Dyscalculia is considered a biological deficiency as a result of some medical injury and or dysfunction of the brain.
The symptoms of dyscalculia are the inability or limited ability to calculate basic arithmetic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division). Medical specialists say there is limited treatment for dyscalculia, but with some therapy, the symptoms could improve.
Prior to my limited research on the topic, I believed dyscalculia to be a psychological issue found in individuals who have put a block in their mind towards mathematics as a result of their inability to comprehend basic mathematical operations.
I tutor high school students in mathematics and I find that many of them are determined not to embrace mathematics, but rather struggle through it until they no longer have to take mathematics courses. Once I have reached the student on some level and find the root of the block, the student relaxes their guard against mathematics and has an open mind towards learning mathematics. This is helpful with most students who struggle with basic mathematics concepts. However, there is another group of students who do not fit this category.
Those students, who are diagnosed professionally, have a mathematics learning disability known as dyscalculia. There are many reported symptoms, but very little consistency across patients.
Basically, students who report the inability to understand how numbers operate, associate, and/or relate fit this category.
Although there is no medical “cure” or treatment for dyscalculia, students can be successful in mathematics courses. Proactive participation among parents, students, and teachers can contribute to this success.
At the onset of these difficulties (counting, memorizing math facts, formulizing thoughts about mathematics concepts, etc.) students should be evaluated by a trained professional in learning disabilities. Parents can discuss their concerns with the school counselor to receive recommendations for specialists in this field.
Parents of younger children should work closely with teachers to make sure they are sensitive to the students’ needs (mathematics learning abilities). Parents should also consider hiring a private math tutor who is familiar and has experience with students who have been diagnosed with dyscalculia.
The tutor should be able to explain dyscalculia and discuss some options for helping the student with mathematics. The parent should be able to explain the symptoms the student is experiencing so the tutor will know how to help the student.
Older children (high school and college students) should speak directly with their teachers and professors about their struggles and challenges in mathematics courses. They should explain their symptoms, rather than simply stating they have dyscalculia. The term and symptoms are broad and vary greatly from one student to another.
The teacher or professor will need very specific information about the student’s symptoms. In addition, the professor may not be familiar with dyscalculia and would not know how to help a student unless they can identify the specific issue.
Dyscalculia is a mathematics learning disability. There are several strategies for treating symptoms of dyscalculia. Learning about the symptoms is a very important part of the process (one student may have difficulty identifying numbers, another student may have difficulty explaining the value of a number).
There are different treatment methods or approaches for each dyscalculia case. Knowing and understanding the symptoms can help parents, students, and teachers focus on proper treatment. The student can ultimately achieve success in their mathematics education.
Nneka S. Kirkland, M.Ed. holds a Master of Education degree with a concentration in Secondary Mathematics.
She currently teaches Precalculus at Temple University, in Philadelphia. She is a Co-founder of Citywide Math and Science Institute, a math and science tutoring company, committed to advancing STEM education (www.CitywideMathScience.com).
Nneka is also a Co-author of the new book Amazing Grades: 101 Best Ways To Improve Your Grades Faster.