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Home School Life Journal ........... painting by Katie Bergenholtz
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Saint Francis DeSales

A few words on Dyscalculia

I am writing because I recently found your blog and saw in your profile that you have a child with dyscalculia. I have been struggling along with my age 12 son with his math for years and years. After doing some research on-line, I discovered what I think is his problem - dyscalculia. Now I'm not sure how to help him or how to proceed. He does just fine in all of his other subjects, but he's doing about 4th grade work in math and it does not come easy for him. I have not met or come across anyone who has a child with this problem so when I saw it in your profile I just had to write to you. Can you share any thing that has helped your child? -Barbara
First of all, Barbara, I must tell you that I am no expert in this field, but I have had many experiences in dyscalculia, including having it myself. I can only share some of my experiences and hope this will help in some way.
There may be more people with dyscalculia that simply do not know what it is or that it even exists. Let me, then, first talk about what the symptoms are. Perhaps other families have a child struggling with these issues and don't know why. The most obvious symptoms are that the person frequently confuses the basic mathematical signs: +, −, ÷ and x and often has wrong answers to math problems because of this, and that the person consistently makes mistakes the sequence of numbers, or transposing them when repeated, such as turning 56 into 65, much like the person with dyslexia transposes letters. Or, they will have "messy" math papers with numbers not lining up and problems going all over the place on the page.
Many everyday tasks are also difficult with people with dyscalculia such as making change and reading analog clocks or differentiating between left and right or difficulty navigating a map or even mentally "turning" the map to face the current direction rather than the common North-at-the-Top usage or even keeping score during games. Estimating is very difficult for these persons and this spans over many types and areas such as the cost of the items in a shopping basket or judging the passage of time (often times chronically late or early) or estimating the measurement of an object or distance (like whether something is 10 or 20 feet away) or balancing a checkbook.
People with dyscalculia have difficulty with any kind of math tables such multiplication tables, either reading them or memorizing them. Some parents, recognizing that their children are experiencing some kind of learning disability, give their children a calculator to use instead of math tables but sometimes these children even have trouble with a calculator due to difficulties in the process of feeding in variables. Often, understandably, all of this leads to further math anxiety. They have trouble with mental arithmetic, and even have difficulty with physical activities requiring sequential processing such as dance steps or sports.
Persons with dyscalculia often do fairly well in subjects such as writing, (and often have a very developed imagination) but are unable to grasp and remember mathematical concepts, rules, formulas, and sequences. They even do well early in science and geometry, which require logic rather than formulas, only developing dificulties in the higher levels which require calculations.
To make matters even more confusing, it seems that many of those who suffer from dyscalculia have parents who are in mathematics-related fields!
Sometimes these children also have symptoms totally unrelated to academics such as over-sensitivity to noise, smell, light and the inability to tune out, filtering unwanted information or impressions. A person with dyscalculia may have only a few of these symptoms or many of them.
So, now if you recognize that your child has dyscalculia, what can you do? First of all, there is nothing you can do to cure your child of this problem. Sometimes a person will outgrow or learn to compensate so well that it appears that they outgrow some of the symptoms, but it will always be a difficulty. With that in mind, I can give some tips as what to do to help your child learn to compensate. You did not mention in your question, Barbara, whether you homeschool or not. If you do not, you are somewhat dependant on your school system for implementing strategies in the classroom. You can, of course, use any of these methods when your child is doing work at home in any case.
Since the profile for a person with this disability varies some, so do the ways to help. It often is a matter of trial and error to see what works, and sometimes what works takes some time. Try and make as much of it as you can not be done in the child's head. Allow use of fingers and scratch paper. Use diagrams and draw math concepts as much as you can.
Sometimes using graph paper to keep numbers in a line helps, or turning paper so that the lines go up and down on the page instead of across help with keeping numbers in line. Sometimes using different colored pencils to differentiate problems helps keep them separated.
Work with manipulatives as much as possible. Turning problems into word problems help some, but then others have more difficulty with word problems. If that is the case then sketching out word problems sometimes helps. If your child is word oriented, I have heard that sometimes the use of mnemonic devices helps to learn steps of a math concepts, but I have not had much success with that with either myself or my kids. Some people have had success using rhythm and music to teach math facts. Some kids do well on the computer because they don't have to worry about lining things up as much, and there are many homeschool math computer curriculums out there now, although I do not have any experience with these.

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