What is Dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia is a clinical term used to describe a Specific Mathematics Disorder. Children diagnosed with dyscalculia often have difficulty with number sense (understanding what the symbol of the number is representing); basic calculation skills including addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division; difficulty with mathematic problem solving and word problems (not due to difficulty reading the math problem but rather due to difficulty integrating the information in order to solve the problem); and difficulty with fluent retrieval of math facts.

Why Can't My Child Get the Right Answer to the Problem?

There are several possible reasons that your child may struggle in math. It is a complex process requiring a great deal of cognitive ability to come up with one answer. We will outline below some of the most common.

  • Difficulty with Number Sense – Students may not have a strong understanding of the pictorial representation (e.g., 8) and the amount that picture represents (e.g., eight cookies). These students will benefit from the use of manipulatives that help them to make the connection. They may need support understanding large quantities and when we might use that type of a number. They will benefit from a great deal of real-world application examples (e.g., if we are talking about 75,000 this is about how many seats are in an NFL football stadium).
  • Difficulty with Attention to Detail – These students generally display difficulty on math calculation tests because they are unable to self-monitor their responses. They may add where they should subtract, or otherwise perform the incorrect operation. These students benefit from using a system (e.g., highlight all of the adding problems in yellow, subtracting problems in green, multiplying problems in blue) to pull attention to what they should be doing.
  • Difficulty with Sequencing – Several students with LD struggle to sequence steps appropriately. These students benefit from having the steps written out for them until they are able to solve the problems more independently.
  • Difficulty with Language – Some students struggle with word problems because they don’t understand what the question is asking. The language is confusing and often non-linear and they struggle to locate key information.These students benefit from support in highlighting the key information and crossing out irrelevant information. They often need a “decision tree” to help them decide which operation they are supposed to be completing.
  • Difficulty with Fluent Retrieval of Math Facts – Some students are actually quite strong in many areas of math but struggle to pull simple and necessary facts quickly to their brain. These students benefit from consistent practice and repetition of facts with game-based apps or songs or other memory strategies for facts which require memorization such as multiplication.

What is Dysgraphia?

Dysgraphia is a clinical term used to describe difficulty with the writing process. Typically students that struggle with dysgraphia struggle with the fine motor process of holding a pen or pencil, the ability to copy words from the board to their paper in an intelligible format, letter formation and handwriting, and the ability to get their thoughts from their brain to the paper.

There are several processes involved in writing ranging from the ability to hold the pencil to the ability to adequately organize thoughts in a sequential and meaningful format. Typically students with dysgraphia struggle in several of these areas. Not all students that struggle with handwriting have dysgraphia nor do all students that struggle with conceptualizing paragraph level writing have dysgraphia. Rather dysgraphia describes a pattern of performance across all writing domains than would typically be expected for the child's developmental level.

How is Dysgraphia (Specific Writing Difficulty) Treated?

Dysgraphia is treated with a structured approach to fine motor control, handwriting instruction (often a switch to cursive is suggested if the child is over 8 years of age), systematic spelling instruction, and explicit paragraph/essay organization strategies. These students struggle with all of the demands of the writing process and making these routines more automatic allows them to use less of their cognitive capacity (i.e., brain space) on each task thereby allowing them to focus more on the content of their writing.

 

How is it treated?

Students who struggle with number sense often need a more explicit curriculum with hands-on materials in order to understand the underlying concepts of mathematic operations. Explicit and direct instruction that is provided in a linear and sequential fashion based on complete mastery of a concept is typically a better fit than spiraling programs that move quickly from one concept to the next and then "spiral" back around for review.

Multisensory Math Programs

  • Programs like Touch Math and MathUSee can make a big difference for children fail to grasp the larger concept of mathematic operations. The addition of the kinesthetic (touch) component creates an additional neural pathway for retaining facts.

Organizational Support

  • Allow students to complete problems on graph paper in order to make sure they do not lose their place. This resource allows students the graphic organization and support they need to keep their math work organized in a linear fashion thereby reducing possible errors.
  • Allow students the opportunity to highlight different operations in different colored highlighters (e.g., all the addition signs can be highlighted yellow and the subtraction signs can be highlighted green, this could work for multistep problems as well).
  • Allow students the opportunity to use apps or manipulatives in order to supply concrete visuals to complex processes.

Do you provide therapy for dyscalculia?

Yes.

Students with specific difficulties in math also benefit from an "Orton-Gillingham" approach in that the material is provided in an explicit manner, following a specific order of material that is taught to mastery. Spiraling programs or language heavy programs are often not good for students with specific learning deficits but are largely recognized in the general curriculum.

While we are happy to show your student how to use the skills we are teaching to their in-class concepts our philosophy is to teach the skills in a new, different, and meaningful way. So the concepts we are working on in therapy may not always align with the school's curriculum.

 

Recommendations for Dysgraphia

There are a number of difficulties that can be consumed under the umbrella of "dysgraphia" ranging from extreme difficulty with handwriting and the motor processes of writing to the difficulty with producing or coming up with a topic and details to write about.

Handwriting

  • Programs like Handwriting without Tears are fantastic programs for teaching proper letter formation, which is a key component to developing strong written work production.
  • Work with an Occupational Therapist (if necessary) to develop proper grip and hand strength if the actual process of holding a pencil is difficult or frustrating for the student.

Assistive Technology

  • Allow students to use a keyboard and learn appropriate typing strategies for assignments.
  • Consider the use of Dragon Dictation or other speech to text software.
  • Consider the use of a LiveScribe pen so handwritten notes can be limited and audio recordings are available for the student.

Written Work Production

  • Teach the student to use graphic organizers and other visuals for developing written work. Programs like Kidspiration do a very nice job of making this process fun and engaging.
  • Teach the student how to prepare for writing utilizing strategies such as brainstorming with use of a web or other organizer.
  • Give the student appropriate background on the topic and don't assume all children have the necessary background experiences to write about every topic. BrainPop is a great app/program to give background knowledge where necessary.