Dyscaluclia is a learning disability that makes it severely difficult for students to make mathematical calculations.  Children who suffer with dyslcalculia also have a difficult time memorizing math facts, understanding and performing word problems, and have a general confusion about the concepts of math.  Algebra and higher-level math skills are like a new and different language to these kids. 


This learning disability is fairly new on the scene, yet by now, most people are aware of it.  It is usually thought that kids with dyscalculia are simply bad at math, but there is so much more involved than simple math inefficiencies.  In essence, it is a math dyslexia.  It is a processing disorder just like its cousins, dyslexia and dysgraphia.  And yes, just as in the other two disorders, numbers reverse just like letters do.  

Students with dyscalculia might also see groups of numbers upside down, diagonally, swimming, moving, wearing halos, blurring together, or an assortment of other visual processing problems that affect their ability to perceive the true number/number combinations.  Lining up columns can be almost impossible for these kids, too. 

Unlike dyslexia and dysgraphia, there isn't as much of an auditory component to dyscalculia as there is with the other two disorders.  However, if a student is struggling with auditory processing, auditory discrimination, auditory closure, auditory memory, or has a Central Auditory Processing Disorder, then trying to understand the teacher's instructions can be nearly impossible.  

Some of the auditory skills that come into play with dyscalculia are mental math, directions, and categorizing, but the bulk of the skills a student with dyscalculia will have to master are primairly visual.  

They get lost in the steps and forget or fail to understand what the teacher said.  If the teacher can't talk slowly and clearly or restate the instructions differently, the student with dyscalculia is lost.   


These Kids are Smart!

It's hard for kids with dyslcalculia to get the help they need because they often don't qualify for special services, especially Special Education.  They often aren't two years behind, have high reading and writing skills, and are quite verbal.  With other kids so far behind, these kids get pushed aside. 

The first thing to understand about math is that trying to teach these kids at grade level is ridiculous.  Math is sequential.  You need "A" to get to "B", "B" to get to "C", and so on.  The current method of teaching these kids is to take them at "C" and inundate them with "C" material, thinking that will catch them up. 

That's insane!

These kids need to be taken all the way back to "A" and given a strong dose of "A" material.  They shouldn't be presented with "B" material until they have mastered every "A" skill.  That's only common sense.  At Harp, we take our kids all the way back to kindergarten skills if necessary and step-by-step fill in the missing or weak math sub-skills until the child has a strong math foundation.  

Just Try Harder!

Kids who have dyscalculia are often told to just try harder.  This doesn't work for them!  They are usually trying as hard as they can.  At some point, almost all of these bright, creative children end up shutting down as far as math goes.  They believe they can't do it, that it's a mysterious force that has evaded them.  They'll throw any answer down on their papers without thinking, just to be done with assignments.  They'll avoid math at all cost.

Memorizing math facts is nearly impossible for these kids.  Parents try to help by bringing  out the trusty old flash cards that worked for them, only to find these kids don't learn that way.  Sometimes, they force these kids to sit there over-and-over while they force the child to go over multiplication facts, not even knowing it's making the problem worse.  me and again. 

Kids with dyscalculia have an innate misunderstanding of numbers, how they fit together, math sense in general, and how to manipulate numbers to make meaning.  They are lost in a world of numbers and formulas that don't make sense.  These kids don't learn math with traditional methodologies, either.  They need new and unique ways of learning. 

Math Anxiety Sets In

Because of all of the failures the student with dyscalculia encounters, a true math anxiety often kicks in. This only makes the problem more difficult as students become nervous and upset when asked to perform math problems or reason out mathematical equations.

They break out into a sweat if they're asked to do a problem in front of the class, worrying that everyone will think they are dumb.  Fight-or-Flight kicks in (See The Brain for more information)

Once Fight-or-Flight sets in, the student isn't going to learn math or anything else.  The lizard brain takes over, and all the student can think about is fleeing.  Emotion becomes dominant over cognition.  The rational thinking part of the brain is less efficient when the student is stressed about math.

 Math anxiety usually goes hand in hand with dyscalculia, and students, whether they have math anxiety or not, are rarely given coping techniques or tools for math or learning success. 

Math anxiety is something that needs to be taken seriously.  Research confirms that the pressure from taking timed tests and risk of embarrassment among peers are recognized sources of tension among some students, especially those with dyscalculia.  In addition, fear of deadlines and public exposure to failing, especially in front of the class are huge stressors for these kids.  The lecture model where the child doesn't have a chance to practice without humiliation (guided practice) is often the only math instruction these kids receive.


These practices need to be abolished!  They only serve to increase math anxiety for the student with dyscalculia. 



Symptoms of Dyscalculia

  • Poor mental math abilities 

  • Inconsistencies with basic computation of addition, multiplication, division, and subtraction 

  • Difficulty understanding money and credit concepts 

  • Fails to understand how small steps add up 

  • May use number additions, substitutions, transpositions, and reversals (this is similar to the dyslexia that we are all familiar with except it is with numbers) 

  • Almost always unaware of mistakes 

  • May do well on book work but fails math tests 

  • May do well with reading, writing and other subjects but cannot seem to understand mathematical concepts 

  • Good at speaking or writing but slow at math skills and problem solving

  • Difficult time memorizing math facts

  • Poor sense of direction

  • Trouble with the concept of time

  • Poor computation and organizational skills

  • Difficult time with multi-step problems

  • Poor mental math skills

  • Difficult time with strategy games

  • Poor number recall and sequencing skills

The Solution Starts with Brain Integration

If you want to help a child who suffers from dyscalculia, many things need to be addressed.  Teaching methodologies and math anxiety, as previously mentioned, fall into this list.  The most effective treatment for these kids is brain integration. 

