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Dyscalculia: Is Your Child Struggling With Math?

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Does your child struggle with math? Have you heard of the Dyscalculia? It is estimated that 4-6% of the population have this mathematical learning disability, but many children are never diagnosed. My son was one of them and struggled with math for years. Learn more about this little known learning disability.”

 

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The pencil went flying across the table.

“I can’t do this,” yelled my son. “Math is stupid!”

I was equally frustrated. “Your attitude is the problem,” I snarled.

I felt wretched. Not again. We were struggling through the daily nightmare of math homework and we had hit a wall. It happened every single time.

My youngest son was a delight. He was energetic, bright, funny, and good with people; gifted in language and read at a very early age. He was obviously very intelligent, but there is one area in which he struggled.

MATH was a nightmare

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.

Dyscalculia: Is Your Child Struggling With Math?

An unexpected discovery

I suggested that we take a break.

My youngest disappeared into his room and I made my way to the computer. I just needed to do something that wasn’t math.

I had no idea that I was about to read the e-mail that would change everything.

I was part of an e-mail group for clergy spouses and we had been talking about finances. One of the members joked that their spouse couldn’t even balance a cheque book.

There was a response and I opened it.

“Trouble with every day math is a classic symptom of the mathematical learning disability Dyscalculia. People with this disability usually can’t balance their cheque books.”

I froze. My heart was in my mouth as I stared at the screen. All I could see were the words MATHEMATICAL. LEARNING. DISABILITY. They pulsed in front of my eyes.

A sudden realisation exploded 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 Dyscalculia. There wasn’t a lot of information available at the time, but I did find a list of the symptoms.

  • Has trouble learning number facts… check
  • Struggles with directions with left or right instructions … check
  • Can’t learn tables despite repeated efforts …check
  • Has trouble reading clocks and judging increments of time .. check
  • Has no sense of direction … check
  • Finds it hard to follow a list of verbal instructions…. check

There was a whole list of symptoms and my son had EVERY SINGLE ONE of them.

Dyscalculia the little known mathematical learning disability

The word Dyscalculia comes from Greek and Latin, which means, “counting badly.” People with this disability have significant problems with numbers.

You can find a comprehensive list of symptoms here.

I had no idea!

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 went to the school principal, and asked for my son to be tested. Less than one month later an educational psychologist diagnosed my son with Dyscalculia.

If only we had known earlier

Oh how I wish we had known earlier. There are so many strategies that can help children with Dyscalculia. They would have saved us hours of frustration. The most shocking thing for me was to realise how deeply my son’s struggles had affected my his 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.

Too many teachers have never heard about this learning disability

My son’s story is not unusual. Every one of his teachers had recognised the symptoms of Dyscalculia. Yet NONE OF THEM had even heard of the disability, so they didn’t make the connection. Even his math teachers were hearing about it for the first time.

Experts estimate that 4-6% of the population have this learning disability. The word is getting out to schools. Still for now thousands of learners go through school without diagnosis.

Many of them will also come to the conclusion that they are stupid.

“As a child, I was called stupid and lazy. On the SAT I got 159 out of 800 in math. My parents had no idea that I had a learning disability.” Henry Winkler


Life after diagnosis

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 your child struggles with math

If you have a smart child who always 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

DysTalk has a lot of helpful information and resources .

The website ADDitude has some helpful information. It includes pages that list the symptoms by age.

This year Discover Magazine printed an interesting article How Can a Smart Kid Be So Bad at Math? It gives an overview of Dyscalculia and describes some of the recent research.

Math Geek Mama has a wonderful resource page. She also has post which features an interview with me.

My son’s diagnosis made a huge difference to him. I want to spread the word about this learning disability. I want other children with Dyscalculia get 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.

My handsome (not that I’m biased) son today

18 thoughts on “Dyscalculia: Is Your Child Struggling With Math?”

  1. I had never heard of a math learning disability. I wonder why more attention is not given to something many kids must be struggling with? My father had un-diagnosed dyslexia throughout his childhood so I know how damaging it can be to one’s self-esteem. Thank you for helping spread the word (and I’m glad to hear your son is doing well!)

