Dyscalculia

What is Dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia is a lifelong condition that makes it hard for kids to do math-related tasks and causes severe difficulties in learning about numbers and arithmetic.

  • Learners may have difficulty understanding simple number concepts

  • Lack an intuitive grasp of numbers and have no natural 'feel' for quantities and numbers

  • Have problems learning number facts

  • Lack confidence in arithmetic and see themselves as unable to do maths

  • Have problems remembering how to do certain operations in maths

  • They may find it hard to see the structures within numbers - for instance, 12 is 12 ones - but it is also 1 ten and 2 ones

It’s not as well known or understood as dyslexia. But some experts believe it’s just as common.

It is important not to confuse dyscalculia with maths anxiety. People with dyscalculia can react strongly to activities involving mathematics, for instance they may get upset or frustrated when playing board games.

 

We all struggle with maths at some time. Those with dyscalculia will struggle to a greater extent than their peers, and their difficulties will continue over time.

 

Signs of Dyscalculia?

Preschool:

They might have trouble learning to count and will often skip numbers.

They might not seem to understand the concept of counting - if you ask for five blocks, they will just hand over a group without counting.
Struggles to recognize patterns, like smallest to largest or tallest to shortest.
Has trouble understanding number symbols, like making the connection between “7” and the word seven.
Struggles to connect a number to an object, such as knowing that “3” applies to groups of things like 3 cookies, 3 cars, or 3 kids.

Age 5 - 11:

Will often have difficulty learning and recalling basic math facts, such as 2 + 4 = 6.
Uses fingers to count instead of using more advanced strategies (like mental math).
Gets math signs confused like  + and ‒ does not always use them correctly.
Words like 'greater than and less than' are difficult to understand.
Has trouble with place value, often putting numbers in the wrong column.

Struggles with math concepts like 17 + 5 is the same as 5 + 17.

Has problems subtracting numbers and finds it difficult to count back.
Has a tough time understanding math language and coming up with a plan to solve a math problem.

What can you do to help?

All children that lack confidence in maths will benefit from these ideas. If your child lacks confidence in their own ability in maths, it might mean that they have a very poor understanding of the basics. Go back to the basics - and help them gain that full understanding and start enjoying maths.

 

You need to work at your child's pace and find ways of building up the key basic understandings of maths.

This is a difficult task because repetitive practice of ordinary number task does not help dyscalculic children. In other words, you have to find ways of learning the same concepts with different activities.

Concrete Learning:

Numbers are very abstract. Anyone that is having trouble with maths will benefit from using concrete materials in the early stages.

Numicon is a must for anyone struggling with maths. It is very visual and can be used for addition - subtraction - fractions and multiplying and so much more.

Counters or Unifix cubes to represent numbers

Number tracks or Number lines. You really need number lines to 100 as many dyscalculic children find it difficult to work with the numbers to 100

Money - many of our children with dyscalculia find it difficult to count money and need a lot of practice

Clocks - analogue and digital. 

Also, people struggling with maths often find it easier to draw and use simple diagrams. Encourage this. For example your child might draw (||| ** to show 32). 

Language:

Maths has its own language, and to some people, it is just as hard as learning a foreign language from some far away country. Difficult language can act as a barrier to learning. It is often hard for children to understand what 4 times 2 is - or what is the answer to 12 divided by 3. Make your language transparent and easy to understand. Start by saying 'If we have 4 groups and there is 2 beans in each group, how many beans do we have altogether?' Then add 'Oh, so 4 times 2 is...' Use everyday language as much as possible but at the same time use maths language so that they will be able to see that they mean the same.

Teach Foundation Knowledge:

Start with what your child knows in number work - no matter how little you think that is. To be able to learn maths, and go on learning maths, you need to understand the basic concepts, numbers and the number system and to learn essential sets of facts. You need to be familiar with numbers and how they work. You need to understand what the symbols mean.

Teach in small, progressive steps:

Don't try to rush too quickly. BUT it does not mean you start with adding numbers and you stay with adding until they have mastered it. Maths is interconnected. Children need to understand that adding relates to subtraction and multiplication and division. If you are trying to understand what two numbers add together to make ten, it is also an opportunity to find out about taking numbers away from 10. If you are learning about the times tables, it is better to fully understand that multiplication is just repeated addition. If you fully understand the 5 + 5 = 10, then you can move onto 4 X 5 = 20, which is double 10.

Games:

Your maths kits should include games, dice, playing cards and computer games. These give practice of important skills in a fun way.

Carefully move from concrete work to abstract work:

When they are ready, ask that a problem is solved without the aid of concrete materials. Always have the concrete materials there ready to be used but encourage your child to do the work first and then check their answers using the materials.

Always be supportive and positive:

Give your child time to think. When you feel they are ready, ask them to explain how they worked out the problem. Remember, if they lack confidence they are already stressed and think they are unable to do it. Don't add to their stress. Nobody can learn anything under stress.

Make maths sessions as varied as possible:

Do some written work, then games and after that maybe you could recap on the learning. Find puzzles to solve. A great site for this is NRICH.

Dyscalculic children are able to make great progress in maths learning. This is only possible if they are given time to master the all-important foundation skills in number work.

I will soon be adding some maths games and activities to help children that struggle with maths. 

Dyscalculia Information and Resources

Doorway Online. Free games and resources

British Dyslexia Association

NRICH - math puzzles and games for all ages