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What is Dyscalculia?

In a society that places high value on STEM subjects, dyscalculia is a distressing disorder. While scant research of the difficulties associated with this mathematics-based mental disability renders a definitive list of symptoms difficult, educators and pediatricians have devoted time and energy to better understanding it and the challenges it presents. In the article below, we’ll explore what is known about this disorder and the prospective learning aids and strategies that parents or teachers can employ to help children who display its most common features.

You’re Not Just Imagining It

Current researchers believe that this disability is related to dyslexia in terms of cognitive blocks and difficulty employing logic behind a system of symbolic meaning. On one hand, the symbols are letters used to convey linguistic meaning. On the other hand, they represent mathematical phrases and numerical values. However, less critical interest has been devoted to understanding mathematics-based difficulties.

Peers and educators often stigmatize children who experience this disorder as being unintelligent or slow learners. This can lead to low self-esteem and even depression. However, especially if these individuals perform well in other subjects, parents may be wise to consult their child’s doctor about further testing to determine the nature of their difficulties with math.

Exploring Root Causes

The disorder may manifest in one of several ways. Children ages five to seven may exhibit trouble applying counting concepts and other numerical logic common in the learning journey of their peers. Children may work hard to memorize basic operations and grasp numbers or related use-based facts that enable them to perform basic calculations, but they lack an understanding of the logic behind the processes. They know what to do, but not why. In other instances, a child may easily understand mathematical logic, but be uncertain of when it should be applied.

Various groups apply different names to the disorder. Public schools and educators often refer to it as mathematics learning disability, while doctors may call it mathematics disorder. However, it’s commonly known among parents and children who directly experience it as math dyslexia—which is an apt title. Specialists believe that the core of the disability is a fundamental lack of understanding of number sense, the intuitive human understanding of how numbers function. Even toddlers exhibit a basic comprehension of numbers in this way, and are able to distinguish different quantities of objects on a number line.

This lack of number sense makes it difficult for children to draw a connection between mathematical lessons and abstract numbers and their lived experience. While researchers are still uncertain of the precise causes for the disorder, they do have a good idea of some of the related factors. First, the disability is organic, meaning that it is brain-based and not psychological in nature.

While further research is essential, recent studies indicate that that the disorder may be genetic, at least in part. Mathematics disorder appears to be more common in certain families than in others. Exposure to alcohol in utero or childhood brain injury may also be contributing factors. Finally, researchers using the latest imaging technology to gauge the thickness and volume of parts of the brain required for math fact retention discovered that there are notable differences in individuals with the disorder.

It’s still unclear whether there’s a strong relationship between dyslexia and this mathematical disorder. However, scientists believe that the two are related, since they draw on similar abilities and functions and present with deficits in the same areas of cognitive development. What is clear is that dyscalculia is no reason for shame or low self-esteem, but a call to action for educators and scientists to support alternative learning needs.