What is Dyscalculia and how’s it different from Dyslexia?

Why every parent needs to know what Dyscalculia is

In Kevin Hart’s recent movie Night School, the lead character takes evening classes to complete his High School Diploma. In the course of the movie he discovers he has dyslexia and dyscalculia. It is tragically accurate that an adult would have gone his entire life without being diagnosed with these conditions. After having these needs assessed, he can finally get the correct remedial learning that he needs.

Dyslexia is better known than dyscalculia, and better understood, by society. Unfortunately, that doesn’t say too much. Most of us still don’t understand the condition accurately.

Dyscalculia is even more of a mystery to the general public. For many, this might have been the first time they had heard of dyscalculia. This is despite the fact that it was discovered in 1919.

What is dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia (pronounced dis-cal-kyoo-lee-uh) is a condition that means that a person has difficulty grasping the concept of numbers, or anything to do with numbers. This can range from a minor to a severe struggle. In our society maths plays a critical and crucial role in so mu ch of daily life. This means dyscalculia is a very real, and very daunting, challenge.

Children with dyscalculia might not be able to connect symbols with numbers. They might not be able to link “three” with “3” or understand exactly what “three of something” means. Many have an immense struggle with formulas. Many of those who can learn a formula won’t be able to grasp the logic of the formula.

This leads to other issues, such as being unable to tell time. Even knowing the length of any given amount of time would be very difficult for someone with dyscalculia.  Many can’t remember the order of events.

Many with dyscalculia also struggle with memorising phone numbers. Telling left from right can also be very hard. Some are unable to measure objects.

After 100 years, much about the condition is still unclear

Dyscalculia - lightbulb with brain in itSalomon Henschen was a Swedish neurologist. He discovered dyscalculia in 1919. What he found was that a person could have severe difficulties with math but still be very intelligent. He analysed 305 cases that had been documented and 67 of his own patients. These were patients without any evident language impairments who struggled with math problems.

Like many learning challenges, it is still unclear exactly what causes dyscalculia. But most experts agree that it is a brain disorder.


Dyscalculia and Aculculia

Acalculia (ay-cal-kyoo-lee-uh) is closely associated with dyscalculia. They are even used interchangeably at times. Their symptoms are pretty much identical. Both mean that a person cannot do mathematics as we have been describing.

There does, however, seem to be a recognised difference. Dyscalculia is a condition that a person is born with. Acalculia develops later in life. It is the result of head trauma or a stroke.

How common is dyscalculia?

It is estimated that 3 – 6% of the world’s population has dyscalculia. Some sources say it may be as high as 7% of the populace. That would mean that between about 200 million and 400 million people worldwide have with this challenge with numbers. This would mean that at least 1.5 million South Africans are living with this condition right now. It could be twice as many.

At the most conservative estimate, there are 3 children who are unable to process numbers for every 100 students. This is a literal mental inability. The average South African school has 470 pupils. This means that between 12 and 15 students are facing a challenge most people haven’t even heard about in each school.

Dyscalculia is about as common as dyslexia, but often remains undiagnosed

There was an Irish study of almost 2500 children. The results showed that children with dyscalculia are a lot less likely to be diagnosed than children with dyslexia. About 100 times less likely. This is very worrying since research has shown that being unable to do maths can have an even bigger negative impact than being unable to read.

There is very little funding for research into dyscalculia. Between 2000 and 2011, about $107 million dollars was spent on research into dyslexia. Only about $2.3 million was spent on dyscalculia.

Dyscalculia cannot be cured

If someone has dyscalculia, they will have it their entire lives. There are no procedures or medications that can remove this condition. There is hope, though: read on.

Having dyscalculia often means there are other learning challenges as well

Children with dyscalculia also often have other learning problems. Many have ADHD. Even if the ADHD is properly managed, the dyscalculia will not go away. But having the ADHD under control will mean that the child is in a better position to begin to improve their maths skills.

It is believed that between 45% to over 60% of children with dyscalculia also have dyslexia. Addressing the dyslexia can help the children with their maths. This will be particularly evident in word problems.

Remedial education will help children with dyscalculia – the sooner the better

Children with special needs of any sort are very vulnerable to falling through the cracks in traditional schooling systems. Pupils with a condition that is not well-known are at even greater risk. It is highly likely that their needs will not be met in a mainstream schooling environment. Remedial education is essential for these students to flourish.

It is possible for people with dyscalculia to build maths skills. Multisensory instruction can be very helpful to children struggling with this maths condition. By physically counting items that the learner can touch and feel, it will help them build basic math concepts. Games and visual aids will form part of this approach.

For example, if a child counts 7 books, it will help them to see and feel what seven of something is. Counting 4 jumps or 8 taps or 9 claps can help them build up the idea of what a number is. Linking physical numbers in real life to symbols can build maths skills.

It is particularly important for these pupils to build a concrete understanding of numbers and simple math concepts. Only after these foundations are laid can even slightly more abstract ideas be introduced. They will need to move beyond the physicality of numbers. But that foundation needs to be in place.

Children with dyscalculia can learn inventive and compacted mathematical techniques. Their brains can be trained to work out maths problems at a faster rate. It takes time but is possible.

Get expert assistance

If you have any concerns that your child might be suffering from dyscalculia, have an expert assess them as quickly as you can. If it is ascertained that your child has this condition, don’t delay. They will benefit immensely from getting remedial education as soon as possible.

Japari has an expert team who can assess your children. We are also equipped to teach and help children with dyscalculia learn foundational maths skills. We know how important small classes and a nurturing environment are. Allowing children to work at their own pace and encouraging their self-esteem is intrinsic to our approach to teaching. These are factors that these students need.

We also understand and appreciate the maths anxiety that results from this condition. As teachers, we focus on teaching our students skills that allow them to cope with all their emotional challenges as well. Learning challenges can often result in low motivation. We seek to address these issues as well. We want to see our learners thriving holistically, not simply academically.

As a remedial school, we are also equipped to address many learning challenges that children might have. If your child also needs help with ADHD or dyslexia, we will assist them. We love helping children overcome their challenges, and seeing them thrive.


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