How to help a child with dyscalculia improve in mathematics
Dyscalculia is an extremely heterogeneous learning disorder, so children with dyscalculia can have very different profiles. However, there are general guidelines that we can always follow when planning an intervention program to know how to help a child with dyscalculia, regardless of their profile.
Identifying strengths and weaknesses
Dyscalculia is a learning disorder of neurobiological origin that affects the correct acquisition of mathematical skills. The fact that it is neurological and genetic in origin does not imply that children with dyscalculia cannot be helped to improve their mathematical skills. The important thing is to accurately identify their strengths and weaknesses in order to organize a personalized intervention program. In fact, if a student is having serious problems learning mathematics, parents and teachers should refer the student to the school counselor or a professional outside the school for a complete evaluation. The evaluation should include psychological tests focused on intelligence, attention, and reading, along with specific mathematics tests in order to accurately identify areas for intervention.
Typical difficulties of children with dyscalculia
Dyscalculia can present very heterogeneously, but, in general, children with dyscalculia experience difficulties with the most basic aspects of numerical processing such as the ability to discriminate between quantities, counting or digit recognition. As a result, they lack the foundation to develop more advanced mathematical knowledge. In addition, children with dyscalculia usually present with problems as it relates to the memorization of numerical facts and mathematical concepts and procedures.
How to help a child with dyscalculia
Let’s take a look at some general tips that can be followed to help children with dyscalculia overcome these difficulties and facilitate math learning.
Minimizing the amount of information to be memorized
Children with dyscalculia may have severe problems with working memory and long-term memory skills. These difficulties are evident in the case of memorization of numerical facts and mathematical concepts. Therefore, it is very important to minimize the amount of information that children must know by heart. Providing visual support, such as multiplication tables or posters with mathematical formulas, can help a lot in this sense because children can focus all their cognitive resources on the reasoning process.
From the concrete to the abstract
Since children with dyscalculia have problems storing numerical information, when we work with them, it is especially necessary that learning be based on a deep understanding of mathematical concepts and procedures. Thus, for example, procedures for solving basic operations should be explained and worked on as an alternative to mere memorization. To facilitate this process, learning must go from the concrete to the abstract. For example, in teaching the positional value of numbers, we can start with the explanation of the concept with real objects such as blocks, followed by a representation in the form of a drawing, and at the end only abstract symbols (digits). In this process, the use of manipulative materials, such as the Montessori multiplication table, base 10 blocks or rulers, plays a very important role.
To support the learning of mathematics, it is important to respect the pace of each child, especially in the case of children with dyscalculia. Each child has a specific profile of strengths and weaknesses that we have to take into account in order to organize an intervention that is as personalized as possible.
In this sense, we can be helped by many online mathematics learning methods that have artificial intelligence to adapt to each profile, such as Smartick. In fact, in line with the principle of content personalization, Smartick’s algorithm places each child at the threshold of his or her maximum competence after an entry test. Then, depending on how they do in each session, they are given exercises adapted to their level. This avoids the potential frustrations children may face with mathematical tasks, respecting each one’s time.
Family support is essential when working with children with dyscalculia. It is important that parents do not feel guilty about the problems their children face. It is important to understand their child’s difficulties with mathematics and prevent their self-esteem from deteriorating. In addition, they can complement their children’s abilities by promoting an environment in which there are playful references to numbers. For example, card games, dominoes, or board games are very useful tools that can be used at home to favor the internalization of numerical concepts in children with difficulties in learning mathematics.
We hope this post has taught you how to help a child with dyscalculia improve in math. If you have doubts about your child’s risk of dyscalculia, do not hesitate to consult a specialist. Early detection and attention helps to reduce difficulties.