Most people have heard of dyslexia these days but not that many have heard of dyscalculia. Both are learning disabilities that can cause people to be falsely treated as if they lack intelligence or overall academic ability. However, with the proper use of assistive technologies and allowances, people with either dyslexia or dyscalculia can be successful in school and life.
What Is Dyscalculia?
Dyscalculia relates to numbers, as the name suggests. People with dyscalculia struggle with some or all forms of simple mathematics. Because each person is an individual, two people who both have dyscalculia can struggle with different parts of mathematics. Some common symptoms of dyscalculia include:
- Good language skills but poor math skills
- Good understanding of mathematics principles but trouble with basic calculations
- Problems with time such as chronic lateness or poor estimation of time
- Trouble performing mental mathematics
- Poor guessing or estimation skills
- Inconsistent math skills (can do something one day and not the next)
- Difficulty reading analog clocks
- Trouble differentiating left and right
- Difficulty navigating by map
Dyscalculia specifically impairs arithmetic abilities and does not necessarily prevent individuals from comprehending higher mathematics. One of the major signs of the condition is the ability to understand mathematical concepts well beyond the associated arithmetic skills. However, some individuals do have trouble with both arithmetic operations and higher mathematical reasoning.
Issues such as reading analog clocks and differentiating left and right can be a problem for some people with dyscalculia. It is thought that there is a certain amount of visual-spatial dysfunction that occurs in at least some people with dyscalculia, leading to these symptoms. Inability to mentally “turn” a map in order to navigate is another common symptom of dyscalculia as well.
Diagnosing, Treating and Managing Dyscalculia
There is no one test or set of criteria for diagnosing dyscalculia. Children are most often diagnosed in the school system but many individuals with dyscalculia who perform just slightly below average in mathematics are never diagnosed. Since a significant percentage of people have some trouble with mathematics and children may learn at different paces, many people with dyscalculia go undiagnosed.
Treatment for the condition involves learning other methods of dealing with mathematics. Individuals who have trouble with memorizing formulas might learn mnemonic ditties, for example. Those who have trouble understanding mathematical concepts can sometimes benefit from the use of visual learning devices such as drawings and pictures.
Modern technology affords adults with many ways to avoid needing the skills that are troublesome for dyscalculics. However, it is important that people with dyscalculia practice math rather than avoiding it if they aim to improve their skills. Dyscalculic children should be encouraged to think about math in different ways and use other learning techniques but not to avoid doing calculations altogether.
The Causes of Dyscalculia and the Future for Dyscalculics
The cause of dyscalculia is not known. Although similar mental trouble with numbers can be induced by a blow to the head, this is called acalculia to differentiate it from dyscalculia. Dyscalculia specifically refers to an innate difficulty with arithmetic that is present from birth.
Many people with dyscalculia are skilled in other aspects of academia and go on to be very successful writers, artists, journalists or others in the professions of humanities and arts. Students with dyscalculia that presents as poor performance in math classes may be able to seek special education services in order to achieve academic goals such as high school graduation or college degrees. Like dyslexia, dyscalculia is a learning disability that can be managed and worked around in both academic and practical settings.