Treat Dyscalculia: Find out the different accommodations
If you are already seeking treatment it is probably because you or your child has been diagnosed with dyscalculia or math dyslexia. Dyscalculia is a learning disorder that affects a child’s ability to learn mathematical processes and skills. Luckily, this learning disorder has nothing to do with intelligence, and with practice and the proper therapies, the child can learn how to overcome their difficulties. However, how do we treat dyscalculia? Does dyscalculia treatment last week, months, and/or years? How do we know if we or our child needs to treat dyscalculia symptoms? In this article, we will explain how to treat dyscalculia as well as give you some tips on how to treat dyscalculia in children.
How to treat dyscalculia?
Dyscalculia is a specific learning disorder that makes it difficult to learn basic arithmetic or math. At least 7% of students have dyscalculia, making it almost as common as dyslexia.
Among the most common symptoms are that the person loses track when counting. They rely on their fingers or other objects to do simple arithmetic. People with dyscalculia have a hard time:
- Learning basic math (addition, subtraction, multiplication, etc.)
- Linking a number with its corresponding word (1=one)
- Estimating things (time, distance, etc.)
- Understanding math word problems
- Understand fractions
- Count money or give change
- Understand graphs and charts (visual and spatial perception)
- Remember phone numbers
- Tell time or read clocks
The presence of these may lead to a positive diagnosis and we will need to treat dyscalculia.
Due to the fact that dyscalculia can happen in children and in adults, treatments may vary.
How to treat dyscalculia in children?
The most important aspect to take into account when planning to treat dyscalculia is an early diagnosis. An early diagnosis makes it possible to intervene as soon as possible and in turn brain plasticity will increase, making it possible to work through some of the symptoms. It is important to take into account that dyscalculia is a learning disorder that can improve its symptoms, however, it is not curable. Much like dyslexia, dyscalculia is a lifelong disorder, which is why it is important to start treating dyscalculia as soon as possible.
Due to the fact that it is lifelong, dyscalculia can be diagnosed at any age but it is typically first recognized during childhood. Once diagnosed by a qualified professional, the child must be directed to the professional in charge of treating dyscalculia.
The first aspect to take into account when treating dyscalculia is that it does not require medication. The second is that the main approaches are learning strategies and classroom accommodations.
One of the most common strategies or treatments is a method of multisensory instructions. This is a teaching approach that uses other senses to give children an alternative to learn math skills and understand concepts. Multisensory math techniques can help kids understand what the numbers and symbols represent through their sight, touch, hearing, and movement. This technique uses objects to help quantify and how the object changes provide a concrete example of understanding how certain simple math concepts work, (for example, 6 blocks represent the number 6). This provides an interactive way to help children connect concrete items to abstract symbols that represent them.
This multisensory technique can be used by teachers, parents, educational therapists and/or professionals to help treat dyscalculia in children.
Schools in the U.S. can seek class accommodations through IEP or a 504 plan. Here are some examples of general accommodations that can be done in a classroom:
When learning in-class always keep in mind:
- Reviewing what was taught previously before teaching new skills.
- Use graph paper to help line the numbers and problems.
- List the steps for multi-step problems and algorithms.
- Keep sample problems on the board.
- Let the student speak about the math problems and how they can solve them
- Allow the student to sketch, draw or write out to solve problems.
When sending out homework:
- Make sure to highlight keywords or numbers on word problems
When taking tests or timed activities:
- Always allow extra time on tests
- Use a chart of math facts
- Allow the use of multiplication tables
- Breakdown worksheets into sections
- Let the student use calculators when deemed appropriate.
- Check if the students understand what they are being asked.
- Provide an extra blank sheet for operational purposes.
Other technologies can also help. There are currently many apps that help with basic number concepts and other cognitive skills associated with dyscalculia. CogniFit has an online test to help learning specialists, educational psychologists or neuropsychologists diagnose and treat dyscalculia.
Treat dyscalculia with neuroscientific intervention for children
Anna Sans, coordinator at the Unidad de Trastornor de Aprendizaje Escolar (Learning Disorders Unit) at the Hospital Sant Joan de Déu, explains how dyscalculia treatment works by working different cognitive areas:
“The most appropriate way to address learning disorders is with a multidisciplinary outlook.” explains Sans.
