Dyscalculia is understood as “math dyslexia,” but is actually a syndrome or collection of characteristics that are marked by underachievement in math in spite of good ability in speaking, reading, and writing. Sometimes dyscalculia occurs with other learning difficulties.
Signs of Dyscalculia. The student with dyscalculia loses track when counting; has trouble memorizing and recalling addition and multiplication facts, as well as math procedures and rules. They tend to practice and learn math, but quickly forget, and typically do poorly on tests. Inconsistent math memory causes frustration, avoidance, and anxiety.
The student is quickly overwhelmed by the volume of facts and procedures and is distressed by the daunting visual-spatial-directional-sequential demands of arithmetic. They typically have a shallow and insufficient understanding of the base ten system, place value, decimals, and fractions. They typically have trouble reading numbers with more than three digits. They wrestle to visualize and to detect subtle details in visual information and when feeling objects. They struggle to do mental calculations and to consider quantitative information about time, speed, distance, magnitude, size, weight, and area. They grapple with visual-spatial relationships, navigation, maps, directions, steps, scheduling, and organization.They often make unconscious number mistakes when reading, thinking, talking, copying, listening, and writing.
Tutoring is often unproductive because it is more of the same instruction, and fails to address the underlying causes of difficulties. The student and teacher are frustrated by the lack of progress in spite of the effort and time invested.
Math Anxiety. The dyscalculic experiences mental static when facing tasks that exceed cognitive thresholds. When the mental load is exceeded, the student is unable to consider, process, or retrieve information, yet is aware of expectations. The student tears up, unable to reconcile the disparity between demand and ability. Teachers often call this, “math anxiety,” and erroneously believe that if the student relaxes, they can perform adequately. Math anxiety is a symptom, not a cause of dyscalculia.
The impact of Dyscalculia. The dyscalculic makes frequent “careless mistakes,” is easily confused and frustrated, frequently forgets and must relearn before advancing, gets lost easily in places and in math problems, and has trouble remembering numbers like prices, money, locker combinations, times and dates, room numbers, addresses, phone numbers, and birthdays. The dyscalculic may still count with fingers and will avoid math calculations, never confident of the money required for purchases or change due, or how to figure totals, discounts, tax, or tips. They will usually struggle to interpret math vocabulary left-right, before-after, numerator-denominator, sum-product, former-latter, BC-AD, first century, etc.