I’m often asked about dyscalculia and the possibility of a particular child being dyscalculic because their maths is so weak. I am much more a “words” person, rather than a “numbers” person. In fact, maths was my most dreaded subject at school and something I tend to steer clear of to this day. So although I knew dyscalculia was like dyslexia but to do with numbers, rather than words, I have never felt I knew as much about dyscalculia as perhaps I should do. So this week I took myself off on a course to find out more…
The speaker was Colin Troy (http://www.ct-training.org.uk/), an excellent orator who managed to present what could have been some rather dry material in a very entertaining and engaging manner.
It’s always useful to come away from a course having learned something you didn’t know before! So, what did I learn about dyscalculia?
There may be as many as 5% of children in the UK who are dyscalculic. Dyscalculia can co-exist with dyslexia, but not always. Like dyslexia, it is thought to be linked to central coherence differences in the brain.
What would you be looking for if you think your child might have dyscalculia?
In the early years, you might notice your child having difficulties “matching shapes” in one of those wooden shape sorting boxes.
At primary school, they might have difficulties with estimating and subitising (instantly recognizing the number of objects in a small group, without counting). You might notice difficulties understanding the concept of magnitude – understanding “greater than” or “less than”. Your child may not be able to continue or reproduce a pattern – and learning times tables may be almost an impossibility.
Later on, the dyscalculic child may find manipulating numbers to solve mental maths questions difficult. They may find remembering the steps in complicated procedures, such as long division a challenge.
How to help your child
As with dyslexic learners, any intervention should be multisensory, with lots of repetition and practice to develop muscle memory.
Use three-dimensional objects such as money, lego or chocolate buttons to demonstrate maths ideas, as dyscalculic learners can often be 3D learners. Don’t be in a rush to get your child to write anything down.
Use music to learn times tables or mathematical procedures. Older children can set them to Garage Samples like the ones found on websites such as Loopmasters (http://www.loopmasters.com).
Any sort of game that requires quick identification of numbers, such as dice, dominoes or Rummikub is good for practice with subitising.
Children with dyscalculia can become confused and unable to concentrate as they become overwhelmed by their difficulties. Above all, reducing and managing your child’s anxiety about maths is key.
If this sounds like your child, have a look at the quick checklist on the British Dyslexia Association website (http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/dyslexic/dyscalculia).