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Mathematics is an abstract and cumulative subject which means it can be difficult for children to relate to in real life and take time to understand maths concepts. All children learn maths skills at different rates and may struggle in different areas, but understanding usually improves with practice. However, for some children, these difficulties persist even with frequent and consistent practice.

If your child has more significant difficulties with maths than others their age, and is falling behind in class, they may be showing signs of Dyscalculia and may need additional support to reach their full potential.

What is Dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia is a term used to describe learning difficulties in mathematics. Children with dyscalculia have difficulties processing number-related information, including understanding numbers and maths concepts, remembering number facts and performing mathematical calculations. This is sometimes incorrectly referred to as ‘number dyslexia’ or ‘maths dyslexia’. Dyslexia, however, describes difficulties with reading and spelling.

A formal diagnosis of Dyscalculia is considered a subset of an overall difficulty with mathematics, when considered amongst a range of factors. Some children and young people will also experience difficulties with solving worded problems.

Signs of Dyscalculia

Children and young people with Dyscalculia can display some of the following characteristics:

  • Poor counting skills
  • Significant challenges with performing basic maths operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division
  • Poor number identification and understanding (e.g., the 3 in the number 123 is worth less than the 3 in 32)
  • Inconsistent recall of common number facts (e.g., 11 comes after 10, 3 + 7 = 10, 2 x 0 = 0)
  • Slow recall of number facts and processes
  • Confused processes when performing mathematical calculations (e.g., wrong calculation used, starting with the wrong column when working out questions)
  • Forgetting the steps required to complete mathematical calculations
  • Struggles to understand information in charts and graphs
  • Difficulty telling the time
  • Avoidance of maths related tasks
  • Anxiety towards maths

Diagnosing Dyscalculia

To get an understanding of your child’s maths skills, in the first instance it’s good to reach out to your child’s teacher/s. If your child’s maths skills are well below what is expected of their age and you notice any of the above signs of Dyscalculia, you made need to seek further assessment.

Before undertaking a formal assessment for Dyscalculia, children should undergo at least six months of intervention with explicit instruction in maths. It’s also important to consult with a GP or paediatrician to rule out any medical issues that may be contributing to your child’s challenges, such as hearing or vision impairments. Once consulting a GP or paediatrician, children and young people having trouble with mathematics may be referred for formal assessment of their difficulties.

A formal assessment to diagnose Dyscalculia and other maths difficulties in children must be conducted by a psychologist. Psychologists perform cognitive and academic testing in all areas of learning and development to identify a child’s strengths and needs. By testing all areas, a psychologist can determine if a child’s maths difficulties are caused by Dyscalculia, provide recommendations for the most appropriate intervention for your child’s specific needs and also rule out other potential causes for your child’s difficulties in mathematics.

Following an assessment, a comprehensive written report will be provided and discussed with you. In some cases, a formal diagnosis of Dyscalculia may be mentioned in the report, while in other cases a diagnosis of a specific learning disorder, with impairment in mathematics, may be mentioned. Both of these terms describe difficulties in understanding numbers, remembering number facts and performing mathematical calculations but it is important to understand the distinction and differences between the two so you can best help to support your child.

Support and Accommodations

There is no cure for Dyscalculia. However, children and young people with Dyscalculia or difficulties with mathematics can benefit from appropriate intervention.

A psychological assessment will help your child’s teacher/s develop a suitable intervention program. An effective intervention should involve direct and explicit instruction with a trained specialist teacher and should provide several opportunities for practice and review.

An intervention program for children with Dyscalculia usually targets the following foundational numeracy skills:

  • Number Sense –understanding, relating and connecting numbers
  • Counting Strategies – the different methods used to count forwards and backwards, including jump and split strategies
  • Procedural Knowledge – knowing the steps required to perform a mathematical calculation
  • Number Facts – recall of basic facts in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division

Teachers can also support students with Dyscalculia by making accommodations in the classroom such as:

  • Allowing the use of assistive technologies, like calculators
  • Providing concrete and pictorial visual aids to help solve maths problems
  • Listing out each step of a multi-step maths problem
  • Providing extra paper for drawing and writing to work out maths problems
  • Allowing for reference sheets and extra time on tests

Tutoring with a specialist educator may also be needed to support your child’s classroom teaching.

Helping Children with Dyscalculia

For many parents and carers, helping children with maths at home can be daunting because they haven’t taken maths classes in a while and there are new methods of teaching.

Thankfully, there are a number of fun and simple activities to support children with Dyscalculia at home.

You can support your child’s mathematics skills by:

  • Practicing counting together
  • Practicing writing number symbols
  • Playing games with number cards and maths facts (familiar card games such as snap and memory are great);
  • Playing board games (rolling die, counting places on a board);
  • Using iPad apps with your child related to number facts; and
  • Assisting your child when completing mathematics homework.
  • Revising in small amounts each day