It can cripple a child’s capacity to do maths and cause a lifelong fear of numbers. Maths anxiety is a well-known psychological condition, especially common among those with dyscalculia. Donna’s son Noah knows all about that “brain freeze” but one-on-one specialised tuition is helping him “nip it in the bud”.
Donna had a gut feeling something wasn’t right from the moment Noah began primary school.
“I remember thinking there was something going on with numbers and counting. He wasn’t fluent. He’d be counting to 10 and would miss 5 out. His teachers thought he’d probably grow out of it.”
But Noah didn’t, and his anxiety around Maths grew. He couldn’t retain his basic facts, and would resort to counting on his fingers. A SPELD NZ diagnostic assessment in year 4 revealed Noah had no maths strategies.
People with maths anxiety tend to avoid mathematics. They struggle to learn, as more of their brain activity is taken up by dealing with their negative emotions rather than supporting their working memory and number processing.
Research has shown that students with Maths anxiety have higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in test situations and this hormone has a negative effect on working memory and thinking processes. This becomes a self-perpetuating cycle as math anxiety leads to learning difficulties and poor achievement, which in turn fuels more fear and self-doubt.
Noah began working with a SPELD NZ teacher who introduced the family to the concept of dyscalculia – a specific learning disability related to huge struggles acquiring numerical skills. It affects around 6 percent of the population. The support and expertise of his tutor is helping Noah overcome his maths anxiety and the ‘brain freeze’ that disadvantages him further during maths tests.
“He gets very anxious and worried,” says Donna. “But his tutor is showing him that maths isn’t scary. She’s making it fun and taking away the stress.”