In summary, Sans states, when a learning disorder is detected, an individual re-learning or psychological treatment should be started, if necessary. There are also some methodological adaptations that the school could provide if their protocol allows for individualized modifications. However, schools are becoming more sensitive to the needs of children with learning disorders.
These are the different areas that should be looked at to improve dyscalculia:
Psycho-motor: Different perceptive-motor skills, like activities that improve visual and motor coordination, are great to work with, and they also help the child’s sense of rhythm and balance. Spatial orientation and temporal organization exercises with rhythm are also important.
Education: Practice specific exercises for math, focusing on quantity, concrete calculations (mental and written), objects, pictures, numbering systems, etc. It is important to start with smaller quantities and increase them progressively.
Today there is a lot of audio-visual stimulation through computers, tablets, phones, etc. which can help with academic exercises. There are a lot of different online games and exercises for children with learning disorders that can be really helpful, but they are not all the same. It is important that you choose the programs that are clinically validated. Be patient with your child, and try a few different programs to find the right now. It may take some time, but with some time and perseverance, you should see results soon.
How to treat dyscalculia in adults?
If you weren’t diagnosed as a child, don’t panic! You have probably chosen a career that doesn’t involve much math. However, life is made up of math situations, therefore some training can help you manage and perform certain daily activities to the best of your ability.
First, it’s important to be aware of the possible symptoms of dyscalculia in adulthood. These include:
Symptoms at work
- Trouble handling money or keeping track of finances.
- Trouble understanding graphs or charts.
- Gets anxious at the thought of having to do math unexpectedly.
- Frequently runs out of time when doing a task.
- Skips numbers when reading them.
- Finds excel formulas difficult to use.
- Uses fingers to count.
- Finds it hard to understand spoken math equations or problems.
Symptoms at home
- Needs a calculator t figure out a tip or simple math.
- Finds it difficult to remember names.
- Frequently late.
- Often drives too fast or too slow.
- Gets lost often.
- Bad at judging activities on the amount of time they take.
- Struggles to keep score in games.
- Can’t tell time or takes long on an analog clock.
- Can’t remember phone numbers without writing them down.
- Bad at motor sequencing activities (for example, learning to dance).
If you have most of these symptoms it might be a sign of dyscalculia. To treat dyscalculia the first thing would be to start an accommodation process.
Workplace Treatments for Dyscalculia
- Use recycled paper as scratch paper during meetings so you can work out math problems as they come up.
- If you use multiplication tables in your job often, keep a table nearby your work area.
- Get a calculator, therefore, you can rely on it when needed.
- Use instruments that might make measurements easier.
- Use planning technology, such as management tools like smartphones, etc.
- If need be, and you feel comfortable, letting a supervisor know might be of help to keep accommodations on track.
Training cognitive skills such as attention, memory, coordination, perception, reasoning, and planning can help brain plasticity and in turn, the person can use other brain areas when faced with specific dyscalculia difficulties.
Tips on how to treat dyscalculia at home
Give them the time they need to solve math problems.
Ask your child to do math problems out loud. They may not be understanding the problem well.
Give them examples of the math problem related to real-life examples. (For example, how do we divide 10 M&Ms between 2 people?)
Use repetition to help them remember multiplication tables and math formulas. Try using a song or rhythm.
Don’t pressure them or constantly correct mistakes, but you also don’t want to treat them differently than other students. Walk the fine line between not going too hard, but treating them like everyone else.
Give them worksheets that are neat and have lots of space. The page shouldn’t look cluttered and there should be a good amount of space between exercises and numbers.
Talk to the teacher about exams and personalized exercises. The child might need extra time on exams, and perhaps the work needs to be modified to suit the child’s needs. Learning must adapt to each child, not the other way around.
Don’t be afraid to get outside help for your child. Learning how to work around their learning disorder can make a huge difference.
Support your child and be there to cheer them on. Reinforce them when they do well and help them when they’re having a hard time.
Alejandra is a clinical and health psychologist. She is a child specialist with a diploma in evaluation and intervention in autism. She has worked in different schools with young children and private practice for over 6 years. She is interested in early childhood intervention, emotional intelligence, and attachment styles. As a brain and human behavior enthusiast, she is more than happy to answer your questions and share her experience.