficulty in understanding words related to math (ex. greater than/less than)
- Trouble with numbers’ visual representations in space (ex. number lines)
Symptoms in Middle School Age (click here)
- Difficulty in understanding place value
- Difficulty in writing numerals clearly
- Struggling with fractions and measurement process
Symptoms in High School Age (click here)
- Struggling with money-related process, total cost or change estimation
- Difficulty in understanding information shown on graphs or charts
- Difficulty in measuring process
- Difficulty in solving the same math problem with different ways
Of course, not all children may show all symptoms described above, but it is vitally important for both students and their parents to have a clear image of the child’s possible strengths and weaknesses, in order to follow certain steps for their elimination. As far as the identification of dyscalculia is concerned, evaluation has to take place, either at school or through an expert (ex. school psychologists, child psychologists and pediatric neuropsychologists), so that to be able to manage it.
How to manage Dyscalculia?
Children with dyscalculia, regardless of gender or age, need extra support to have a beneficial progress math class, handle homework and succeed in tests. There are a number of strategies to use so as to manage dyscalculia and find the right tools for each child’s needs. You can use practices or tools either as a tutor, or a school teacher, or at home… just like those described in the following video:
So, let’s summarize what we have watched in the video above, about the steps we should follow either as tutors, or school teachers, or parents in order to help our children manage dyscalculia:
Tutors: A math tutor, as a person who has experience working with different learning level students, is able to guide each child on how to approach math problems more effectively. Thus, he is able to help your child practice his math skills in a slower, less stressful way… through educational technological tools. I am a great believer in using apps and Ed-Tech games, not only as fun, but as an integral part of the teaching and learning experience. Games are vitally important as they can target particular areas of difficulties/misconceptions in mathematics and motivate students to practice themselves in any mathematical technique that they need to understand but have not yet fully mastered. These are the following ones:
- Multisensory techniques
- Software, online applications & tools
- Free online assistive technology tools.
- Board games your child can play to build math skills
- Maths apps and games for practicing essential skills in a joyful way
Class Teaching: It is very important for each child with dyscalculia, to be evaluated constantly and learn to work with groups so that to have a targeted management of this condition. More specifically:
- It would be very beneficial for teachers and students with dyscalculia as well, to avoid timed tests of basic knowledge such as multiplication tables.
- As far as students’ self-esteem is concerned, it is not pleasant for a student to finish an entire worksheet, only to be told that every answer is wrong and he’ll need to do it again. Instead, teachers should check after every few problems. As a result, children have the opportunity to learn from mistakes and feel empowered through a sense of improvement. We should never forget that we should praise their struggles and hard work — even if the results aren’t perfect. Help him identify his specific strengths, and offer positive reinforcement. If the child starts underestimating himself, don’t ignore it. Instead, check out these ideas for helping kids who are too hard on themselves. Here, you can find a variety of ways, on how to help your child build self-esteem. These are the following ones:
1. Teachers should make a list of the steps and algorithms followed for the solution of a multi-step problem. Providing students with numbered step-by-step instructions will help them to build well-structured learning paths on their minds, in regard to the clarification and solution of a math problem
2. Keeping sample problems on the board could also help students, as they are able to create a notebook for reference
3. Giving each student dry-erase board, will help him/her to complete one step of a problem at a time and find out any mistake he may make
4. Make use of brightly colored charts, diagrams and visual representations of math problems
5. Reduce the number of assigned problems
Working at Home: As we analyzed before, people with dyscalculia have a deficit in the brain’s ability to process information related to numbers. In a broader sense, they have difficulties with math operations, sequencing information, budgeting time and keeping schedules. But the solution to this is magnificently…so simple and so directly! Adjust abstract mathematical information in every-day life and students with dyscalculia will succeed. To put this simply, there is no need to your child calculus; you can help him build math skills on his own and gain confidence with the following simple everyday practices:
- Use “Real-Life” examples & Physical Objects. For example, when you go grocery shopping, talk about how much change you’ll get back at checkout, or how many apples you’ll need for the week’s lunches. All these and even more examples from every-day life will strengthen your child’s number sense and visual-spatial skills.
- Play math games. Playing with your child common board games (ex. Candyland, Sorry, and Mancala) which involve counting, simple arithmetic, and fine motor skills will help him learn to use numbers through a fun and joyful way.
- Work with your child on time management. Lots of children with dyscalculia face difficulties in recognizing how much time has passed in order to proceed to the next activity. Work with your child on time management and create a system to help him improve his/her sense of time. For example, you could use cell-phone reminders, visual timers “Time Timer”, or allow your child to take frequent breaks during homework time.
- Help with homework. Multi-part math problems may seem difficult for children with dyscalculia, and without help, they will be unsure where to start or what he should do to solve these. So help him/her by doing a few problems together and breaking math homework into small pieces. In that way, your child will start getting a sense of the required steps.
- Help your child be confident. Learn as much as you can about your child’s condition, and give him/her positive encouragement whenever you can. As we mentioned above, even if your child is struggling with a basic concept, be there for him and praise him for his effort. Being patient and guiding him through obstacles, will help him feel more confident and willing to tackle new concepts.
No matter what strategies should be followed, either at school or a home, we should have in mind one certain thing: children who have a hard time with math, often feel serious anxiety when it comes to doing any task related to mathematics, especially homework or tests. Thus, they’re unable to concentrate on learning the problem or passing the test because they’re worried about doing not well. One of the keys to helping our children with dyscalculia is teaching them how to manage anxiety and so they will be able to absorb information and techniques that can help.
So simple… so directly!!!
Find the Solution with us and the e-tutors of Arnos Online Education. Dear fellow teachers, we invite you to sign up for free, to our website teachers.arnos.gr and it we will be our pleasure to determine our next steps of action and creativity, with sincere feelings of joy and care ness towards parents and our children.
¨Do not forget that our thoughts are the ones to create boundaries… and that boundaries are captured from our inaction”.
Krokos P. Yannis: Mathematician – Civil Engineer
Tsilivis K. Vasilis: Mathematician
- FAQ’s about Dyscalculia (click here)
- Click here and through a unique simulation see dyscalculia through your child’s eyes. Has your child dyscalculia? These are steps to follow and what to do next.