Dyscalculia -When the Numbers Don’t Add Up

Sometimes described as maths dyslexia, dyscalculia affects a person’s ability to learn number-related concepts. While dyscalculia might seem relatively new, in terms of specific learning differences, the phrase first appeared in the 1940’s. However, it really wasn’t until the 70’s that research into the condition was seriously undertaken. That said it remains very under studied and under resourced compared to dyslexia.

The word Dyscalculia comes from the amalgamation of Greek and Latin words and translates as ‘counting badly’.

Because dyscalculia is under studied, even explaining exactly what it is is tricky because there is no universally accepted definition.

Dyscalculia Definition

The DSM-V (American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition) defines Dyscalculia as a specific learning disorder, an impediment in mathematics, evidencing problems with: number sense, memorisation of arithmetic facts, accurate and fluent calculation, accurate math reasoning.

In the UK, their National Numeracy Strategy 2001 defines dyscalculia as a condition that affects the ability to acquire arithmetical skills. Dyscalculic learners may have difficulty understanding simple number concepts, lack an intuitive grasp of numbers, and have problems learning number facts and procedures. Even if they produce a correct answer or use a correct method, they may do so mechanically and without confidence.

Very little is known about the prevalence of dyscalculia, its causes, or treatment. It is estimated to occur in 3%-6% of the population and seems to affect boys and girls equally. Often it occurs with one or more conditions such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or ADHD/ADD.

Purely dyscalculic learners who have difficulties only with number will have cognitive and language abilities in the normal range and may excel in non-maths subjects. It is more likely that difficulties with numeracy accompany the language difficulties of dyslexia.

Maths Concepts

In my experience, our Hummingbirds who have a dyscalculia diagnosis struggle with the abstractness of numbers and maths concepts. They may know how to do a maths question, but don’t understand why it is done that way. When a question is presented in a different way, they find it difficult to connect what they have previously learned to the question at hand. For example, a person who can do a numerically based question, may struggle to do the same question when it is framed in words.

Younger children may be able to recite their numbers but find it difficult to link amounts with the numeric symbol. Tables may be learned off by heart, but the child may not understand the concept behind what they are learning.

Taking maths out of the abstract and making it tangible and real is the first step to helping a person with dyscalculia. Understanding the ‘why’ is almost more important than the ‘how’. Finding the maths inside the word-based questions is key.

For more information on how we can help with dyscalculia and dyslexia contact us on 087-2996054 or through our website www.hummingbirdlearning.com.

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