Understanding Dyscalculia - the Math Learning Disability

According to the LDA:

Signs and Symptoms of Dyscalculia

- Shows difficulty understanding concepts of place value, and quantity, number lines, positive and negative value, carrying and borrowing
- Has difficulty understanding and doing word problems
- Has difficulty sequencing information or events
- Exhibits difficulty using steps involved in math operations
- Shows difficulty understanding fractions
- Is challenged making change and handling money
- Displays difficulty recognizing patterns when adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing
- Has difficulty putting language to math processes
- Has difficulty understanding concepts related to time such as days, weeks, months, seasons, quarters, etc.
- Exhibits difficulty organizing problems on the page, keeping numbers lined up, following through on long division problems

Recent fMRI studies found that dyscalculic school children were significantly disadvantaged in terms of their 'number sense' - estimating the number of objects on a computer screen, for instance. Without a strong sense of quantity, no wonder calculations and estimations are so hard. Although dyscalculia has been suggested to be as common as dyslexia, it is rarely recognized and failing or

From The New Scientist:

"Jill, 19, from Michigan, wants to go to university to read political science. There is just one problem: she keeps failing the mathematics requirement. "I am an exceptional student in all other subjects, so my consistent failure at math made me feel very stupid," she says. In fact, she stopped going to her college mathematics class after a while because, she says, "I couldn't take the daily reminder of what an idiot I was."

Last November, Jill got herself screened for learning disabilities. She found that while her IQ is above average, her numerical ability is equivalent to that of an 11-year-old because she has something called dyscalculia. The diagnosis came partly as a relief, because it explained a lot of difficulties she had in her day-to-day life. She can't easily read a traditional, analogue clock, for example, and always arrives 20 minutes early for fear of being late. When it comes to paying in shops or restaurants, she hands her wallet to a friend and asks them to do the calculation, knowing that she is likely to get it wrong."

Low math scores can prevent admission to highly selective schools, block high school graduations, and close out careers, but isn't this a mistake?

Famous Scientists and Mathematicians with Dyscalculia

"- Thomas Alva Edison belong to bad pupils, he never mastered skills like writing, spelling,
and even arithmetic.
- The physicist George Gamov is described in My World Line by his student, a famous
astronomer, Vera Rubin in the following way: “He could not write or count. It would take him
a while to tell you how much is 7 times 8. However, his mind was able to comprehend the
- Mathematician N. N. Luzin belongs to people with a slow reaction. He also developed
slowly, he did not succeed in school, especially in mathematics."

Other dyscalculic mathematicians come to mind, like David Hilbert, one of the greatest mathematicians of the last century who was notoriously bad at arithmetic and an anecdote in which he had to ask whether 7 + 5 was 12 or 13.

From The Mathematical Brain about the overlap between Dyscalculia and Dyslexia:

Dyscalculia seems to be particularly rife among dyslexics, with
around 40% of children with reading difficulties also having
difficulties in learning maths. This is a double whammy for
them. It is also a serious puzzle for science. After all, the other
60% have no more problems than normal. Indeed, dyslexics can
be outstanding mathematicians. What is the difference between
those dyslexics who do suffer from dyscalculia and those who
do not? What is it about dyslexics that puts them at risk of
dyscalculia at all?

Recently, researchers at Stanford published this article on the gray and white matter differences between dyscalculic and typically developing children. The children were matched for IQ and working memory, and significant overlaps with dyslexia were seen (cerebellum and fusiform gyrus / visual word form recognition). The science is helpful for understanding that dyscalculia is a real biological entity, but an enormous gulf still exists in terms of how best to identify students with the LD and better, how to help them.

From The Dyslexic Student and Mathematics in Higher Education (abstract)"

-diagrams and mind maps to represent ideas
- color areas under curves
- label the y-axis on both sides to reduce the chance of losing place
- mnemonics (sine rhymes with line) for definitions and formulae
- Comic Sans font, cream background to reduce glare
- note-keeper, record lectures
- knowing why a method worked (proofs)
- learn each step individually and give each step a label
- custom graph paper
- sticks to cover rows not being used for matrix work
- simple 3D model when doing 2D to 3D transformations
- extra time to read problems, highlight key words

For elementary math:

- work with a solved problem in view
- work 'open-book' with math facts charts, number line, or other reminders
- use personal memory mnemonics for math facts like Memorize in Minutes or Addition the Fun Way
- dictate answers
- color code columns
- label steps

References and Resources:
Dyscalculia, Mathematicians
Dyscalculia Forum
Dyslexic Advantage Network
Thesis on Dyscalculia pdf

1 comment:

  1. If you are looking for more information on dyscalculia then these talks from UK expert Jane Emerson might be helpful: