Understanding Dyscalculia: Causes, Symptoms, and Solutions
Understanding Dyscalculia: Causes, Symptoms, and Solutions
When we talk about dyscalculia, we are referring to a situation that can occur in an isolated manner or accompanied by dyslexia and dysgraphia in 5-10% of school-age children. According to data from the Italian Ministry of Education, updated to the 2018-2019 school year, there are approximately 100,000 students with a specific diagnosis of dyscalculia, although this number may be underestimated. Dyscalculia is a Specific Learning Disorder (SLD) related to the inability to establish relationships between numerical systems, operations, and everything related to the field of mathematics.
The problems with calculation can lead to poor results in school and frustration for dyscalculic boys and girls. A child who exhibits traits of dyscalculia will constantly make errors during calculation, confuse mathematical signs, and reverse numbers. Dyscalculia can be considered the mathematical equivalent of dyslexia.
How to recognize dyscalculia
From the first encounters with the mathematical world, a student with suspected dyscalculia exhibits certain characteristics. Some of the main situations that can lead to a subsequent diagnosis include:
- Incorrect writing and rewriting of numbers, mixing up digits. For example, confusing 2 with 5.
- Difficulty with backward counting, reading numbers, and memorization.
- Inability to establish a relationship between numbers and quantities.
- Confusion between the plus (+) and minus (-) signs, as well as the division and multiplication operations.
- Slow completion of school assignments, difficulty memorizing carrying and multiplication tables.
- Incorrect placement of digits when performing column operations.
Unfortunately, due to the difficulties encountered, a child with dyscalculia often struggles to keep up with classmates and perform assigned tasks with the same ease, resulting in insufficient preparation and high levels of frustration. It is important to remember that competence in calculation involves a series of automated procedures that require high levels of attention to achieve the objectives. Many students with dyscalculia also have comorbidities with other SLDs, such as dyslexia and dysorthography.
How dyscalculia manifests and the diagnosis
Dyscalculia is conventionally divided into primary and secondary forms. Primary dyscalculia involves all the skills related to the mathematical hemisphere, while secondary dyscalculia includes clear signs of dyslexia and dysorthography.
The goal shared by teachers, families, specialists, and classmates is to achieve the child's autonomy through specific methodologies. But how can this be achieved? It is important to note that a dyscalculia diagnosis typically occurs between the second and third grade. Experts such as psychologists, speech therapists, and, if necessary, child neuropsychiatrists are involved. The latter is included when dyscalculia is associated with dyslexia and dysorthography.
Subsequently, based on the collected data and tests administered to the child, experts determine the appropriate course of action, whether to proceed with a formal diagnostic process or continue with test administration. This happens because each student is different and may have other characteristics associated with dyscalculia. In this phase, the goal that specialists want to achieve is to gather as much information as possible in order to have a clear profile of the student. The profile helps experts in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the student.
How to deal with dyscalculia, tools and solutions
As provided by Law No. 170/10, which recognized dyscalculia as a learning disorder, students with dyscalculia can:
- Use a calculator during evaluations, homework, entrance tests, and university exams.
- Have extended time for evaluations.
- Have the possibility to consult multiplication tables.
Furthermore, thanks to an educational program (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 quantities, numerical writing, and mnemonic aspects. A clear example of this is multiplication tables.
Dyscalculic students need constant confirmation and greater security. That's why it's good to implement strategies that can accompany them in a self-learning process, helping them understand that they are learning.
The use of calculators and other compensatory software helps students check if a calculation has been done correctly and gain more confidence and self-esteem. All the compensatory and dispensatory tools mentioned are designed to ensure that once the student has gained the necessary confidence, they can check calculations using a calculator, gradually increasing their confidence and self-esteem in their study method. Managing time becomes fundamental, and learning how 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 on the part of the student. The student is allowed to request additional time during evaluations.
Today, all those educational software with compensatory functions that allow for symbolic decoding so that students can independently complete tasks are fundamental. Concept maps and the software used to create them are also important. One such web app is Algor Maps. It allows for the creation of personalized content in the form of maps and quick and extremely simple online sharing. Concept maps, thanks to the principle of sequencing, make it easier for students to memorize rules, concepts, and numbers by associating them with images and, in some cases, reduced text.
Article by Mariana Ciaglia, educationalist.