What is Dyscalculia?

“I hate math.” How often have you heard that? How can you know if your child truly doesn’t like math as a subject in school, needs tutoring, or has a learning challenge?

Dyscalculia: When the Numbers Don’t Tell the Story

You’ve probably heard of dyslexia, a learning disability related to reading. Have you heard of dyscalculia; a learning disability related to math? While only a small percentage of people have dyscalculia (between 3% and 7% of the population), it can block progress in school, not to mention causing daily frustrations.

Unfortunately, sometimes dyscalculia can be misdiagnosed as just being bad at math, which means the student doesn’t get the help they need. Their potential to learn remains untapped; their frustration grows.

Learning disabilities don’t go hand-in-hand with being on the autism spectrum, but they can be associated. That’s one reason we’re asked about dyscalculia often at Franklin Academy, where about half of our neurodiverse learners are on the spectrum. (Autism spectrum disorder or ASD is defined as how a person processes certain types of information; a learning disability affects how a person learns.)

Struggling Outside of Math Class

As a society, we seem to accept that math is hard. It’s okay to admit, “I’m just not a math person” and then laugh about it.

While it’s ok to not like or be good at math, that’s different than getting bad grades because you’re not being taught in a way that connects with how you think. It’s like failing a final exam your first week of class; you simply haven’t been equipped to pass the test.

Dyscalculia can show up in elementary school, when a student doesn’t understand the numeral 4 is the same as the word four. Subtraction and addition might not make any sense.

Interestingly, students may understand the logic behind math, but not how or when to apply what they know to solve math problems. Outside of the classroom, those with dyscalculia often struggle with working memory, too. For example, they may not be able to read a clock or figure out how to make change.

Signs of Potential Dyscalculia

  • Using fingers to count out math solutions, long after peers have stopped using this method
  • Trouble recalling basic math facts
  • Confusing the signs: +, -, ÷ and x
  • Difficulty linking numbers and symbols to amounts and directions
  • Struggles with money (i.e., handing cashier a fistful of bills and change rather than counting it out)
  • Unable to tell time on an analog clock
  • Difficulty knowing right from left
  • Trouble recognizing patterns and sequencing numbers
  • Poor sense of direction
  • Difficulty estimating distance

How Dyscalculia Can Affect Students?

Today’s requirements for graduating high school include multiple credits of high school mathematics and passing exams in algebra and geometry. For students with an undiagnosed and untreated math disability, it’s like requiring colorblind students to identify colors of the rainbow.

You can easily imagine – or perhaps you know from firsthand experience – that math, like many subjects, is cumulative. If you fall behind at a young age, you may never be able to catch up. It could put graduation out of reach entirely, or lead to extra years in school, or simply being passed because teachers have given up.

Teaching Approaches for Dyscalculia?

First, if you think your child might have dyscalculia, you can get them assessed at a variety of learning disability centers or through a neuropsychological evaluation. With that diagnosis, be prepared to find math teachers or tutors who will use a variety of approaches to teach math concepts differently. If the dyscalculia goes along with being neurodiverse, an entire school that uses a hands-on, tailored approach to learning may be the answer.

“We’re used to identifying gaps and then focusing on those,” says Paul Gloudemans, head of admissions for Franklin Academy (K-12) and Franklin Capstone (post-secondary programs). “Our teachers use games with concrete materials, like Legos, dice, money, or dominoes to move out of just one sense into a multi-sensory approach. Tangible, tactile tools can be more effective teaching devices than screens or sheets of paper.”

Franklin Academy’s team of professionals create tailored learning paths for a variety of different learners. Reach out to us with questions.

Sources: Autism Help, ADDitude