Does your child have trouble with math? Have you noticed they easily mix up numbers and symbols, avoid games that involve numbers and counting, or have difficulty remembering basic math patterns, such as counting in 2s and counting backwards? It’s possible they have dyscalculia. And while these signs can go unnoticed, with parents and teachers assuming a child may just not have an aptitude for math, it’s important to get the root of what’s going on. With these dyscalculia tips and tools, children can build skills and confidence in their mathematical abilities!
- What Is Dyscalculia?
Dyscalculia is a learning difference that affects a person’s ability to understand number-based information and math. Children with dyscalculia may have difficulty understanding simple number-related concepts, perform accurate math calculations, and perform other basic math skills. Their brains don’t process math-related concepts like the brains of people without this disorder, and they will often be working below age-related expectations.
Dyscalculia can happen to anyone, but it’s commonly diagnosed when children are in their first few years of elementary school (between ages of 6 and 9). Children with dyscalculia may have low confidence at school, as trouble with math can make them question their ability in other subjects. They may show emotional symptoms such as anxiety, agitation, and fear, and may also avoid playing games or sports that involve math and keeping score.
Dyscalculia vs Dyslexia: What’s the Difference?
Dyscalculia and dyslexia are both learning differences, however dyslexia affects a person’s ability to read, and dyscalculia affects a person’s ability to do math. Whereas dyslexia disrupts the areas of the brain related to reading, dyscalculia affects brain areas that handle math and number-related skills and understanding. With dyscalculia, language, motor, spatial, and working memory challenges may complicate understanding of numeracy in early childhood.
People with dyslexia and people with dyscalculia can both have difficulties with time, however this is due to different reasons. For example, people with dyslexia can experience difficulties in the context of time management, while people with dyscalculia could experience difficulties reading analogue clocks and keeping track of time.
12 Symptoms of Dyscalculia
- Trouble learning to count or skips over numbers
- Difficulty counting backwards
- Slow to perform basic calculations
- Still uses fingers to count small numbers instead of using mental math
- Trouble recognizing numbers and math symbols (like + and -)
- Struggles to make sense of graphs and charts
- Poor sense of numbers and estimations
- High levels of mathematics anxiety
- Difficulty telling the time, measuring ingredients, and counting money
- Struggles to connect a number of a group of objects
- Trouble understanding math phrases like ‘greater than’ and ‘less than’
- Avoids games that involve numbers and counting, like Candy Land
How Is Dyscalculia Diagnosed?
Initial screenings of dyscalculia can be carried out by a specialist teacher, who will usually make a referral to an educational psychologist to do a full assessment. A full evaluation can show the exact areas your child is struggling. Evaluations will look at how well a child can do basic calculations, recall math facts, and solve problems quickly. Tests may assess computation skills, math fluency, mental computation, and quantitative reasoning.
7 Dyscalculia Tips and Tools for Parents and Teachers
1. Play with Dice and Dominoes
Prioritize games that incorporate the use of dice. Teach your child to recognize the number patterns on the dice rather than counting the spots one by one after each new throw of the dice. Dominoes is a helpful game too. Point out the similarities between the dice patterns and domino patterns, and encourage your child to look for patterns inside patterns. For example, for the number 8, you can see two 4s or four 2s.
2. Use Concrete Materials
Concrete materials are a great way to allow your child to experiment with math and counting in a fun way. Helpful materials include cuisenaire rods, counting animals, and base-ten blocks. Encourage your child to use these concrete materials to create pictures in their mind. Visual mental models are very helpful for those dealing with dyscalculia.
3. Help Broaden Their Mathematical Vocabulary
Be sure to explain mathematical terms carefully, and encourage your child to articulate their thinking at every stage of a math task. Help broaden their mathematical vocabulary by teaching them a wide array of synonyms for basic math terms. For example, synonyms for ‘subtract’ include ‘minus’, ‘take away’, ‘less than’, ‘decrease’, etc., and synonyms for ‘addition’ include ‘increased by’, ‘more than’, ‘altogether’ and ‘total’.
4. Hire a Math Tutor
A math tutor, especially one who has experience working with kids who learn differently, can help your child learn to approach math problems in a more effective way. It will also allow your child to practice their math skills in a slower, less stressful setting.
5. Equip Your Child (or Student) With the Right Tools
Supportive tools and tech can help a child navigate difficult problems. Make sure your child (or student) is equipped with a calculator they know how to use, pencils and graph paper to help keep columns and numbers straight, pre-set phone reminders and alarms to help them keep track of time, and math apps and games to help them practice their math skills in a fun way.
6. Provide Classroom Accommodations
Parents and teachers should work together to ensure classroom accommodations for children with dyscalculia. Supports include access to a calculator during class and tests, extra time on tests, a quiet place to work, access to the teacher’s notes, and in-school tutoring or homework assistance.
7. Use Assistive Technology
There are numerous technologies out there to help children with everything from recognition, to ordering, sequencing, and problem solving. These include laptops, calculators, graphic organizers, and text-to-speech and dictation apps. Talk to the child about what technology they find most supportive and allow them to use it in school.
Every child with dyscalculia has a unique set of strengths and challenges. It’s crucial that dyscalculia is identified and children are supported as early as possible. Use these tips at home and in the classroom to ensure they thrive!
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