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Difficulty learning and understanding maths is not uncommon and many adults are quick to say they “hated” maths at school or didn’t “do well” in maths. Yet the ability to work with numbers is an essential life skill – we use maths shopping (how much does 40% off actually mean?), managing the household budget and accounts, and even estimating how long it will take to travel distances (“are we there yet?”)
Struggling with maths does not necessarily mean that a person has a learning disability. All students learn at different paces. It can take young people time and practice for formal maths procedures to make sense.
However, a mathematical learning disability (known as dyscalculia) is a specific type of learning disability. It is not related to intelligence – affected people simply struggle to learn mathematics, despite having an adequate learning environment at home and at school. Dyscalculia is assumed to be due to a difference in brain function, in particular:
Visual-spatial difficulties: which result in a person having trouble processing what the eye sees.
Language processing difficulties: which result in a person having trouble processing and making sense of what the ear hears.
Using alternate learning methods, people with dyscalculia can achieve success.
A common result of dyscalculia is a high level of maths anxiety – children may soon come to hate maths, and try and avoid it. Without help, children with dyscalculia fall behind early in primary school. In secondary school they are likely to struggle to pass maths and science courses, and career options become limited.
So how can you tell if someone has dyscalculia? If a person continues to display trouble with the areas listed below, consider testing for dyscalculia.
If your child has persistent difficulties with mathematics, you should suspect dyscalculia, even if your child also has reading problems. As dyscalculia usually affects individuals for life, it is important to seek help – your child needs special assistance in order to catch up on maths. An assessment from an appropriately qualified educational psychologist or specialist is recommended as a first step.