What on Earth is Dyscalculia?
Dyscalculia is a learning disorder that is characterised by difficulties with numbers. Just as people with dyslexia process words differently, so those with dyscalculia will process numbers differently. Individuals with dyscalculia will have significant problems with counting, basic maths function, calculations, telling the time, even remembering numbers, like a phone number, for example. To be diagnosed with dyscalculia these difficulties must be significantly below what is expected for people of the same age, and not caused by poor education or intellectual impairment.
Dyscalculia often occurs concurrently with other processing disorders such as dyslexia or ADHD but it should not be assumed that all those with dyslexia have problems with mathematics or that all those with dyscalculia have problems with reading and writing. Children with dyscalculia can fall behind early in primary school and may develop anxiety or a strong dislike of maths. In secondary school they are likely to struggle to pass maths and science courses and find their career options reduced. In adult life, they may earn less, and have difficulties managing their everyday finances.
Typical symptoms of dyscalculia are the following:
- Difficulty when counting backwards
- A poor sense of number and estimation
- Difficulty in remembering ‘basic’ facts, despite many hours of practice/rote learning
- No strategies to compensate for lack of recall, other than to use counting.
- Difficulty in understanding place value and the role of zero
- No sense of whether any answers that are obtained are right or nearly right
- A tendency to be slower to perform calculations
- Forgets mathematical procedures, especially as they become more complex, for example long division
- Addition is often the default operation. The other operations are usually very poorly executed (or avoided altogether)
- Avoids tasks that are perceived as difficult and likely to result in a wrong answer
- Weak mental arithmetic skills
- High level of mathematics anxiety
Dyscalculia affects up to 6% of the population: Like most learning difficulties it can vary in its severity and has no link to intelligence levels, however, when severe it requires diagnosis and appropriate counselling as well as individualised support away from whole class teaching. When less severe, adaptations to teaching methods in subjects involving number skills can enable children to make progress and find ways of compensating for their difficulties. There is still a lot that we don’t understand about dyscalculia and there is no cure for this lifelong condition, however research is improving constantly.
With the right support and effective intervention, the impact of the condition can be lessened considerably.
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