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.
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.
- 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?
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.