Understanding Dyscalculia: The Learning Disorder that Affects Math Skills in Students
The educational path of some children may be characterized by a difficulty in relating numbers and mathematical processes, this difficulty is called dyscalculia. Whenever we talk about dyscalculia, we are dealing with students with a perfectly normal IQ and, in the absence of other deficits of neurological, sensory, social and relational origin. We refer, in fact, to a whole series of situations characterized by a lack of decoding, transcription and memory.
In this article we will examine:
A specific learning disorder in mathematics affecting 100,000 school-age children in italy
When we talk about dyscalculia, we refer to that situation that can appear in an isolated way or accompanied by dyslexia and dysgraphia in 5-10% of school-age children. According to MIUR data updated to the 2018-2019 school year, there are about 100,000 students with a specific diagnosis of dyscalculia, although the data may be underestimated. It is a Specific Learning Disorder (SLD) related to the inability to relate numerical systems, operations, and everything related to the field of mathematics.
The child who presents the traits of dyscalculia has among his characteristics: constantly repeating errors during the calculation phase, making confusion in the use of mathematical signs, inverting numbers. We can define dyscalculia as the equivalent, in mathematical disciplines, of dyslexia.
Signs and symptoms to watch out for
From the first approaches to the mathematical world, a student with suspected dyscalculia shows some peculiarities. Among the main situations that can lead to a subsequent diagnosis, we will have:
- Incorrect writing and rewriting of numbers, digits are inverted. For example, 2 is often confused with 5;
- Difficulties in numbering backwards, in its reading, in memorization;
- Inability to establish a relationship between number and quantity;
- The + and - signs are confused, as are those of the division and multiplication operations;
- School assignments are carried out very slowly, there is a difficulty in memorizing the rules related to carrying over and multiplication tables;
- Wrong position of digits when performing column operations.
Unfortunately, due to the difficulties encountered, a child with dyscalculia often cannot keep up with classmates and perform assigned tasks with the same ease, often resulting in an insufficient level of preparation and high levels of frustration.
Remember that competence in calculation encompasses a series of automated procedures that require high levels of attention to achieve the objectives. Many students with dyscalculia problems present situations of comorbidity with other DSA, that is, dyscalculia associated with dyslexia and dysorthography.
Diagnosis and strategies for achieving autonomy in students
Dyscalculia has among its characteristics that of being conventionally divided into: primary and secondary.
We speak of primary dyscalculia when all the abilities related to the mathematical hemisphere are involved. While we speak of secondary dyscalculia when, in addition to dyscalculia, we also have clear signs of dyslexia and dysorthography.
The goal that the teacher shares with the family, specialists and the rest of the classmates is to achieve the child's autonomy through specific methodologies. But how can all this take shape and be realized? First of all, it is important to remember that a diagnosis of dyscalculia occurs between the second and third elementary school classes. A series of experts are involved, such as psychologists, speech therapists and, if necessary, child neuropsychiatrists. This last figure is provided where dyscalculia is associated with dyslexia and dysorthography.
Subsequently, based on the data collected and the tests proposed to the child, the experts orient themselves on how to proceed, establishing whether to start with a real process to draw up a definitive diagnosis or to continue with the administration of tests. This happens because each student is different and may present other characteristics associated with dyscalculia. At this stage, the goal that specialists want to achieve is to collect as much information as possible in order to have a clear profile of the student. The profile traced guides the experts in the search for the strengths and weaknesses of the student.
How law n.170/10 and compensatory tools help foster confidence and self-esteem
As provided by Law n.170/10, which recognized dyscalculia as a Specific Learning Disorder (SLD), students with dyscalculia can:
- Use a calculator during evaluation tests, homework, entrance exams, university exams;
- Benefit from extra time for the completion of evaluation tests;
- Have the possibility to consult Pythagorean tables.
Furthermore, thanks to an educational path (Personalized Didactic Plan, PDP) based on teacher-student mediation, the achievement of autonomy by the child can become faster in the field of calculation, understanding of quantities, numerical writing, and mnemonic aspect. A clear example of what has been said are the multiplication tables.
The dyscalculic student needs constant confirmations and greater security. That's why it's good to implement strategies that can accompany him/her in a path of self-learning, he/she must understand that he/she is learning.
All compensatory and dispensatory tools mentioned are designed to ensure that once the right confidence is acquired, the student can check that a calculation has been performed correctly through the calculator, this allows him/her to gradually obtain greater confidence and self-esteem also in the study method.
Managing time becomes fundamental and learning to do it is one of the objectives that, in the presence of dyscalculia, must be gradually achieved, in order to avoid situations of frustration that are often confused with laziness of the student. The student is allowed to request extra time during the completion of tests for learning evaluation.
Today, all those didactic software with compensatory function are fundamental, which allow a symbolic decoding so that the student can independently perform tasks. Important become the concept maps and the software for their creation, among these the web app Algor Maps. It allows you to create personalized content in the form of a map and share it online quickly and extremely easily. Concept maps, thanks to the principle of sequentiality, allow the student to memorize more easily, rules, concepts, numerations, associating them with images and in some cases also with reduced text.
Article by Mariana Ciaglia, pedagogue.