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What is Dyscalculia?

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Dyscalculia is a specific learning difficulty that affects an individual’s ability to understand and work with numbers. While dyscalculia is lesser known than other learning difficulties like dyslexia, it can have a significant impact on a person’s academic performance and daily life. In this blog post, we will explore what dyscalculia is, how to spot its signs and provide recommendations for supporting individuals with dyscalculia.

What is Dyscalculia?
Dyscalculia is a neurodevelopmental condition that impacts a person’s ability to understand and work with numbers and mathematical concepts. It affects about 1 in 20 people in the United Kingdom and 50% of individuals with dyscalculia also have a diagnosis of dyslexia.

Individuals with dyscalculia may have difficulties with:

  • Basic arithmetic operations
  • Number sense
  • Mathematical reasoning
  • Sequencing 
  • Forgetting previously mastered skills
  • Difficulty with mathematical symbols and language used for maths

Compared to dyslexia, dyscalculia is not nearly as well researched and there are still large gaps in professional knowledge of how it works. Brain imaging studies have shown that many different parts of the brain activate during number processing, requiring  complex networks to work together. Some theories suggest that dyscalculia may be connected to issues in the function of the frontal lobe which deals with reasoning skills, and the left intraparietal sulcus, often connected to numeracy. 

Individuals with Dyscalculia tend to have poorer working memory, processing speed and retrieval of information. Number processing in general is already a highly complex task that requires multiple different functions of the brain to work together, therefore if one of these processes are defective, individuals would tend to struggle with mathematical skills. It is important to note that dyscalculia is not related to intelligence and people with dyscalculia may have average or above-average intelligence in other areas.

Spotting the Signs of Dyscalculia
Recognising the signs of dyscalculia is crucial for early intervention and support. If dyscalculia is suspected, parents are recommended to take their child to the GP to rule out any other conditions that may be affecting their mathematical skills like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or visual/hearing impairments. The GP will then refer the child to a specialist who will assess the child’s symptoms.

Some common signs and symptoms of dyscalculia include:

  • Difficulty with basic arithmetic: Individuals with dyscalculia may struggle with basic arithmetic operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. They may also struggle with fractions and decimals.
  • Poor number sense: Difficulty understanding numerical concepts, sequencing, ordering numbers, and recognising patterns in numbers.
  • Trouble with time and money: Difficulty telling time, understanding the concept of time, and managing money. 
  • Spatial difficulties: Challenges with understanding spatial relationships, geometry, and measurement.
  • Memory difficulties: Difficulty memorising maths facts, formulas, and mathematical procedures, even previously mastered procedures
  • Anxiety and frustration: Feelings of anxiety, frustration, and low self-esteem related to maths and numbers.

7 Recommendations for Supporting Individuals with Dyscalculia
Dyscalculia is a life-long condition where there is no cure. However, there are many ways it can be supported. When supporting individuals with the condition, it is important to provide tailored accommodations to meet each person’s unique needs. Here are some recommendations for supporting individuals with dyscalculia:

  1. Early identification: Early identification and assessment of dyscalculia can help tailor interventions and support strategies to the individual’s specific needs. 
  2. Multisensory learning: Engage individuals with dyscalculia in multisensory learning activities that involve visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic elements to enhance understanding and retention of mathematical concepts.
  3. Use of manipulatives: Utilise physical manipulatives such as blocks, counters, and number lines to help individuals visualise and understand mathematical concepts better.
  4. Visual support: Provide visual aids, colour-coded charts, and graphic organisers to help individuals organise information and make connections between mathematical concepts.
  5. Alternative assessments: Offer alternative assessments such as oral presentations, projects, and demonstrations to allow individuals with dyscalculia to demonstrate their understanding of mathematical concepts in non-traditional ways.
  6. Positive reinforcement and encouragement: Provide positive reinforcement, lots of praise, and support to help individuals with dyscalculia build confidence and resilience in their mathematical abilities.
  7. Collaboration with specialists: Collaborate with educational psychologists, learning specialists, and other professionals to develop individualised education plans and support strategies for individuals with dyscalculia.

Dyscalculia is a specific learning difficulty that can present challenges in understanding and working with numbers. Spotting the signs of dyscalculia early can help prevent further issues and provide support for individuals who struggle with it. Targeted interventions and a supportive network of teachers and specialists can help people with dyscalculia thrive and be prepared for real-world applications of mathematics.

Author: NeuroDirect