Math can be a difficult subject for many children to master. For some, this struggle may feel unsurmountable due to a learning disability known as dyscalculia. For kids with this learning disability, understanding and processing math concepts can be so difficult that it interferes with daily tasks. These issues may present themselves when counting money, directions, mental math calculations, or telling time. Understanding dyscalculia is an important first step in ensuring your child receives the support necessary to be successful both in a classroom and in their daily life.
Introduction to Dyscalculia
Dyscalculia is a math-centered learning disability. It impairs your child’s ability to master number-related concepts. Therefore they struggle to perform math calculations accurately, problem-solve or perform other basic math-related skills. Dyscalculia is also known as “math dyslexia” or “number dyslexia.”
A child with dyscalculia will struggle in all areas of mathematics. Additionally, these difficulties are not a result of poor education, intelligence, or other preexisting conditions. The dyscalculia impacts not only their academic life but all other areas that require the use of mathematical concepts.
More than 10 percent of kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder also show signs of dyscalculia, which often co-occurs with the reading disability, dyslexia. It is estimated that up to 6% of the school population struggles with dyscalculia, and about half of those are also dyslexic.
Dyscalculia can present as a developmental disorder, or it can be acquired as a result of a brain injury or cognitive impairment. Developmental dyscalculia does not have a specific cause; however, studies involving brain development indicate a potential connection to the learning disability. Research does suggest that genetics may play a role since dyscalculia often runs in families.
There is no specific test for identifying students with dyscalculia. Instead, clinicians review performance on standardized tests and diagnostic assessments, academic and family history, and background concerning the student’s struggles with math-related concepts. Although finger-counting is often associated with dyscalculia, unless it is persistent in what should be easy calculations by itself, it does not indicate an issue with dyscalculia. Making calculation errors by themselves are also not an indicator of dyscalculia. The frequency, variety, and persistent nature of the errors must be taken into account.
Signs associated with dyscalculia include:
- Difficulties processing numbers and quantities
- Difficulty recognizing quantities without physically counting
- Struggles with problem-solving and mental math
- Difficulty in estimating
- Inability to understand money and monetary transactions
- Difficulty using an analog clock
- Inability to recall basic math facts such as multiplication tables
- Poor spatial and visual orientation, such as troubles identifying right from left
- Difficulty with number sequencing and recognizing patterns
Diagnosing your child with dyscalculia is usually the responsibility of a school psychologist or by referral to a neuropsychologist. Since dyscalculia is considered a specific learning disorder (SLD), your child must meet specific criteria for an SLD diagnosis. These include:
- Exhibiting at least one of the six symptoms associated with SLD.
- The child’s math skills must be below the age-appropriate expectations, negatively impact their academic success, and their success outside of school.
- SLD must begin in a school-related setting.
- All other factors, such as life influencing events, intellectual disabilities, lack of instruction, and neurological disorders, are ruled out.
Support for Students With This Learning Disability
Since there is no cure or medication available to treat dyscalculia, the focus of treatment is on developing coping skills for your child. This will help them become successful in school and their daily lives. A child who receives this diagnosis will typically be eligible for support services. This may include an individualized education program (IEP), per the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Classroom accommodations for a child with dyscalculia may include:
- Extra time on tests and assignments
- One-on-one instruction to target core math concepts
- Breaking down complicated math problems into more manageable steps
- Using calculators
- Visual cues
- Providing supplemental information in student-specific learning styles
It is important to identify and treat dyscalculia in student learners, to teach them the skills necessary to be successful in the classroom and throughout their adult lives. Click here for more information from Dyscalculia.org