Dyscalculia: Severe difficulty in making arithmetical calculations, as a result of brain disorder.

Recently, I had a number of kids who were struggling in basic mathematic functions. Parents will often inquire whether their child has “dyscalculia.” Even though I’ve tested a couple thousand kids at this point in my career I really have no idea whether I’ve evaluated a child who has dyscalculia.

Take, young Jackson, age 8, a third grader. Described by his parents as possessing many wonderful (mostly nonverbal abilities), he struggles with the most basic of mathematic functions.

“Jackson can look at any car on the road and tell you the model…his recall for that is incredible,” said his dad. “He’s also an amazing builder and loves coming with me on jobs (dad owns a heating and air conditioning company).”

“At the same time,” the dad continued, “he is unable to understand the concept of the most basic fractions. I’ve tried with real pizzas and cookies, you name it. He just can’t understand what a fraction is and that a half, that a half represents two parts of a whole thing. Everyone one of his tests and worksheets comes back with bad grade after bad grade and no attempt at offering any help.”

I see tons of kids who don’t get concepts that most of us take for granted. It doesn’t surprise me in the least. They get regular doses of red “X’s”

So much in daily life involves concepts of mathematics that we take for granted that kids like Jackson will understand. For them it’s totally abstract

Who thinks about the concept that a day is 1/365 of a whole year or 1/7 of a week.

What about time or money? How many of our kids of concern understand the concept of a minute, hour or quarter as fractions.

There are endless examples.

We forget that so much of mathematics is language and that if we don’t understand the concept, the calculations are going to be virtually impossible. There are some great resources online to help with maths understanding. For example, a friend of mine was recently learning how to do scalar projection on a website similar to https://programmathically.com. For those that struggle with maths, there are some great websites available to help.

Samples of Jackson’s papers that parents brought to me were marked all over the place with red “X’s” or “pay attention more” comments. I looked over the problems that he got wrong:

Melody draws a quadrilateral with two pairs of opposite sides that appear to be parallel. Which could be the quadrilateral Melody draws.”

“Quadrilateral???” “Opposite???” “Parallel??? How ridiculous.

Honestly, do you think that a child who can’t understand the concept that a week has seven days is going to begin to understand a word problem involving quadrilaterals?

So, does Jackson have “dyscalculia?” Not from where I sit.

Jackson has a concept deficit. Talking about “quadrilaterals” when he doesn’t even understand what a half represents, is a complete instructional mismatch.

Takeaway Point

The Jacksons of the world need a lot more patient practice, in portions of the “mathematic pool” where they are remotely comfortable. Next week we will build on this theme.


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