What is dyscalculia?
Dyscalculia is a specific learning disability where the child cannot remember basic facts about numbers, and is slow and inaccurate in mathematical tasks. The symptoms may differ from one child to another. Some children may have difficulty in solving word problems in math, others may not be able to understand the sequence of steps required to derive a solution, and some may have difficulty in understanding specific mathematical concepts.
What is not dyscalculia?
Typically, mathematics can be difficult for most children, and some children may be slow learners; with repetition and practice, they learn the concepts.
Some children may find mathematics challenging and so may be nervous or stressed, leading to poor performance in tests.
These are not signs of dyscalculia.
What are the signs of dyscalculia?
Each child learns at a different pace. The average child needs time and regular practice to understand mathematical concepts. However, if there is a marked gap and delay in learning concepts, and you notice that the child is having difficulty despite extra coaching and training, the child may have dyscalculia.
The symptoms differ in each stage and also from one child to another.
Learning to count numbers
Recognizing printed numbers
Connecting numbers with real-life objects (3 horses, 5 pencils, etc.)
Identifying symbols, patterns, shapes, and organizing objects (round balls in one place, square boards in another box)
Primary and middle school
Recognizing numbers and symbols
Learning math operations - addition, subtraction, multiplication, division
Solving word problems in math
Doing mental mathematics
Remembering phone numbers
Participating in games that involve numbers, or require planning and logic
Teenagers and adolescents
Calculating prices, adding costs
Learning beyond basic math concepts
Measuring objects and things
Understanding concepts of time, space, distance
Doing mental mathematics
Finding different ways to solve the same problem
Participating in activities that require evaluating speed and distance, such as playing sports and learning to drive. The child may lack confidence and avoid these activities.
What causes dyscalculia?
Researchers are yet to identify the exact cause of dycalculia. However, they observe that genes and heridity could be one of the factors that could cause dyscalculia.
How is dyscalculia identified?
There is no specific test for dyscalculia. A pediatrician or a psychologist may conduct certain assessments and tests to identify the condition.
Medical history: Dyscalculia can coexist with other types of learning disabilities or ADHD. Hence, the expert thoroughly checks the child's medical history before identifying or treating the condition.
Identifying: A special education expert conducts specific tests to identify the condition. The child's academic performance is also taken into consideration. Alternative methods of learning and techniques are used to help the child cope with the condition.
Intervention and support for dyscalculia
There’s no single test for dyscalculia. A series of assessments and tests are conducted to identify the condition. Once it is identified,
Support at school: Parents need to explain the condition to teachers and seek support. Teachers can use an individualized education plan to teach maths. The child may be given additional support like extra time on tests, or permission to use a calculator. Teachers can record the progress and change the training method if the previous method was not effective.
Response to intervention: Some schools conduct this program for children who are slow in learning. Extra coaching is given to a small group or sometimes to an individual child as required.
Psychologist/counselor: Any type of learning disability may affect the child's self-esteem and confidence, which could lead to a lot of stress and anxiety. A psychologist or a counselor may be able to help the child cope with the situation.
Caring for someone with dyscalculia
As a parent, your love and support is essential for the child to overcome the problem.
It is also important to know that each child is unique and has his or her own strengths and talents. You may have to try out various learning methods and see which one helps the child improve his or her mathematical skills.
You can help your child by:
Understanding dyscalculia: Read and learn about dyscalculia. Awareness and understanding is the first step towards recovery. Express your love and support to the child. Speak to your child and let them know that you understand their difficulty.
Playing math games: Use household objects such as toys, utensils, grocery items, vegetables or fruits to connect numbers to everyday activities. Allow your child to use the calculator. Try different methods and see which one your child is most comfortable with. Since mathematics is required in daily life, teach him or her about money and time management.
Encouragement and support: Identify your child’s strengths and encourage the child to pursue any activity that he or she is interested in. This will improve the child's self-esteem and build confidence. Genuine praise and affection makes the child feel loved and secure.