Dyscalculia - does anyone have experience with this?

(45 Posts)
jibjib Wed 28-Aug-13 23:39:57

Suspect my 12 year old DD may be discalculic. Want to know how to identify and what kind of support I can expect from her school. She 'hates maths' and freaks at prospect of extra texts/extra support, so I don't want to pile in. Anyone had any useful experience?

Mendi Thu 29-Aug-13 06:30:03

I am bad at maths. I have no natural ability with "number" and as a child I hates maths lessons and was incredibly stressed about tests and exams. As an adult, I struggle to help DS (11) with his maths. Do I have dyscalculia?

complexnumber Thu 29-Aug-13 06:47:43

I don't think that dyscalculia is fully understood by many experts, let alone the average lay person. It appears it can take many forma and effects people differently at different ages.

This website is very informative.

www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/dyscalculia/what-is-dyscalculia

SofiaAmes Thu 29-Aug-13 07:05:32

My dd (age 10) has this, I think. However, I have worked very hard (battling her teachers right and left) to keep it from clouding her confidence in her math abilities. She has not been able to learn even her most basic math facts, but if she is allowed to use her fingers and/or a multiplication chart, she is actually quite good at math. I have had a hard (and fairly unsuccessful) time convincing her teachers that you don't have to memorize your math facts to be good at math concepts and that they just need to not humiliate her for counting on her fingers and need to give her extra time to complete her work. I always try to point out that I got an A in advanced calculus at MIT, but don't know my math facts and count on my fingers.
I have spent lots of time working with dd to figure out how she best learns math concepts ($$$ in front of the numbers seems to usually do the trick grin )
I got dd to be willing to do the extra work at home with me because I made a point of making it a very different experience than what she was getting in school and also being very encouraging and giving her all the time she needed. She was resistant at first, but soon started enjoying herself once she realized that she could actually do the problems quite easily when she had plenty of time and a multiplication chart and fingers. She's actually quite good at math when allowed to do it in a way that suits her learning style.
I found that having her do lots and lots of straight forward problems until the thinking was fairly automatic was helpful. Downloaded from this website. And she actually found the repetition quite soothing rather than boring. But that's dd's style (she has tested as reading at the level of an 18 year old, but still quite often chooses baby books and graphic novels from the library to intersperse with more advanced books).

olivevoir58 Thu 29-Aug-13 09:06:15

I'm a specialist maths teacher and SENCO in a primary school living with an adopted daughter who I believe to be dyscalculic (not as great a combination as you would think!!!!!)
I recently attended the annual national dyscalculia conference. The latest research suggests that true dyscalculia (as opposed to maths difficulties due to other problems eg anxiety) is caused by deficits in the brain that make quantitive reasoning more difficulty eg it takes dyscalculics longer to work out that 8 is more than 4. The closer the numbers are the more difficult it becomes to 'see' which is larger.This makes it very difficult to estimate the size of numbers and answers. This is why numbers/maths appears to make no sense to the dyscalculic, because maths looks so random. I love maths because I can see and appreciate the elegance of patterns.
Unfortunately research into dyscalculia is years behind research into dyslexia. For every 14 research projects for dyslexia, there is 1 for dyscalculia.
SofiaAmes - have you considered your daughter may have problems with her working memory? It sounds like she 'gets' maths but just struggles with the working memory aspects. Whilst not true 'dyscalculia' (according to the conference), working memory plays a crucial part in maths as when facts are properly learnt, it frees up space in the brain to engage in higher order maths skills.
Back to my daughter...she has no problems with working memory - learnt her tables easily at a young age and can remember procedures well but maths just makes no sense for her. She can't make connections between one idea and another eg use multiplication facts to work out a fraction of a number BUT she has just got a C at gcse maths! Unfortunately I can't say that it was due to her teacher or my great teaching that she had a light bulb moment and maths now makes sense, it was hours and hours of ploughing through past papers and practising procedures that paid dividends. Her maths journey was L2C at Y2, L4C at Y6 and L5B at Y9.

SofiaAmes Thu 29-Aug-13 09:41:42

yes....olivevoir58, I had her tested and that's what the conclusion was. But the odd thing is that it's quite specific to math facts....(and spelling) and she doesn't seem to have any problem with other aspects of working memory. In addition (no pun intended), as long as she is not required to remember her math facts, she has no problems with quite complicated math concepts, that her math fact proficient peers don't understand. So think that it's more complicated than a simple working memory issue and that it's something that they don't really have a name for yet. She also has weird spelling issues....she spells atrociously and has never mastered phonics, but reads at an extremely high level both in terms of fluency and comprehension. The woman who did the testing thought the two issues were probably related, but didn't really seem to have a technical term for them.

As an aside, my ds has quite pronounced active working memory and processing speed issues (and a genius iq), so I've done a lot of research on the subject. Ds however, had no problem with his math facts or spelling.

I read an article a few months ago in Scientific American about math and estimating and some tests they did with lots of dots...(details are a little fuzzy now). It was fascinating. I'm sure you've read it, but if you haven't...I think this is the link to the original paper.

SofiaAmes Thu 29-Aug-13 09:46:27

By the way olivevoir58, I noticed that you said that your dd did lots and lots of hours practicing to improve her math. I truly believe that that's the secret weapon. I think that the emphasis these days (at least here in the usa) is to do things quickly and use lots of tricks and the children really don't get enough plain old rote practice. As I mentioned before, I found that it made a huge difference for my dd's skills and therefore confidence level to do lots of repetitive work. She now thinks she's good at math despite having a whole bevy of teachers tell her she isn't!!!

olivevoir58 Thu 29-Aug-13 10:13:14

SofiaAmes - thanks for that link! This is similar to the research being discussed at the conference - a guy called Dr Daniel Ansari was the speaker, I think he's Canadian. As it's the end of the summer holidays, I haven't really been doing much thinking about dyscalculia recently but I'm sure if you google him it will throw up some interesting stuff.

Yes practise was the secret of passing her gcse for my daughter but I'm embarrassingly aware that all we were doing was teaching her a few tricks to pass her exam rather than helping her to understand how maths works. She has a piece of paper to say that at one moment in time, she reached this standard in maths but I'm sure it will not last. True, quality maths education is about understanding for life and nobody seems to have the answer for dyscalculics yet. sad

jibjib Thu 29-Aug-13 10:24:40

SofiaAmes - your DD sounds so similar to mine. Mine also exceptional at english, writing, reading and comprehension, but struggles with spelling. She still also enjoys endlessly re-reading her early childhood books alongside stuff well beyond her reading age. Her memory is excellent when a narrative is involved but not so good around facts and routines. Good also at general maths concepts and broader 'difficult' concepts - very quick to grasp ideas, but doesn't automatically recognise that 8+4 same as 4+8 and has never really mastered her times tables. DH had same issues. He ended up doing maths-based Phd but still can't do simple mental maths or follow a set of instructions, he was motivated by a love of science which DD doesn't seem to have, so she seems more inclined to give up on herself when it comes to maths. It seems process, sequencing and routines are the challenge for them both. I will look into suggested links, I just want to understand if/what the problem is so I can have a constructive conversation with DD's school and do what I can to provide support at home.

Mendi Thu 29-Aug-13 11:33:27

I had never heard of this before but now convinced this is my difficulty too. I have never "got" numerical concepts and have zero spatial awareness or sense of direction.

OP, perhaps an Ed.Psych. would be the sort of person to make a proper diagnosis which you could then use to get help for your DD?

haggisaggis Thu 29-Aug-13 11:45:06

Fairly sure my dd (just turned 11) is dyscalculic. Unfortunately she is also very dyslexic and up to now more time has been spent on getting her reading than properly tackling her maths problems. She cannot remember times tables or number bonds. She has only fairly recently realised that 2 x 5 = 10 and that 2 x 10=20. Now she has though we have been able to use these facts to help her do more complicated calculations. I know she's intelligent - her vocabulary is far beyond her peers - so it gets very frustrating when she can't do what appears very simple calculations!

jibjib Thu 29-Aug-13 12:50:36

From the little information I've been able to find about dyscalculia, there do seem to be links with dyspraxia and dyslexia, although they don't always go together. Lack of spatial awareness, delayed meeting of milestones such as crawling (my DD was a bottom shuffler - quite common with dyspraxic/dyslexic/dyscalculic kids apparently, although we had no idea it was an indicator of anything at the time), walking etc. trouble with balance, inability to do jigsaws & create patterns, trouble with telling time and reading maps, understanding measurements and differences of scale.

It all seems to point to the need for a different way of learning, not an inability to understand, but schools seem to use such a blunt stick in their approach to maths teaching that, certainly in my DD's case, the conclusion is 'not good at maths'.

