I first came across dyscalculia through a friend of mine. Her daughter had been diagnosed with it in Y2 of primary school. A week later, I met another mum, whose son had also been diagnosed.
Dyscalculia is a learning difficulty not as well known as dyslexia. Many parents won’t have heard about it until their child is diagnosed. Research suggests however, that around 6% of the population suffer from it: just below the number of people with dyslexia.
What is Dyscalculia?
Dyscalculia is a particular learning difficulty in mathematics. According to the American Psychiatric Association (2013), dyscalculia is:
… characterised by impairments in learning basic
arithmetic facts,processing numerical magnitude and performing
accurate and fluent calculations. These difficulties must be
quantifiably below what is expected for an individual’s
chronological age, and must not be caused by poor education
or by intellectual impairments.
It’s a pretty long definition, but makes clear that it’s a particular disorder and shouldn’t be confused with maths anxiety or a general difficulty with learning maths. It’s also a learning disorder that differs from person to person, which means it will affect people differently throughout their life.
Dyscalculia hasn’t received the same amount of attention as dyslexia. Scientists and educators however, have established the essential neural network that supports arithmetic, and revealed abnormalities in this network in the brains of dyscalulic learners, (University College London).
Dyscalculia is also thought to be genetic and due to neurological differences in the brain. It isn’t caused by poor teaching/parenting or the child not working hard enough etc.
What are the Signs of Dyscalculia?
It can be difficult to assess whether very young child have dyscalculia. At this age they are not carrying out complex number work and the number work they are doing is such that any child may struggle from time to time. By the time they reach 6 years of age however, testing can be carried out by using a commercial screening tool.
Early Childhood Signs may Include:
- Difficulty learning the meaning of numbers.
- Trouble learning to count and missing out numbers long after their peers have stopped.
- Difficulty in sorting objects by shape, colour or size.
- Struggles to recognise patterns, like largest to smallest.
- Difficulty in connecting a number to an object. For example, knowing that the number 4 applies to groups of things – 4 boxes, 4 children etc.
Some of the signs that a school aged child may show:
- Difficulty with basic maths facts, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
- Struggling to understand mathematical signs such as addition and subtraction.
- Having trouble remembering and retaining basic maths facts, such as times tables.
- Continuing to use fingers to count rather than using mental arithmetic.
- Forgetting mathematical procedures and basic facts even after spending hours practicing.
- Tending to be slower than their peers to perform calculations.
How is Dyscalculia Treated?
Not all children with dyscalculia are identical in terms of what they find particularly difficult. The difficulty will vary from person to person and may change at different stages.
If your child has been diagnosed, it’s important to work with your child’s school and establish strategies for them to learn maths more effectively. Examples of such strategies set out by the National Centre for Learning Disabilities, include:
- Helping your child to become aware of their strengths and weaknesses.
- Having an outside tutor so they can work on the child’s particular difficulty.
- Focusing on repeated reinforcement with lots of practice of maths concepts.
- Finding different ways to approach maths facts.
- Practicing estimating as a way to begin solving maths problems.
- When introducing new skills, starting with concrete examples.
Helping Your Child with Dyscalculia
Below are 12 tips to help and support your child’s maths learning and general well-being.
1. Learn all you can about Dyscalculia.
The more informed you are, the more you can help your child get the support they need. This not only applies to their actual learning of maths, but also learning about the possible emotional and social impact on your child, so you can provide them with the best support possible.
2. Speak to your Child’s Doctor
In speaking to your child’s doctor, you can discuss the various therapy options that may be beneficial to your child. For example, if your chid has difficulty with the language side of maths, a speech therapist may be of help.
3. Talk to your Child’s School
It’s likely that your child’s school will have carried out an assessment for dyscalculia. Together with the relevant teachers, discuss what support can be provided and seek advice on the best way to support their maths learning at home.
4. Talk to your Child
As with any difficulty, talk to your child about dyscalculia. Explain what it is and how you and the school are going to provide the support they need. It’s also a good idea to explain the importance of them asking for help when they need it, (an important skill for any child).
5. Learn about the Possible Effects
Research has shown that children with any learning difficulty can be more susceptible to anxiety and depression. Find out as much as you can and know what signs to look for. If you have any concerns whatsoever, talk to your child’s doctor.
6. Take an Active Interest in Maths
As with any subject, for any child, your enthusiasm as her role model, will rub off. Look for ways of practising maths in a fun way, such as playing maths games. Also use her strengths and interests to find ways to make maths engaging. If she is passionate about sport for example, use sport as the basis for the maths activity.
7. Continually Build their Self Esteem and Keep them Motivated
Take an active interest in what maths they are doing at school and help with maths homework. Explore ways to help with what’s being taught in school and build in practice and repetition as you go about your day. (Point 6 will also help for motivation).
8. Find Support for You
Whenever children face a difficulty in their journey, it’s important that parents also get the support they need. By being well supported, parents are in a better position to support their children. Find out what support services are in your neighbourhood and connect with other parents of children with dyscalculia.
9. Develop a Positive Mindset in Your Child
Children believing they are not good at maths is common, whether or not they suffer from dyscalculia. (See: How to Build Maths Confidence in Your Daughter). In either case, it’s really important that your child has a positive attitude towards maths. As a parent, you can help through praise, support and encouraging her to persevere, even when it gets difficult. This will show her that you believe in her, and with hard work, anybody is able to make progress in the subject.
10. Use Real Life Examples
As much as you can, demonstrate maths in your day to day living. This will provide your child with real life examples and help them see why maths is so important and worth working at. It’s also an ideal way to practice basic maths concepts like numbers, in a way that’s fun and meaningful.
11. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Children with dyscalculia often need things repeating again and again in order to fully understand the concept they are learning. It’s also not uncommon for them to forget concepts that they mastered earlier on; so repetition is key. Again, this can easily be incorporated into your day, whether at the supermarket or counting the number of red cars on the road.
12. Use Technology
Using technology can be a great way for your child to have fun with maths and help keep them motivated. There are plenty of fun apps and videos on the internet. You can find some examples under Maths Websites below.
Some Final Thoughts….
As with any learning difficulty, an effective way to help your child is to be as informed as you can be. Being informed means that you can give your child the best help possible and the best support. And just like your child needs to ask for help when needed, so do parents. Having the support of other parents and experts will make this particular journey for you and your child, less stressful.
Below is a video discussion on dyscalculia by a panel of experts. One of them, M. Sharma, a leading expert in dyscalculia.
Over to You….
Do you have experience with dyscalculia? Do you have a story to share of your own or somebody else’s? If so, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
www.educationcity.com / www.ixl.com/math / www.oxfordowl.co.uk