Dyslexia Series: Dyscalculia


Last week we covered reading and how to build “reading stamina” in your dyslexic child. This week we start a series of studies on the variations of dyslexia—(perhaps with a few diversions in between)—which is a subject on which many may not have a full picture. Dyslexia casts its net very widely, and people often experience completely unique symptoms of totally differentiated conditions. So if you are not familiar with the variety of disorders under the umbrella of dyslexia, this series will hopefully serve to enlighten you in at least the most basic ways.

We begin today discussing dyscalculia. Pronounced “dis-kal-kyoo-lia”, the term originates from the Greek prefix “dys-”, meaning “badly”, and the Latin verb for “to count”—“calculare”. Therefore, thanks to the mathematicians of antiquity, today we know the act of “counting badly” as dyscalculia.

Often called “mathematical dyslexia”, dyscalculia refers to a life-long neurological condition that affects the ability to understand numbers and mathematical and arithmetic concepts. It is broad in scope—sometimes appearing in minor ways through a difficulty in complex subjects (like long division), and other times rendering a student utterly incapable of comprehending the very logic of numbers and counting.

This disability most commonly creates issues with a student’s sense of numbers: why they are used, how they function, comparing them, and understanding their value and sequence. Students often have trouble linking numbers to values and to real world situations. They also experience difficulties identifying and comprehending the concept of quantity, what Brian Butterworth calls “number blindness”. Moreover, students typically struggle to grasp fundamental laws of arithmetic, have trouble remembering mathematical facts like number values and multiplication tables, and often rely on immature strategies like counting on their fingers to solve problems.

Implications of Dyscalculia in the Classroom

The poor math performance of students with dyscalculia usually produces and feeds an anxiety about numbers, which can lead to attention problems or skipping lessons to avoid the subject. Their incapacity to comprehend or handle small tasks which their peers are able to do creates daily frustration and distress in class, and because of this, many students with dyscalculia suffer from low self-esteem or self-belief. These conditions often lead to behavioral problems in the classroom and teasing or stigmatization by their peers.

Students with dyscalculia often struggle with

  • telling time

  • mentally judging the passing of time

  • understanding concepts related to time (e.g. days, weeks, months, quarters, etc.)

  • remembering mathematical laws, rules, or formulae

  • comprehending the concepts of quantity, place value, positive and negative numbers, the sequence of numbers, etc.

  • putting mathematical processes or steps into words

  • estimating the cost of items in a shopping basket

  • making change or handling money

  • differentiating left from right

  • remembering phone numbers

  • estimating the measurement or size of an object or distance

  • navigating maps

  • recalling names with familiar faces

Effective Strategies

Help the student link numbers to real life and enhance “number sense” by using physical objects that may be familiar.

Draw pictures or use 3D diagrams to strengthen visualization techniques when teaching a new concept.

Keep tests or homework sheets uncluttered with lots of work space to avoid overwhelming the child or causing anxiety.

Break up concepts and lessons into smaller parts and review and discuss how they relate.

Give one question at a time on a math test so that the student can maintain focus.

Allow the student to use a calculator in class.

Talk through math problems with the student and ask them to walk through it again afterwards.

Allow them to answer fewer problems on a test or give them additional time to complete it.

Teach more than one way to solve a problem.

Create mnemonics and other memory tools to help the student remember mathematical terms or formulas.

Tutor the student one-on-one away from the noise and anxiety of the classroom.

Helpful Resources

If your child is struggling with dyscalculia, many teachers don’t understand. Here are some additional resources that may be of help to you:

  • The Dyscalculia Toolkit: Supporting Learning Difficulties in Maths by Ronit Bird

  • Dyscalculia Guidance: Helping Pupils with Specific Learning Difficulties in Maths by Brian Butterworth and Dorian Yeo

  • Practical Activities for Children with Dyscalculia by Tony Attwood

  • Dyslexia Action: www.dyslexiaaction.org

  • About Dyscalculia: www.aboutdyscalculia.org

Tennessee Dyslexia Centers is here for you and can help your struggling reader. We are equipped to work with all ages and have the ability to increase your child's reading skills drastically. Contact our office for a free consultation today! 615-236-6483 | tndyslexiac@gmail.com

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