So my son Boo might have a math learning disability called dyscalculia. This suggestion didn’t really take me by surprise, in fact it made everything we’d experienced with math make sense.
I started to search the Internet for information and resources about dyscalculia. It is not a well known condition, so the information I found was a bit sketchy.
One website called Dyscalculia.org seemed to have lots of articles to read. One article in particular really spoke to me. It’s called “A Letter to My Math Teacher” and it almost could have been written by my son. Since reading this letter, I have tried to incorporate as many of the suggestions as possible into how I teach my son math.
Another good article from the Dsycalculia.org site is Dyscalculia Symptoms. It’s a good list to start from if you suspect a math learning disability, but don’t expect your child to match every description. Use it only as a starting point.
Another website to check out is http://www.as.wvu.edu/~scidis/dyscalcula.html. This site had almost the same list of symptoms as Dyscalia.org, but following that was a list of things you can do as the parent or teacher to help your dsycalculic student. At the bottom of the page is a list of computer math programs, some of which are rather expensive, which could be helpful.
Not finding much more than that on the Internet, I searched Amazon.com. There I found two books that proved to be very helpful. The first one is called The Dyscalculia Toolbook. It only briefly discusses what dyscalculia is, and the whole rest of the book is made up of activities and games to help you teach math to your dyscalculic student. The activities are divided into specific areas of difficulty and are designed for you to pick and choose depending on where your student needs work. The book includes a CD with all the activities on it so you can print out instructions or worksheets instead of trying to copy them out of the book.
The second book I bought was the one that really convinced me that my son has dyscalculia. It’s called Dyscalculia Guidance. The first chapter is a discussion of exactly what dyscalculia is. As I read this chapter I was nodding, recognizing my son in every paragraph. I had tears in my eyes, not because “oh no! He has a learning disability!” but because finally, I had found my answer and a way to help him.
The second chapter discussed how dyscalculics need to be taught math. To my surprise and delight it described Math U See (MUS)! The book did not mention Math U See by name or even imply that it was the program to use, but since we’d been using it for several months, I recognized immediately that MUS’s teaching techniques were the ones recommended. No wonder Boo had thrived with MUS! The rest of the book is practical exercises and activities similar to those found in The Dyscalculia Toolbook.
I have since sat down with Boo and talked to him about dyscalculia. He was sad at first, realizing that he may never “get” math like other children. But I think he was relieved, too, now knowing that his struggles in math were not due to laziness or any other fault of his own. I described to him how his brain and math work. I filled a glass measuring cup full of water and said the water was his brain. Then I poured some oil in and mixed it up. The oil is math. I can pour math into his brain and mix it up and math knowledge will be in there. But then it separates and sits on top, unable to be accessed, just like the oil sat on top of the water. A little oil stayed mixed in, but not much. So Boo’s job and mine is to keep mixing in the oil, keep mixing in the math so he can use it.
We also worked together to develop a plan. We will keep up the Math U See since it is so obviously working and he likes it. He is successful and that gives him self confidence. We are also staying with Horizons Math for now, too. I have Boo doing only one side of the worksheet every day. You might wonder why we’re sticking with Horizons. It’s because one characteristic of the dyscalculic mind is the inability to perform the same math tasks in different situations. In other words, Boo can totally rock a whole page of MUS addition, then turn around and be unable to do the same type of addition problems, even the exact same equation, on a Horizons page. He needs to be able to apply his knowledge, no matter what math program he is using and no matter what real life situation he finds himself in. Horizons’ “spiral” approach to math keeps the new math concepts “stirred into his brain”.
Right now Boo does not have an official diagnosis. In my particular area, the public schools are of an extremely poor quality and attempting to have Boo tested through them would be a last resort. The Dyscalculia.org site I mentioned above does offer online diagnosis, but at $600, it’s more than I want to pay right now. However, if you follow the links to their online testing to find the learning disability checklist, the checklist is worth looking at, just to see the kinds of things they are looking for. I also asked my pediatrician about getting a diagnosis and she gave me the number to call for developmental evaluation through our military health care system. I’m not sure I want to go this route either, at least not yet. For now, Boo is making slow and steady progress, using all that I have learned in the last 6 months.
If you have a child with dyscalculia, I would really love to hear from you! Share with me the resources you’ve used and what testing if any, you’ve had done to get a diagnosis. Or if you don’t have a diagnosis yet, let me know what you’re doing that works…or doesn’t. And if you are still in the middle of researching dyscalculia, please let me know what links and books I’ve recommend have been helpful. The more information we can compile in one place, the more we can help others on the dyscalculia journey.
When she’s not helping her son learn math, Lorri blogs at The Mac and Cheese Chronicles.
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