In our last post, we wrote about learning disabilities. If you missed it, you can check it out here……

If you’ve ever been in a maths class either as a learner or a teacher, you’d have noticed the smiling, confident faces of the seeming math gurus to the discontented faces of the protestors and the silent, blank faces of the lost and confused learners.

The fact that a learner has some challenges in mathematics doesn’t mean he has dyscalculia.

What is Dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia also called Mathematics learning disability or Mathematics learning disorder is a challenge with math.

It goes beyond having a hard time understanding math. It is a condition that makes learning math concepts difficult. It includes weaknesses in understanding the meaning of numbers, concepts that govern the rules of math talk less of applying mathematical principles to solve problems.

While it is not well known as dyslexia, it is common in learners.

What dyscalculia is not

Myth: Learners with dyscalculia can’t learn math.

Fact: Rather it should be said that learners with dyscalculia may not be able to learn maths when taught inappropriately.

While it is true that learners with dyscalculia might have a problem learning math than others, it doesn’t mean they can’t be good at it. With good instruction and practice, kids with dyscalculia can do well in math like others.

Keying into Margaret Rawson’s words, “Teach the subject as it is to the child as he is” would be beneficial to the learner. Starting from known to unknown concepts regardless of the dyscalculic learner’s age would go a long way in helping out.

Myth: Dyscalculia is the same as math dyslexia.

Fact: When we talk about dyscalculia with terms like number or maths dyslexia, it can be misleading. Dyscalculia is a challenge in maths while dyslexia is a language-based challenge.

Myth: Learners with dyscalculia are only lazy.

Fact: Laziness isn’t a causing factor of dyscalculia. The truth is, kids with dyscalculia work hard.  In fact, many kids with dyscalculia try hard to get good grades, but the issue is that their efforts are rarely noticed.

Myth: All learners with dyscalculia have the same difficulties.

Fact: Dyscalculia is a brain-based learning difference. While it might be mild in some learners, it might be at a complex stage to others. 

The difficulty differs, it could be memory issues or trouble with grasping information shown on charts or graphs.

Myth: Dyscalculia is another name for math anxiety.

Fact: Anxiety is one symptom of dyscalculia, but many people feel anxious about math even when they don’t have dyscalculia.

Dyscalculia and Math anxiety isn’t the same thing. While people with math anxiety can easily scale through, people with dyscalculia struggle with the skills needed to do the math.

Myth: Dyscalculia isn’t common in learners.

Fact: This myth is a result of a lack of awareness coupled with the fact that math is generally termed a difficult subject. Dyscalculia is common among learners.

Possible Causes of Dyscalculia

While there are no confirmed causes of dyscalculia, suggestions from experts include:

  • Genes and heredity: Just like most learning disabilities, dyscalculia tends to run in the family, although, it’s hard to tell how much of a contributing factor is hereditary.

Family culture also plays a great role. For example, if you grow up in a home of people who dislike math, and as a result, can’t help out with math problems, chances are that you will struggle with math too.

  • Brain development: According to research, brain images have revealed some differences between people with and without dyscalculia. The differences have to do with the brain structure and how it functions in areas connected to learning skills.
  • Lack of concrete early instruction in mathematics: A child who is not introduced to math at an early age would find it difficult to understand maths concepts and this can gradually lead to dyscalculia.

Signs and Symptoms of Dyscalculia

Dyscalculia is rarely identified early because there is a common belief that mathematics is a difficult subject so when a learner struggles with maths, it is usually seen as the usual thing and left to get worse. Some of the signs to look out for includes:

  • Trouble remembering number sequence.
  • Continous anxiety when doing maths.
  • Difficulty in grasping basic concepts like biggest vs. smallest, addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
  • Difficulty reconciling numbers with objects. i.e, they find it difficult to understand that the number 2 is the same as two objects.
  • Difficulty in understanding that the numeral 2 is the same as the word two.
  • Difficulty in learning about money, time, speed or distance

Trouble explaining or remembering math processes when completing mathematical tasks.

Some of these symptoms can be found in learners at different levels of development. However, a person with dyscalculia has a cluster of these symptoms which do not disappear as he grows older.

How is dyscalculia diagnosed?

No learner can be diagnosed with dyscalculia unless he has gone through series of evaluations.

Evaluation could be done in schools by trained personnel or by private specialists.

With the evaluations, strengths and weaknesses are identified.

Basic steps to diagnosis include:

  • The doctor gathers medical information and family history to ensure there are no other diagnoses or physical condition that needs attention.

After diagnosis, the learner may be referred to a psychologist and a special education expert for further testing.

How is dyscalculia treated?

Although there is no cure for dyscalculia, it can be managed with treatment strategies because if left untreated, it can result in adulthood difficulties like trouble managing finances.

Suggested treatments for learners include:

  • Segmenting subject into bits to aid easy understanding.
  • Repetition of basic math concepts.
  • Application of hands-on activities.
  • Repeated review of concepts learnt.

Key Takeaways

  • Dyscalculia is a condition that makes learning math concepts difficult.
  • Dyscalculia is common, not only in females but both genders.
  • Signs of dyscalculia can vary from person to person and are often overlooked.
  •  People with dyscalculia would need a different approach to learn math concepts.

People don’t outgrow dyscalculia,  but there are techniques to help them improve math skills and manage challenges.

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