Brain integration activities help the math-riddled child reach both hemispheres of the brain equally so that math is no longer a mystery.  By building new neural pathways in the brain that travel across the corpus callosum and into the left and right hemispheres of the brain, students can not only access math-based thinking but can use proper logic, thinking, and use of numbers so they can reach math success. (Go here for more information on brain integration.)

The left side of the brain is responsible for bit-by-bit thinking, logic, numbers, reasoning, math, phonics, analysis, lists, categories, conscious control, linear thought, and speech.  Can you see how the right-brain dominant child can easily be diagnosed with dyscalculia?  And can you see how necessary brain integration activities are for the student with dyscalculia?

Brain integration builds new neural pathways in the brain.  It helps kids use both sides of their brains so they can be "whole brain" thinkers and learners.  By going to the root of the problem and treating it effectively, the student with dyscalculia can learn to do math, reason through word problems, and master math, algebra, calculus, and trigonometry.

With a whole, balanced brain, the sky's the limit!









Color Keeps Kids Focused and Engaged

A right-brain dominant student, or one who has dyscalculia, will often respond well to writing in color.  This is easy to do with colored pencils, pens, or markers.  There are now erasable colored pencils, and they work fantastically with math and math problems. 


Color is will keep the right side of the brain engaged so the left side can do its work.  Also, right-brain dominant children often view the world in colors and pictures, so this keeps them interested and focused.

If you're trying to teach your child multiplication, addition, or subtraction facts, then color is the key to helping your child make progress.  Plain old-fashioned flash cards in "boring" black and white won't keep these kids engaged.  You need color for these kids...along with a big dose of multi-sensory learning.  For instance, add shaving cream or sand to help set in these facts. 

And...don't let anyone fool you. It's vitally important that kids know math facts if they're going to succeed in higher levels of math (see our Multiplication Math Tiles for a quick easy way to teach multiplication facts.)

Visual and Auditory Memory are Crucial to Math Success 

There is a huge amount of memory involved in doing math, even at its most basic level.  Kids who have dyscalculia are usually weak in both visual and auditory memory.  This makes it difficult for them to keep up when the teacher is modeling how to do a problem.  It makes it hard to remember formulas or how to properly do multi-step problems.  It' makes it super-hard to recall basic math facts, which interferes with the entire process of doing multi-step and difficult problems, because these kids are so busy trying to remember the math facts that they can't remember the steps of the problem. 

It's important that kids with dyscalculia strengthen visual and auditory memory skills so they can master higher-level math skills.  Often, right-brain dominant students are excellent at higher-level math but rarely get to the point where it's offered because they never pass the lower level classes that will get them there. 


Myths About Dyscalculia

  • Kids with dyscalculia aren't very smart

  • People with dyscalculia perceive the world just like the rest of us

  • Dyscalculia is just a made-up disorder

  • There's no such thing as math anxiety

  • Dyscalculia is a rare disorder

  • Kids with dyscalculia are just lazy and are trying to get out of their work

  • Kids will outgrow dyscalculia

  • Glasses will fix the perceptual problems of dyscalculia

Truths About Dyscalculia

  • Students with dyscalculia have normal to above normal intelligence

  • Students with dyscalculia can perceive images in up to forty different ways at any given time 

  • Dyscalculia is a real disorder and affects up to 7% of all school children

  • Math anxiety is real.  It can be a stand-alone condition or it can accompany dyscalculia. 

  • Dyscalculia affects many children and adults, and a high percentage of them aren't receiving treatment

  • Kids with dyscalculia are no more lazy than any other kids, and often work harder to get good math grades than anyone else

  • Nobody outgrows dyscalculia or any other learning disability or disorder.  Proper treatment will help students overcome it, but there is no cure

  • Glasses are prescribed for focusing and astigmatism.  Sometimes they are used to treat ambliopia or lazy eyes, but they don't affect how a child perceives information visually.  We see in our brains and take in light through our eyes, so glasses don't affect the ability to properly see numbers and math problems


Students with Dyscalculia Will:

  • Avoid doing math because it can be painful

  • Have huge gaps in their math foundation

  • Need different and non-traditional approaches to help them success

  • Often hate and fear math

  • Not respond to another dose of math taught in the same way that didn't work for them

  • Become fatigued when given long stretches of math practice and homework

  • Learn math differently than others

  • Succeed with the right approaches 

  • Use coping mechanisms like acting out or retreating

  • Often feel dumb or stupid

  • Usually develop math anxiety

  • Respond well to guided practice during math sessions

  • Make improvement through brain integration activities

  • Show progress when math and learning sub-skills are filled in

Teacher Writing a Formula on a Blackboar
Students Writing on Board
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Teahcer at a Math Class
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