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For children with dyscalculia, understanding math can be an uphill climb.

This problem can persist into their teenage years, making it difficult for them to enjoy learning. However, any child can thrive in school with proper support and lesson planning. Like most learning disabilities, dyscalculia requires teachers to develop strategies to ensure their success.

Before you can begin preparing for students with dyscalculia, you must understand what it is, how it affects their learning, and how to help them learn better.

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Understanding Dyscalculia

Despite being commonly referred to as “dyslexia for math,” dyscalculia isn’t just an alternative form of dyslexia. It’s a completely different learning disability and affects the child in a very different way. Children with dyscalculia might have trouble understanding numbers, solving math problems, and determining different measurements. The Child Mind Institute also reports that many children with dyscalculia also have dyslexia or ADHD, which can cause further issues.

There are many ways that dyscalculia might manifest, but they all relate to difficulty processing numbers or mathematical facts. While some children might excel in some ways, they might fall behind in others. For that reason, children with learning disabilities require a personalized lesson plan. However, there are ways you can generally prepare for a student with dyscalculia.

Recognize the signs

The best way to help students with dyscalculia, especially those that haven’t been diagnosed yet, is to recognize the signs. Many children not diagnosed early might feel “dumb” or “slow”. In reality, their problems are caused by dyscalculia. Even if a child has a dyscalculia diagnosis, knowing when an issue is caused by their learning disability can help you find a solution. Here are some common symptoms of dyscalculia and how they might manifest in a classroom setting:

  • Trouble reading dice and analog clocks.
  • Inability to do mental math, long-form math, and other sequences.
  • Problems understanding measurements. They might guess wildly at how long something is versus knowing how much a foot or inch is.
  • Difficulty retaining mathematical knowledge. One day they might be capable of solving a problem. The next day, they’re back to square one.
  • Issues focusing on mathematical tasks.
  • Easily frustrated by math. They might even feel despair when they cannot understand something.
  • Requires a long time to complete math problems. While their peers are flipping over their tests, they are only halfway through.

These are just a few ways that dyscalculia might affect a student. It’s important to remember that dyscalculia affects their understanding of numbers, sequences, and spatial reasoning — meaning that it might manifest in various ways.

Common struggles and how to solve them

While every child is different, many with dyscalculia encounter the same basic struggles. However, teachers with the proper training can help them overcome these problems with understanding & guidance.

Understood.org says certain accommodations can help students with dyscalculia learn better while maintaining fairness in the classroom. Here are some examples of problems and solutions:

  • Problem: Students struggle to remember previous lessons but cannot learn new ones without building upon prior knowledge.
    Solution: Review previous lessons before moving on to new concepts.
  • Problem: Student cannot remember formulas and struggles to solve equations.
    Solution: Provide flashcards with formulas on them. If they still struggle to memorize them, offer students an index card to use on tests.
  • Problem: Student cannot complete tests on time or shuts down when given a time limit they deem “not enough”.
    Solution: Give students extra time, and reassure them that they can finish their test.
  • Problem: Student takes too long to solve basic math problems, taking away from the time they need to conquer complicated ones.
    Solution: Provide students with a simple calculator.
  • Problem: Student fails to do homework.
    Solution: Talk to the student’s parent about a tutor, and provide alternative worksheets. Teachers can also section off worksheets or jot down tips or reminders to help students with each problem.
  • Problem: Student struggles to understand the given lesson.
    Solution: Tutoring can give them additional guidance, while alternative teaching styles and learning methods can help them find a way to understand the content.

Supporting children with Dyscalculia

The negative impact of dyscalculia goes beyond their grades. Many children with dyscalculia might feel self-conscious, avoidant, or defensive about their learning disability. Students, and even other teachers, might mock them for struggling to grasp mathematical concepts, and they might be inadequate because they struggle with these tasks.

If a child goes a long time without being properly diagnosed, the negative repercussions of their disability can intensify. They might not know why they struggle with math, leading them to believe they are “just dumb”. Even if they excel in other areas, such as art and literature, they might feel that their low marks in math will ruin their chances of success.

Therefore, it’s important to recognize problems caused by dyscalculia and offer students the support they need to overcome them. If a child is not yet diagnosed, recommending them for evaluation can ensure that future teachers make accommodations for them. It can also provide them and their parents a reason for their struggles. Once a child is diagnosed, they can learn more about their disability and begin understanding themselves.

Communicating with a parent about a child’s dyscalculia is also vital in supporting them. If a parent does not know or understand their child’s condition, they might punish the child for not performing expectedly. Notifying a parent of a child’s dyscalculia can encourage them to find tutoring, and reading material can also be passed along so they can better understand their child.

Many children with dyscalculia don’t know why they struggle with certain tasks. Talking to them about their learning disability can help them become less self-conscious. They don’t struggle because they are dumb. They struggle because their brains work differently. Praise is also invaluable to a child with dyscalculia. Even if they don’t complete an entire assignment, praising them for the work they did do can encourage them to finish more next time.

Step in if you see a child talking down on themselves because of their condition. Please don’t ignore them when they say negative things about themselves or their learning disability. Instead, remind them of their strengths and how much they’ve achieved in overcoming their dyscalculia.

Because of general math anxiety and other issues, many children with dyscalculia go overlooked or ignored. Without proper teaching, these children might end up feeling isolated and alone. Good teachers can become a positive force in their lives and inspire them to keep learning, no matter how difficult mathematics might be for them.