About Dyscalculia: Dyscalculia is a specific learning disability in math. Children with the condition referred to as 'Dyscalculia' may have difficulty understanding number-related concepts, or using symbols or functions that are required to achieve a level of success in mathematics.
This web page provides a comprehensive summary of specific elements associated with the condition referred to as 'Dyscalculia'. Information presented below has been excerpted from the 'Understood - Understanding Dyscalculia' web site. Please refer to this page for additional information.
What Is Dyscalculia?
Dyscalculia is a lifelong condition that makes it more difficult for people (young students, in particular) with the condition to perform math-related tasks. While it’s currently not as well known - or understood - as dyslexia is, some experts believe it is common.
There is currently no consensus as to whether there is a gender-specific linkage to the incidence of Dyscalculia (among males/boys or females/girls) although many experts agree that it’s unlikely that there is any significant difference.
The Signs - and/or Symptoms - of Dyscalculia
Dyscalculia can manifest itself in a variety of different types of math difficulties. Therefore, symptoms may vary from child to child. Observing a child and taking notes to share with teachers and specialists is a good way to find the best strategies and support for the child.
The condition of Dyscalculia can appear to be different at different ages, although it tends to become more apparent as children age. However, symptoms can appear as early as preschool. Possible signs of Dyscalculia - at different ages - include:
The child has trouble learning to count and skips over numbers long after other children of the same age can remember numbers in the correct order.
The child struggles to recognize patterns, such as smallest to largest or tallest to shortest.
The child has difficulty recognizing number symbols (knowing that '7' refers to 'Seven').
The child doesn’t demonstrate an understanding of the meaning of counting. For example, when asked for five blocks, the child returns an armful, rather than counting them out.
Primary (and Middle) School
The child has difficulty learning and recalling basic math facts, such as 2 + 4 = 6.
The child struggles to identify symbols (such as +, ?, and others), and how to use them correctly.
The child may still use fingers to count instead of using more advanced strategies, such as mental math.
The child struggles to understand words related to math, such as greater than (>) and less than (<).
The child has trouble with visual-spatial representations of numbers, such as number lines.
The child has difficulty understanding place value.
The child has trouble writing numerals clearly, Ordinal representation, or putting them in the correct column.
The child has difficulty with fractions and with measuring things, like ingredients in a simple recipe.
The child struggles to keep track of the score in a sporting event.
The child is unable to apply math concepts to money, including estimating the total cost, making exact change, and calculating a tip.
The child has a difficult time understanding information as represented on graphs or charts.
The child struggles to measure things - as in the case of the ingredients of a simple recipe, or liquid in a bottle.
The child is challenged to find different approaches to the same math problem.
Dyscalculia can also create challenges in other areas beside learning ... such as in social interactions and time management.
Other Learning Impacts That Can Accompany Dyscalculia
People (children) with learning and attention issues often exhibit the existence of more than one issue. There are a few issues that often co-exist with Dyscalculia. Additionally, symptoms of other issues can sometimes be mistaken for Dyscalculia symptoms.
Testing for Dyscalculia should be done as part of a thorough evaluation of the child. This will result in any other learning and attention issues to be detected at the same time.
Following are other conditions that often accompany Dyscalculia:
Dyslexia: Children very often have both Dyslexia and Dyscalculia. In fact, researchers have found that 43–65 percent of children with math disabilities also have reading disabilities.
ADHD: Dyscalculia and ADHD often occur at the same time. As a result, children will make math errors because of ADHD challenges. They might have trouble paying attention to detail, for instance. Therefore, some experts recommend re-evaluating math skills after getting ADHD symptoms under control.
Executive functioning issues: Executive functions are key skills that impact learning. They include working memory, flexible thinking, and planning and organizing. Weaknesses in these areas can make math difficult.
Math anxiety: Kids with math anxiety are so worried about the prospect of doing math that their fear and nervousness can lead to poor performance on math tests. Some kids may have both math anxiety and Dyscalculia.
