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How to Treat the Symptoms of Dyscalculia

Following a diagnosis of dyscalculia, use these tried-and-true interventions for managing symptoms and building up math skills at home, in school, and in the workplace.

2 Comments: How to Treat the Symptoms of Dyscalculia

  1. I really wish more research was available on dyscalculia. As someone who struggled mightily in the early grades with math, used the help of tutors in middle school, and ended up in a technical oriented, math heavy career, I believe the term is too broad to cover all aspects of math. I still have a fear of numbers, and something as simple as averaging 3 time scores on a swim timer’s card gives me sweats. There is a lot about the way math is taught in our schools that presses hard on kids who similarly struggle with numbers — often because of limited processing memory. By 7th and 8th grade, kids here are still drilling numerical comparisons, percentages, growth, etc. Contrast that with the way math is taught in many European countries: One operation a year, and go as deep as possible. Sure you will not be doing fractions in 2nd grade, but you will be solving multi-step word problems involving addition and subtraction, writing and solving simple equations. In art, you will spend some time with a ruler and compass, constructing beautiful shapes and understanding geometry before you even started. And all that is before you even hit middle school! By contrast, our circular curriculum tries to expose kids to too many concepts, often before they can actually use those concepts in any practical way. This separates kids with good working memory from the rest. If you can remember the algorithms, you can do well in math. Instead, the focus should be narrower in the early grades, looking to build fluency not through repetition, but through applications. A different part of the brain gets engaged, and kids who “hated math” because they hated having to remember simple operations with numbers and the entrapment of long divisions and break out of the details and start to see the big picture, applying those concepts to real applications.

    I am concerned that we use the term Dyscalculia in a way that implies that kids who struggle in one kind of math cannot be successful in others. Instead, consider how different algebra is from arithmetics, boolean logic and from geometry or functional analysis. You could be truly awful at algebra and still excel in geometry (exhibit 1: my daughter).

    So we either narrowly define Dyscalculia as a struggle to operate with numbers, allowing kids to understand the blue horizons beyond pre-algebra, or we consider the specific challenge that gives a child difficulties in a particular type of math. Doing anything else invites a youth to give up the very instruments that could one day complement their talents in a highly lucrative career. Plenty architects out there who started out hating numbers but embracing geometry.

    Rather than advocating for special education for kids with dyscalculia, I would advocate for a better curriculum for *all* children, where this number focus fades and logical concepts are introduced early and gradually. In Europe, Algebra starts when kids learn to write numbers. Give them all long and gradual onramps, dial down the “checkmark teaching of advanced concepts without foundation) and watch more kids blossom in math. Even those who have a few difficult years dealing with numbers. THAT would be the INCLUSIVE way to teach math, giving ALL kids a chance at success.

  2. This is a problem I’ve struggled with for my whole life. I almost dropped out of high school because math was so difficult for me that I would start crying when I attempted homework, and math problems took me hours to work out. We couldn’t afford a tutor, so I just barely scraped by. I did purposefully avoid careers that involved math, which is too bad because I could have thrived in those jobs in other ways. But I am hopeful that the more we get awareness out about dyscalculia, the more that teachers can spot this/ADHD in general and hopefully help those students who are falling so far behind.

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