Talking about dyscalculia.

Yesterday morning I went LIVE in my Facebook Group called ‘Katies’s Classroom - Honest Parent Chat' (please join!) talking about dyscalculia and children who struggle in their maths lessons.
Please have a read of my video chat below:
Dyscalculia - what is it?
Dyscalculia is a learning difficulty relating to the way in which your child processes numbers.  Put simply it is another processing disorder (difficulty or difference) - however you would like to describe it.  I think more and more I prefer ‘difficulty or difference' to disorder but that's just me!
If your child has dyscalculia their brain functioning - the way their brain functions - is affected.  It is estimated that 1 in 20 people have dyscalculia and on average 2 children in every class of 30 has it.
BUT it is important to remember that dyscalculia does not affect your child's IQ or how intelligent they are.  Just like dyslexia, it is another (often very frustrating) learning barrier.  Dyscalculia is not explained by low intelligence or inadequate schooling.
Everyone hates maths so what's the difference?
Hating maths or finding maths difficult is a common struggle.  How many people can honestly hand on heart say they enjoyed maths at school?  The narrative has always been negative around maths.
So by nature, maths is challenging.  It's sort of supposed to be challenging.  But dyscalculia is different.
Dyscalculia is not just finding sums like 7006 + 2256 difficult but a little more goes on inside a dyscalculia child's brain!
For a child with dyscalculia lots of other things happen:
  • they can see the numbers on the paper but they are just symbols to them.
  • the numbers are constantly jumbled up but not always.
  • the numbers come and go in your child’s brain.
  • maths is very scary and very frustrating.
  • your child will always feel defeated when they are doing some sort of maths question.
Your child’s nightmare will be a speedy multiplication test for example and will find learning their tables very difficult and are under the misconception that ‘everyone is bad at maths’ - this myth goes to undermine all the dyscalculia children out there! 
How does dyscalculia present in children?
So reiterate a child with dyscalculia can see the numbers but they don’t know what they mean.
So how does it present itself in the classroom?
  • Your child might start to count late.
  • Your child will find counting difficult.  
  • Your child will find counting a random pattern of dots difficult - they will lose their place.
  • Your child will have difficulty learning and recalling basic number facts such as number bonds to 10 like 7 + 3.
  • Your child cannot immediately recognise the number of items in a set without actually having to count them. Most children can recognise up to at least 6 or 7 items.  A dyscalculic learner will not be able to do this and may have difficulty in recognising just 2 or 3 items.
  • Your child will continue to use their fingers to count instead of more advanced strategies such as mental maths.
  • Your child will have a poor understanding of maths symbols.
  • Your child will struggle to recognise, for example, that 2 + 4 is the same as 4 + 2.
  • Your child will have trouble with place value, often putting numbers in the wrong column.
  • Your child will find it hard to understand maths concepts such as greater than and less than. When given two numbers, a dyscalculic learner will have difficulty in identifying which is the larger.

Mental and emotional issues...

Like having any learning difficulty, the mental and emotional impact is often more distressing than the practicalities of the difficulty itself.
With dyscalculia your child might:
  • feel stupid because they simply can’t do something that their peers can do.
  • have heightened anxiety and worry particularly in their maths lessons.
  • come home extremely tired because they are having to work much harder than their class mates.

Something to remember...

When I was researching dyscalculia I came across that image of the fish at the bottom of the tree - apparently Albert Einstein didn’t say this quote but apparently the internet thinks he did.  Anyway!  I love it!
“Everybody is a genius.  But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
I bet many of us have not been able to do something, struggled and felt stupid.  I think we have all felt exactly like the fish at the bottom of the tree.
Children in a school environment especially with dyscalculia, will feel like that fish, that they can’t conquer something yet it doesn't seem fair really does it?  That we're still testing all our children under one set of criteria for monkeys instead of fish?!
So how can we help a child with dyscalculia?
Here are my 8 top tips:
1.  Giving your child extra time is not necessarily a good thing.
Although it is a processing disorder - giving extra time is not necessarily a good thing in this case - I had pupils who would get stuck for 3 minutes or 3 hours so giving extra time is not necessarily a good thing although this is good when they get older in important exams.
2.  Visuals are A-MAZ-ING!!
Many many children process and understand things better through visuals.  Images, photos, drawings, looking at objects and things, patterns, colours…anything to get your maths message across in a ‘looky' way!  Many children with a learning difficulty/difference think in pictures so use them!  Our thoughts are pictures not words.
3.  Reduce their anxiety.
Reducing your child's anxiety will help them massively and improve their maths. So don't let them struggle! Extra time isn't a good thing for a dyscalculic pupil...whether they have 3 minutes or 3 hours they'll still find things tough and feel deflated so keep everything short and sweet. Constant praise. Constant reassurance. Remind them that their learning difference is nothing to do with their IQ, intelligence or how clever they are just simply how their brain works and processes numbers.
4.  Go over the basics again and again and again.
Go over and master the basics again and again and again. Your child needs to reeeeally understand the basics first. When a child knows what a number means, they know how many things it represents and this is KEY.
5.  Learn by DOING!
Anything that is hands on.  Use tangible, concrete materials to help explain any maths concept.  Cubes and beads for counting for example - anything to get your maths message across in a tangible, touchy way!  Get creative!  It will work.
6.  Small steps.
Make their learning personal and take small steps.  Reduce number ranges, break large number concepts into chunks.
7.  Reduce their stress!
Reduce the stress they have of trying to remember the maths facts - anything they have to remember in their head just write it down instead e.g. dividing by 3? Write down the 3x table.
8.  Role play.
Role play is perfect for abstract concepts like telling the time or learning about money so get acting!
There you go!  That's my dyscalculia chat for you well part 1 at least.  I hope it was useful.  I would love to hear from you.  Does your child find maths difficult?  Do they have dyscalculia?  What do they struggle with?  What have you found useful to help them?
Please reply to this email and chat to me.  I would absolutely LOVE to hear from you!

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