Dyscalculia

Picture a boy in a classroom

He holds a pencil but he doesn’t know what to write

There are numbers on the page – sums!!!

He doesn’t know what they mean but he knows that if he tries he’ll get crosses!!!

Betty Judah, using the words of pupils from California (1997) described dyscalculia as:

Adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing incorrectly with seemingly small careless errors. Transposing and reversing numbers. Forgetting to do something:  somehow coming up with other answers. Adding when you should be subtracting: suddenly multiplying when you should be adding. Somehow losing the process, not “seeing a problem to be worked on the page and, thus, not answering it. You can work the sample problem but you can’t apply the process to a slightly different problem. Everyone thinks you can do it if you try!!!!

Dyslexia and Dyscalculia

There is a growing acceptance within a growing acceptance within the research world that there are some pupils who present:

Dyslexic characteristics

Dyscalculic characteristics

Aspects of both conditions

Then there are pupils who appear to have aspects of both conditions, but are actually suffering from the side effects of dyslexia, rather than “pure” dyscalculia.

This situation, where two (or more) diagnostically distinguishable conditions occur together, is call comorbidity.

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

Guidance to support pupils with dyslexia and dyscalculia: Ref: DfES 0512/2001

The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) offers the following explanation and information about dyscalculia:

The DfE defines dyscalculia as: A condition that affects the ability to acquire arithmetical skills. Dyscalculia 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 of use of correct method, they may do so mechanically and without confidence.

Dyscalculia is like dyslexia for numbers. But unlike dyslexia, very little is known about its prevalence, causes or treatment. Current thinking suggests that it is a congenital condition, caused by the abnormal functioning of a specific area of the brain. People with dyscalculia experience greatly difficulty with the most basic aspects of numbers and arithmetic.

Best estimates indicate that somewhere between 3% and 6% of the population are affected. These statistics refer to children who are “purely” dyscalculia – i.e. they only have difficulties with maths but have good or even excellent performance in other areas of learning.

Typical symptoms of Dyscalculia

Counting: Dyscalculic children can usually learn the sequence of counting words, but may have difficulty navigating back and forth, especially in two’s and threes.

Calculations: Dyscalcalic children find learning and recalling numbers fact difficult. They often lack confidence even when they produce the correct answer. They also fail to use rules and procedures to build on known facts. For example, they may know that 5+3=8, but not realise that, therefore, 3+5=8 or that 5+4= 9.

Numbers with zero’s: Dyscalculic children may find it difficult to grasp that the words ten, hundred and thousand have the same relationship to each other as the numeral 10, 100, and 1000.

Measures: Dyscalculic children often have difficulty with operations such as handling money or telling the time. They may also have problems with concepts such as speed (miles per hour) or temperature.

Directions/orientation: Dyscalculic children may have difficulty understanding spatial orientation (including left and right) causing difficulties in following direction or with map reading.

Dyscalculia pupils also

  • Are worried that they work more slowly and incorrectly
  • Lack confidence – even when they produce the correct answer
  • Will often adopt avoidance strategies
  • Often develop “learned helplessness” strategies
  • Dislike whole group interactive sessions
  • Are not confident and avoid estimating and checking their answers

Learning Styles

Inchworm Grasshopper
Prefers to follow a rule Controlled explorations
Method driven Answer driven
Tendency to see topics in isolation Links concepts and topics
May have a poor grasp of concepts More likely to understand concepts
Does not experiment with solutions: sticks to one method Will experiment with solutions and alternative methods
Prefers to write everything down Prefers to work without writing everything down
Tries to remember area’s that are not understood and to reproduce procedure by rote –often  incorrectly May have difficulty explaining logic and verbalising solutions
At some stage the reliance on memory will be insufficient (the grasshopper approach is particularly relevant for mental calculation) Must be aware of inchworm approaches as alternative methods, especially when recording solutions
A calculator should be used with care as it may mask an underlying lack of understanding May benefit from the use of a calculator to help with basic numeracy so effect can be put into high-order mathematics
Finds checking solution difficult and often simply works through he question again in the same way Has a feel for an answer and can use other methods for checking

Ref: How to develop numeracy in children with Dyslexia by Pauline Clayton