SofiaAmes Thu 29-Aug-13 15:19:10

jibjib, that's all quite interesting regarding the dyspraxia and meeting of milestones (dd didn't walk until 19 months - although she spoke very early). However, I actually think that a lot of the problem is today's emphasis on being quick and on testing to a timer. I have many of the issues that you describe for your dd, but I loved math and reading and was really good at it. I think that it's because I had good teachers and in those days there were different expectations. I don't ever remember not having enough time to do a math test or being told to do math quickly.
With regard to communicating with the schools/teachers...I never really had much luck in the conventional school setting. (My kids are both at a small fantastic private school that teaches each child in the way they need to be taught - mostly by hiring fabulous teachers and giving them the freedom to teach their own way...school is very rigorous, by the way...and teaches at a much higher level than the normal schools). I have found that these days, teachers/schools are willing to accept bad spelling skills as they rationalize "that they can always look it up on spell check." (Personally, I don't think that this means that they can't or shouldn't learn to spell....it just has to be taught in a different way.) However, they don't seem to be able to stretch that concept to math. (to me the parallel is that Everyone is permanently glued to their mobiles which all have readily accessible calculators, so why can't they forgive dd memorizing her multiplication tables.) I think that they are traumatizing these poor kids, trying to get them to do things that their brains are not able to do (often too early developmentally) and completely turn them off subjects in the process. If I had left it up to dd's teachers, they would have convinced her that she was no good at math and no good at reading simply because she can't spell or add numbers quickly.

SofiaAmes Thu 29-Aug-13 15:25:01

Also, in the case of ds, I had teachers tell me over and over again that he wasn't focusing and wasn't remembering things.... neither of which was true. Ds remembers everything he has ever read or heard. However, he has very very slow processing speed and active working memory, so it takes him a long time to regurgitate the information. And his ordering skills are terrible (putting a pile of papers in numerical order is very difficult for him), so he has trouble regurgitating the information in an organized manner (ie in a timed test). His current school will let him take all the time he needs to take a test and not assume that he's taking a week because he doesn't know the material. He's taking a week because he sometimes needs that amount of time to fish the information out of the jumble in his head.

I think that most of you will find that altering how you expect your dc's to learn and how you expect them to demonstrate that they have learned the material, will be most helpful. And relieve the trauma and stress on the children, that turns them off particular subjects and learning in general.

Blissx Thu 29-Aug-13 17:13:40

It isn't just about Maths skills. It can also affect the way you 'visualise' patterns. For example, I cannot sight read music. At all. I have to write the letters above the notes on both the music and piano and practise until I can 'hear' the tune. What I can do, is think logically.

Whilst some people will be able to just "see" Maths and can do chunking, skip steps etc. I have to follow logical patterns and stick to those. It is a struggle to adapt them without adapting the pattern and so forth. For example, I had to have a Maths tutor at 13 to learn how to tell the time with a clock hand and digitally. But I can now obviously!

For anyone who has this, I would advise that all that needs to happen, is to find alternative ways of achieving the same goal. Although I cannot sight read, I did get a pass at grade 8 piano with this approach. I scraped a C in intermediate GCSE 17 years ago, but now teach Computer Science and have also taught Year 7 Maths before. This is because I have found other methods of completing Maths problems by using 'steps' that my Maths teachers didn't tell me as Dyscalculia was a very very new concept back then (I was one of the first to be tested under the current 'test'). Explain a Maths equation by stating: "Do this, then do this etc." As long as I don't hit an exception, I can get the answer to the question. Just takes me longer than some others.

As the school teacher may not have enough time to explain every method to every problem in the hope your DC hits the one that they can do, I would consider a Maths tutor or arrange for one to one after school or lunchtime tuition. Failing that, use YouTube. There are a million and one videos for every problem - just a bit of research and your DC will find the method they "get" and can use in their lessons.

Iamnotminterested Thu 29-Aug-13 23:07:51

SofiaAmes - reading with interest until your bit about your kids' small fantastic private school... that teaches at a much higher level than the normal schools; I gather by this you mean state schools? How do you know this? And I take umbridge at your audacity in calling state schools 'normal schools' tbh.

bigbuttons Thu 29-Aug-13 23:10:52

My 7 year old has this, it's a worry. It is still very 'new' and I have found the sencos and teachers don't know what to do. i have bought a slavonic abacus for my dd and that's helping her.

SofiaAmes Fri 30-Aug-13 02:14:33

Iamnotminterested you jumped to conclusions...I didn't say state schools and I didn't mean state schools. My dd attended a very highly respected (academically) private school last year and I found it to be no different academically than the highly respected (academically) state school that the kids attended for most of elementary. When I referred to "normal" I wasn't intending a reference to public or private, I was referring to an attitude to education that lacks an interest in teaching children who learn outside the norm and which seems to be pervasive in education today both in the USA and the UK, in my experience.