    1. None of the teachers at the local school knew about this learning disability. Not even the special education teachers! Teachers really need better training when it comes to learning disabilities. The sooner something like this is diagnosed the better. Still if we can get the word out it might help some families. Thanks for sharing the post 🙂

  2. I’m so glad to know this! Thanks for sharing. We need to be on the look-out for little ones with this challenge. Even grown-ups who’ve already decided they’re stupid and feel ashamed about their struggles with math…

    1. You are so right Kendra. There are probably many adults who feel that way. Just having the information in the back of your mind is helpful. Even if your own children don’t struggle with this disability you may cross paths with someone whose children do. I probably talk about it too much (my poor friends), but I just want to get the word out there!

  3. Hey there others in the comment section! I would like to tell you my story,
    Currently i’m a junior in college- I go to an arts college so i’ve had only a few issues when it comes to math and symbols (typography is one) but my public education was far from glamorous. I initially struggled with both math and reading but by 2nd grade reading was resolved and I soon became one of the best in my grade. Math however still was a struggle for me. I can remember countless nights at the kitchen table crying. I went to tutoring for over 9 years. I went to after school math sessions, lunch sessions, etc. By high school I almost had given up because no matter what anyone did for me nothing helped me retain any math concepts. And most teachers told me that I wasn’t trying hard enough (seriously). I was told I was lazy and stupid. My friends tried to help so many times at lunch, but I still failed 3 times. I had to take summer school which costs hundreds upon hundreds of dollars. I cried during those classes too. I just didn’t understand anything. I didn’t have a breakthrough until my senior year of high school when my older cousin Steve tutored me and realized something was wrong and that I couldn’t retain and understand information. He would teach me how to do a problem and I would forget it 5 minutes later. He encouraged me to look into getting tested (I have previously been tested for ADHD/ADD and all that was determined was that I have some kind of LD but they didn’t know what) and I ended up finding terms like dyspraxia and C.A.P.D and a little bit later down the line dyscalculia. I have never been officially diagnosed with any of these due to cost for testing and now that I’m in the arts rather fully it hasn’t come up as much. Had I known, had educators known it could have saved my family and I money, time, and grief. I could have been placed in easier math classes instead of failing the first year of high school math. Things could have been done, maybe I would have found a way to even be okay at it. PLEASE get your kids tested and educate yourself and your children’s teachers. Save them from having the self esteem crushing education that leaves me in tears if I try to do any complicated math. Your kids will be so thankful for it later, I promise.

    1. Rachel, thank you so much for sharing your story. My heart goes out to you. My son went through a very similar experience until he was diagnosed. I would encourage you to share your story widely. Blog about it, talk about it on social media, or share this post. If the word gets out it may prevent other children from going through a similar nightmare.

  4. This is a very fascinating and educational post. I volunteer at my daughter’s school and I see two children there that seem otherwise bright and articulate that seem not to be able to comprehend the simplest math concepts. I was struggling to understand how they could get to the second grade without even being able to add two numbers together, but perhaps they have this learning disability and could benefit from early intervention. I will certainly have a chat with a teacher to ask if she knows about discalculia. Thanks for sharing this valuable information with Afterschool!

    1. Thanks for spreading the word Natalie. I think if we can help even one or two children it will make a huge difference. Once teachers are informed about dyscalculia I think they will start sending children for testing at an early age. There is so much that can be done if it is caught early.

  5. I didn’t know there was a math kind of dyslexia, very useful to know.
    Thanks for sharing #LetKidsBeKids

  6. Wow I had never heard of that! I actually want to go look more into for myself! That infographic and your story reminds me a bit of my own childhood! Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. I understand that this disability tends to run in families. I had a great deal of trouble with math, although not as bad as my son. I also have a niece and nephew with similar problems. Fortunately they are being tested. Watch out for signs in your children.

  7. I knew that this anything is possible with learning difficulties, but I didn’t know the name of this particular issue either. It wouldn’t surprise me if even more of the population has it than 6%. One of my sons has had difficulty reading and it wasn’t until he was in 2nd grade we found out he was seeing double. Thank goodness for eye therapy, but he is still in the catching up stage. I will see if I can let people know about it on my blog as well–being a math blog and all : ) Thanks for your insights. Would you ever want to do a guest post?
    ~Lucy
    Kids Math Teacher

    1. Hi Lucy, thanks for dropping by. It would be great to share this story on a math blog! The more people that hear about this disability the better.

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