Dyscalculia is a lesser known learning disability relating to numbers without the difficulties in language associated with dyslexia. Approximately 6 to 7 percent of school-age children might suffer from dyscalculia, but this number doesn't account for those individuals who have overall learning disabilities. The actual number of dyscalculiacs may be significantly less. At this time, there are no classroom tests for teachers to use for student assessment or for psychologists to use in the field. The actual number of learners with dyscalculia is unknown.
There are several underlying causes for dyscalculia. The first is a visual processing disorder. In math, the student needs to be able to track numbers and visualize the situations presented in a problem. Processing difficulties lead to mentally mixing up the numbers and making mistakes this way. Math strategies also involve being able to perform a sequence of steps in order to come to the solution. A student with dyscalculia may have a sequencing problem that interferes with their ability to learn facts and follow formulas. There is no research that pinpoints exact issues or strategies for the dyscalculia student, so a variety of teaching strategies can be tried to find what is best for the individual student.
What can you do to help a student with dyscalculia? Start with a solid foundation of number recognition and operations. Have students draw out math problems to help them learn to visualize the information. Students can read the problem out loud as their auditory skills may be an academic strength. Use real-life situations for math concepts whenever possible. Remove unnecessary clutter from worksheets such as pictures and words that are not needed for problems. Use music and games to help with memorization of facts and tables. Use a peer tutor if necessary and allow extra time to complete assignments. Be patient and never allow the student to work until they are frustrated and panicking.
Technology can provide some assistance for dyscalculia students. Hand-held calculators help the student to be sure they are seeing the numbers in the correct order and can be used for a quick check for correctness. The student can then rework the problem immediately if it is not right. Talking about calculators adds the auditory feedback, and the student may need a large number calculator for easier visual processing. Textbooks on computer with video demonstrations of the lessons can also be helpful.