I have 3 boys and they are my pride and joy. They are all very different from each other and I love that about them. It sure makes life interesting! My youngest son was (and still is) a delight. Energetic, bright, funny, and good with people; he is the extrovert in a family of introverts. He enjoyed school, because it gave him the opportunity to socialize and be with others. He was gifted in language and read at a very early age. It was obvious that he was intelligent and yet he had one area in which he struggled.
MATH *cue dramatic music*
Oh how hard it was for him. Right from an early age he battled to understand numbers. He couldn’t recognize mathematical patterns or learn his tables. Numbers and mathematical concepts were like moonbeams that slipped through his fingers. He simply couldn’t grasp them. Even the most basic math was a nightmare. Often he would work for hours, only to get most of the problems wrong.
At first I wasn’t too worried. I was a teacher and figured that a little extra time and help from me would get him on the road to mathematical success. I was so wrong. We tried everything- flashcards, math songs, workbooks, manipulating actual objects, and computer games. Nothing worked. We were both frustrated. I was baffled.
Then one day, quite by chance, I heard about something called “dyscalculia.” Dyscalculia is a mathematical learning disability that makes it really difficult to recognize, understand, and organize mathematical information or symbols. Suddenly a light bulb went on in my head. Was it possible that my son had a learning disability? Over the next few days I read everything I could find about this condition. There wasn’t a lot of information available at the time, but I did find a list of the symptoms. My son had every single one of them.
The word dyscalculia comes from Greek and Latin, which means, “counting badly.” People with this disability have significant problems with numbers, despite having a normal or above normal intelligence. This infographic from the Dyscalculia Forum gives a brief overview.
You can find a comprehensive list of symptoms here.
As learned more about this mysterious learning disability I recalled the struggles of my son. I replayed every harsh word I had spoken to him when the frustration got too much. Mother guilt kicked in big time. I was a trained educator for goodness sakes. How could I have missed this?
I finished my reading, approached my son’s school, and asked for him to be tested. Less than one month later an educational psychologist diagnosed my son with dyscalculia.
Oh how I wish he had been diagnosed earlier. There are so many strategies that can be put into place to help children with dyscalculia. They would have saved us hours of frustration. The most shocking thing for me was to realize how profoundly his struggles had affected my son’s self esteem.
” I thought I was stupid Mom. I am so relieved to find out that I’m not”
My bright, intelligent, gifted son had labeled himself as stupid. I was heartbroken.
My son’s story is not unusual. Every one of his teachers had recognized the symptoms of dyscalculia, but none of them had even heard of the disability, so they didn’t make the connection. It is estimated that 4-6% of the population have this learning disability and yet very little is known about the condition. Slowly the word is getting out, and research is being done, but for now thousands of learners go through school without being diagnosed. Many of them will also come to the conclusion that they are stupid.
My son is now a young adult making his way in the world. We had four years to help him develop strategies for dealing with his disability. He managed to pass his required math exams and was able to graduate from high school with no problems. Ironically he is working at a job that requires him to do math on a daily basis. It isn’t a problem because he is able to use a calculator. He is talking about going onto post-secondary education. This disability has caused some hard struggles at time, but it hasn’t held him back one bit.
If you have a smart child who really struggles with math I would urge you learn more about dyscalculia. A diagnosis could make a huge difference in their lives. It will also save you hours of heartbreak and frustration. Here are some helpful resources
The Dyscalculia Forum has a wealth of information and resources – Update: The Dyscalculia Forum was shut down by an attack of robot spammers. They are hoping to have it back up and running soon. Meanwhile you can find information at DysTalk
The National Center For Learning Disabilities has some helpful information pages and a useful table that lists the symptoms by age.
This year Discover Magazine printed an interesting article How Can a Smart Kid Be So Bad at Math that gives an overview of dyscalculia and describes some of the research that has been done recently.
When my son was diagnosed I vowed to spread the word about this learning disability. I want to see other children with dyscalculia get an early diagnosis and the help they need. You can help me raise awareness by sharing this post with others. You can use the social media buttons below. Thank you.