Dyscalculia is a learning disability involving innate difficulty in learning or comprehending arithmetic. It includes trouble understanding numbers and numeric manipulation, learning math facts and other related symptoms. It occurs in people across the whole IQ range. Sufferers often have difficulties with time, measurement and spatial reasoning.
Teachers can help students with dyscalculia to become proficient at mathematical tasks and give them the confidence they need to become confident math learners by providing these students with appropriate accommodations and modifications.
Step 1: Use graph paper to help students be aware of where numbers are supposed to be. This will help eliminate errors made by not lining up vertical math problems properly.
Step 2: Ask students to read math problems out loud, even if they aren't word problems. Although this works best for relatively simple problems at the elementary level, students in more advanced classes can be encouraged to use the language of math to verbalize the process, as auditory comprehension may be a strength.
Step 3: Provide students with additional input to go along with the math problems they are trying to solve. Ask students to draw pictures that represent a particular equation. Get students involved physically by drawing a number line on the floor and having them walk out a problem. Relate the problem to a real-life situation that students are familiar with.
Step 4: Teach students manageable amounts of information by giving them time to practice each step before they must implement all of the steps together.
Step 5: Allow students with dyscalculia to use calculators when doing multi-step problems. This will allow them to demonstrate that they understand the process without becoming sidetracked by difficulties with basic computational skills.
Developmental dyscalculia is assumed to be caused by a difference in brain function, and/or structure, in areas of the brain involved in mathematics .A recent brain imaging study showed less brain activity in parietal and frontal areas of the brain associated with mathematical cognition. In addition children with dyscalculia also show difficulties on basic cognitive tasks known to involve these areas.
Research on acquired dyscalculia (dyscalculia acquired as a result of brain injury) fits with these findings; damage to the parietal lobes of the brain results in similar symptoms to developmental dyscalculia.
There is a strong genetic influence on the development of mathematical skills. One family will have parents and children who are all very capable mathematicians, while in another, mathematical difficulties are very common. Shalev and Gross-Tur (2001) found that about 50% of the siblings of a pupil with dyscalculia can be expected to have it as well. Parents and siblings of a pupil with dyscalculia are ten times more likely to have dyscalculia than members of the general population.
Dyscalculia has many underlying causes. One of the most prominent is a weakness in visual processing. In order to be successful in mathematics, one needs to be able to visualize numbers and mathematics situations. Students with dyscalculia have a very difficult time visualizing numbers and often mentally mix up the numbers. This results in what appear to be "stupid mistakes." Students who have difficulty sequencing or organizing detailed information often have difficulty remembering specific facts and formulas, creating difficulty when completing mathematical calculations.
Dyscalculia & dyslexia are reported to frequently occur in combination. It is often assumed that the two disorders are caused by the same underlying deficits, however, empirical findings do not seem to support deficits in semantic memory or working memory as a common cause of dyscalculia & dyslexia. Recent research suggests that dyscalculia & dyslexia are independent from each other on the neuro-cognitive level & are based on different deficits. More specifically, a deficit in basic processing of numbers & numerosities is assumed to underlie dyscalculia while dyslexia is generally accepted to be caused by deficits in phonological processing.
Symptoms of dyscalculia include difficulty with the abstract concepts of time and direction, inability to recall schedules and sequences of past or future events. Additional symptoms are poor mental math ability, and inability to grasp and remember math concepts, rules, and formulas, order of operations, multiplication facts and division facts. Students may understand the material as they are being shown, but when they must retrieve the information they become confused and are unable to do so. Students may be able to do book work but fail tests and quizzes.
When writing, reading and recalling numbers, common mistakes including number additions, substitutions, transpositions, omissions and reversals are made. Students typically have problems with mathematical concepts in word problems. They confuse similar numbers (7 and 9, 3 and 8), and even have difficulty using a calculator. Students might have spatial problems resulting in difficulty aligning numbers into proper columns. Some students have trouble with sequence and left to right orientation. They will read numbers out of sequence and perform operations backward.
The following are seen in primary school, and well established by educational researchers:
1. Delay in counting. Five to seven year-old dyscalculic children show less understanding of basic counting principles than their peers (e.g. that it doesn't matter which order objects are counted in).
2. Delay in using counting strategies for addition. Dyscalculic children tend to keep using inefficient strategies for calculating addition facts much longer than their peers.
3. Difficulties in memorizing arithmetic facts. Dyscalculic children have great difficulty in memorizing simple addition, subtraction and multiplication facts (eg. 5 + 4 = 9), and this difficulty persists up to at least the age of thirteen.
Research suggests that, like many SpLDs, dyscalculia has varying levels of severity and can affect different areas of mathematical calculations. These difficulties can have an adverse effect on many day-to-day activities such as dealing with finances, following directions, managing a diary and keeping track of time. However, it is important to remember that many people can struggle with maths and numbers, but this does not mean that they have dyscalculia.
But research now shows that a genetic anomaly may result in a specific deficit in the learning of numerical skills. This specific difficulty is termed ‘dyscalculia’ and is used to describe pupils who score well on intelligence indicators that are not mathematically based. It is thought that approximately 5% of children have some degree of dyscalculia, with equal numbers of boys and girls being affected. They have been taught in the same way as their peers and engaged in the same mathematical activities – and yet they encounter distinct difficulties in mastering the basics of mathematical thinking. In its most severe form, dyscalculia can mean that a child cannot learn to tell the time, know the date, shop competently or do very simple arithmetic.
Research suggests that dyscalculia is a specific learning disability (SpLD) that affects a person’s ability to acquire arithmetical skills. It can manifest itself as a person’s inability to understand basic number concepts and/or number relationships, recognise symbols, and comprehend quantitative and spatial information. Many people liken the effects of dyscalculia with numbers to that of dyslexia with words, and while there are many characteristics that overlap, there is no proven link between the two.
Often students with dyscalculia perform spectacularly in other subjects. They attempt to apply the same study skills to math, but no matter how hard they concentrate, the numerals, letters and symbols refuse to make sense. Inconsistent math skills and poor mental math ability are readily recognizable. However, other traits are less obvious, such as a poor sense of direction, poor visualization ability and trouble remembering names.