A new feature of the blog is a conversation series with people living with dyscalculia.
This week we spoke to Rose Lister, a primary school teacher who has struggled with numbers and was eventually diagnosed with dyscalculia at age 21. Rose tells us about the frustration of completing school education without a diagnosis – by telling her story, she hopes to bring more awareness to dyscalculia. Her story is very inspiring, and we hope that it can show you that dyscalculia doesn’t have to limit you in what you want to achieve in life.
In this part of the interview, we discussed her path to diagnosis, her time at school and the challenges that overcame to become a primary school teacher. The second part of the interview, covering her experience as a primary school teacher and advice to parents, will be published the following week!
A guest article from Elisheva Seeman the creator of the Dyscalculator.
I first became aware of Dyscalculia when I noticed that my friend couldn’t read numbers. I couldn’t understand why she would always ask the people around her to tell her what number was written down or why she would repeatedly ask what time someone said they were picking her up. When I realised how much Dyscalculia affected her daily and how much it caused her to struggle in many areas, I decided to find her an app or website to do the calculations for her. I figured that she was not the only one with this issue – someone must have developed a program to help with that.
I was wrong – all the apps I found when searching were geared toward teaching math instead of offering tools to help people. So, I created an app specifically to help her with numbers – and she loved it! She used it every day in different ways, building up her confidence and helping her become less reliant on other people.
We recently got introduced to Mark Daly and his inspirational story of discovering his dyscalculia and returning to education as an adult. Mark had always struggled with numbers but growing up in 1980s Ireland; there was little to no awareness of dyscalculia or how to address it. Incredibly 30 years ago, he discovered he had dyscalculia whilst on holiday in the USA, and now he has been facing challenges with this learning difference.
Written by Natalie Kerslake B.A (Hons), MA Ed SEND KS2 Teaching Assistant
A bit about me
My name is Natalie Kerslake B.A (Hons), MA Ed SEND, and I am a primary school teaching assistant, currently teaching in Year 6, with a particular interest in supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities. In January 2016, I graduated with my MA in Education with a specialism in Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) at the University of Derby.
In my first teaching assistant post, I became motivated to complete my MA Ed research on dyscalculia after supporting a child with this. I did not know anything about dyscalculia at the time, and not much was available to support teachers and children in this area. I wanted to investigate the current situation of supporting children with dyscalculia in one particular primary school and see whether this was the case in another school.
This is a guest article from Special Education Teacher Monise Seward; you can find out more about her work on her website – http://www.moniseseward.com/.
For the last eight months, my IG and Twitter posts have focused on two main goals; to find (a) Dyscalculia and Dyslexia training and (b) Math Apps and curricula designed with my students’ needs in mind. Both proved to be challenging and time-consuming endeavours; eventually, I found one.
Dyscalculia is the Learning Difference you’ve probably never heard of, despite 5-10% of the population having it. Based on the challenges non-identified students experience, I believe there are more kids (and adults) with Dyscalculia. We characterise their struggles as ‘Math anxiety’ in this country. Based on conversations had with U.S. teachers, few are aware of the existence of Dyscalculia. They cannot identify the characteristics exhibited by students who may have it. Compounded by a lack of training on Dyscalculia, many teachers adhere to a pacing guide that does not allow time for remediation or accommodations.
It’s important to take signs of dyscalculia seriously. At the beginning of school, all children experience occasional difficulties with math. If these problems fail to dissipate with supported homework sessions or additional hours of practice, parents and teachers should be alert for potential dyscalculia.
The following signs can indicate the presence of dyscalculia:
…has anxiety about going to school
…has anxiety about taking tests
…has a negative perception of their intelligence
…expects to fail
…displays frustration and a reluctance to try (maths) in other subjects
Are you wondering why your child struggles with numbers and finds it challenging to solve seemingly simple tasks?
Dyscalculia is usually perceived as a specific learning difference in mathematics or, more appropriately, arithmetic. In isolated dyscalculia, there are no deficits in reading or writing. Dyscalculia is classified under WHO ICD-10, a classification system for diseases and mental disorders, as:
If your dyscalculia was undiagnosed until adulthood, or perhaps you’re still undiagnosed, you may have gravitated towards a career that doesn’t involve maths. But no matter how often you need to do equations or handle numbers daily, simple accommodations can help you perform your job to the best of your ability.
Developmental dyscalculia can be either genetic or environmental, even interaction of the two and is present from birth. It is a specific learning difference that affects the acquisition of arithmetic skills. It is equally common in boys and girls and impacts 5-6% of the population.
Genetic causes include known genetic disorders such as Turner’s syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, Velocardiofacial syndrome, Williams syndrome. In addition, studies suggest that there are genes present in the general population which increase the risk of dyscalculia.
It is well known that schools tend to put mental arithmetic skills above the visual ones, as something like counting with your fingers is seen as a weakness in one’s calculation abilities. Educators and scientists have been tackling this obsolete cliché with research and scientific reports that seem to prove that visual aids are more than just helpful in the learning process.
Indeed, visual aids, such as the use of fingers, have a key role in children’s understanding of mathematics. This form of visualisation gives the abstract world of numbers a real side and establishes a connection to something tangible. This results in the creation connections from the prefrontal cortex (main memory / data centre) to the visual and motor cortex. Thus, when visual aid is used, thinking becomes outsourced to other brain areas generating a more efficient use the brain’s capacity.
However, these findings do not mean that you child will forever use their fingers to count. Over time a mental image of the fingers will become connected to the mental processes of counting, making the physical counting unnecessary. This is proven by numerous studies with primary school children that measured increased activity in the visual cortex while children were solving complex math tasks, even when they did not use their hands.
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