Dyscalculia is also associated with a few genetic disorders, including fragile X syndrome, Gerstmann’s syndrome, and Turner’s syndrome.
Possible Causes of Dyscalculia
While certain factors indicate it’s related to how the brain is structured and functions, researchers do not know exactly what causes Dyscalculia.
Here are some of the possible causes of Dyscalculia:
Genes: Research shows that part of the difference in children's math scores can be explained by genes. In other words, differences in genetics may have an impact on whether a child has Dyscalculia. Dyscalculia tends to run in families, which also suggests that genes play a role.
Brain development: Brain-imaging studies have shown some differences in brain function and structure in people with Dyscalculia. The differences are in the surface area, thickness, and volume of certain parts of the brain. Differences in the activation of areas of the brain associated with numerical and mathematical processing have also been detected. These areas are linked to key learning skills, such as memory and planning.
Environment: Dyscalculia has been linked to fetal alcohol syndrome. Prematurity and low birth weight may also play a role in Dyscalculia.
Brain injury: Studies show that injury to certain parts of the brain can result in what researchers call 'Acquired Dyscalculia'.
It’s not clear how much these brain differences are shaped by genetics, and how much by experience, although researchers are trying to learn if interventions can “rewire” the brain to make math easier. This concept is known as Neuroplasticity.
How Is Dyscalculia Diagnosed?
To find out if a child has Dyscalculia, an evaluation is necessary. This can happen at school, or it can be done privately.
While a set of tests for Dyscalculia (specifically) exists, they should be administered as part of a full evaluation that looks at other areas of the child's academic and social functioning as well. Since certain learning and attention issues often co-exist with Dyscalculia, it’s important to have a comprehensive picture of what’s going on in order to facilitate an accurate diagnosis.
A psychologist may also look for other issues that might represent the source of a problem. These include ADHD and mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. (Children with learning issues are more likely to have these problems than others are).
The evaluator might request a family history. You might be required to complete questionnaires about your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Your child’s teacher may also be asked about what he sees in the classroom.
A diagnosis (some schools refer to it as identification) allows a child to receive support services at school, such as special instruction in math, for instance ... in addition to other accommodations to help make learning math easier. There are differences between a school identification and a clinical diagnosis.
How are Professionals Able to Help With Dyscalculia?
A variety of professionals - with different specialties - can help children with Dyscalculia. Some may work in a school setting, while others work privately (or independently).
Here are some types of professionals who might help your child:
Special education teachers
Math tutors or educational therapists
There are no medications for Dyscalculia. There are also no specialized teaching programs, as there are for Dyslexia. However, children with Dyscalculia may benefit from multi-sensory instruction in math. This approach uses all of a child’s senses to help her/him learn and develop skills and understand concepts. It also helps to teach math concepts systematically, where one skill builds on the next. This can help children with Dyscalculia make stronger connections to what they’re learning.
A number of strategies can be used to help kids with Dyscalculia. These include:
- The use of concrete examples that connect math to real life, such as sorting buttons. This can help strengthen your child’s number sense.
- Using visual aids to solve problems. Your child might draw pictures or move objects around, for instance.
- Using graph paper to help keep numbers lined up.
- Using an extra piece of paper to cover up most of what’s on a math sheet or test, to enable the child to focus on one problem at a time.
How a Parent (or other Family Member) Can Help a Child With Dyscalculia
Parents and other family members play an important role in supporting and encouraging a child with Dyscalculia. From working with the school, to building math skills at home, or with a professional tutor or educator, parents can help a child with Dyscalculia remain motivated and encouraged to work on the challenges.
Below is a list of some of the things that can be done at home:
- Explore multi-sensory techniques for teaching math you can use at home.
- Discover software, applications, and other tools to help your child with math.
- Research free online Assistive Technology tools for math on the Internet.
- Find board games your child can play to help foster math skills.
- Learn ways to help boost your child’s self-esteem ... and practice that every day.
- Coach your child on how to self-advocate in Primary and Secondary school.
- Be aware of your child’s strengths.
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