SofiaAmes Fri 30-Aug-13 02:17:23

Blissx, I agree with the need for additional input outside of what the they get in school. In my case, for budgetary reason, I was the "tutor." And as I mentioned before, my dc's are now at a school where the teachers do it for me which is a wonderful time release!

olivevoir58 Fri 30-Aug-13 09:49:43

The thing is, as I said earlier, no one really knows how to support dyscalculia as the research base just isn't there. With maths difficulties in general, particularly at primary school, it is generally agreed that a multi sensory approach works well. Numicon intervention, for example, has shown to help below average 7 year olds catch up with their peers and I try and use multi sensory equipment (usually Cuisenaire rods) whenever possible. Multi sensory equipment give children a sense of the size of number. Most education researchers are in agreement that children need to go through 3 distinct stages when learning maths concepts - concrete - visual - abstract. The trouble (I think) is that in the interests of time, most teaching bypasses the concrete and visual and moves directly to the abstract. For higher attaining children this is fine but for many children (like my daughter) they never really understand a concept, they just learn (or not) a set of random procedures for getting a right answer. This is why I say that her passing her gcse was not real maths education, more a race against time to rack up as many procedures as possible to pass an exam.
I do however believe that if at all possible children do need to learn their tables and other number facts as it does free up thinking space to concentrate on higher order processes.

haggisaggis Fri 30-Aug-13 12:42:31

But what if they just can't learn their tables or other number facts? My dd has been trying to learn the 2 x table since about P2 - 5 years ago. She can now more or less manage to count in 2s up to 14 - but certainly can't repeat " 2 x 2 =4" etc. No matter how often we do it. Same with number bonds - she may appear to know them 1 day but not the next. I think what Sofia suggests - giving a multiplication chart and allowing her to use her fingers is a good idea. I taught dd to do simple column addition carrying the 10s over in about 30 seconds - she got the concept really easily. However the school have never done anything like this because she doesn't know her number bonds...

thornrose Fri 30-Aug-13 13:12:13

My dd is about to go into Year 9, she scored 0 in a level 2 maths paper. She has 1 to 1 tuition at school twice a week but I get the feeling they are at a loss as to how to really help her.

They did mention using Numicon and Cuisenaire but she is desperate not to stand out as being different and she worries it looks "babyish"!

She has dyspraxia and AS, she does have quite severe memory and processing problems according to the last SALT report.

I just asked her to count in 2's and she said 2,4,6,8 ...7,8,9

I asked her to try again and she said 2,4,6,8...13,15,17

She has a statement review next week and I wonder if anyone has any ideas what I can have school include in order to get her the best help?

I'm not sure if it is worth getting her tested for dyscalculia?

Blissx Fri 30-Aug-13 14:01:25

haggisaggis-I still sometimes use my fingers to count! I too also struggle still with speaking by rote some of the times tables (mainly 4, 7, 8, 9, 11 and 12) but can when I write them down or use fingers. The only way I can describe it is that I struggle to see the patterns with those tables but can more easily with the others, (5,10,15...) does that make sense? I'm not sure if there is an easy fix for your DD but I also wouldn't worry too much about it. As long as she can use a calculator come Year 7, it won't be an issue for her. The main thing is not making her feel like a failure for not 'getting it' ( I know you wouldn't but some teachers or TAs might) and focus on her confidence instead. This is what helped me. Best wishes grin

PickleFish Fri 30-Aug-13 14:24:41

Numicon and other concrete materials are very good if you could convince her to try them, or possibly there are online versions where no-one would have to know what she is doing, but she's still manipulating (with the mouse or touch screen) tens and units and so on. Primary Games website also has lots of interactive white-board manipulative activities (not free but not expensive I don't think) that she could use with a one-one person without it being obvious that she was still using manipulatives. Bead strings are also good, and could even be disguised somehow as a necklace?! There are non-verbal/visual ways of remembering times tables and number bonds, through pictures, stories, mental maps, etc, if you google something like non-verbal times tables, various systems should come up. I know that some people with dyscalculia have difficulty building an internal number line, and even having something like a tape measure/ruler/metre stick etc in an easy to see place can help. Someone I know painted numbers around the edge of her daughter's wall, and because she saw it all the time, she finally developed that spatial sense of numbers that other people tend to have more intuitively.

thornrose Fri 30-Aug-13 15:01:14

Thanks PickleFish, she is so reluctant to even talk about maths/numbers at home I've tended to avoid it, or at least bury my head in the sand.

I need to get my head out of the sand and start being pro-active!

I wonder if there are specialist maths tutors to come to our home?

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