The dyscalculia should not be confused with a general mental retardation. Depending on the person affected, the dyscalculia is based on different, controllable causes. In contrast to dyslexia (reading and spelling weakness), dyscalculia is a numerical weakness.
What is dyscalculia?
According to Foodanddrinkjournal, dyscalculia is an existing arithmetic weakness or arithmetic disorder. Those affected who suffer from dyscalculia show, among other things, long-term difficulties in dealing with numbers and also in grasping arithmetic facts.
The prerequisite for diagnosing dyscalculia in the presence of restrictions is that the arithmetic weakness is not simply due to a lack of educationor an intellectual disability. The basic arithmetic operations such as subtraction, addition, division and multiplication are particularly difficult for people with dyscalculia.
In contrast, abstract mathematical processes, such as those on which geometry is based, are often less impaired. If dyscalculia is diagnosed in a person (which is by far not always the case), this usually happens during primary school. It is estimated that around 10 to 15% of children across Germany have dyscalculia.
Depending on its severity, dyscalculia can have many different causes. In most cases, a weakness in calculation results from a combination of several causes.
Since the sum of the causes of dyscalculia is very different from one individual to the other, it is often not easy to clearly identify the corresponding causes. In educational psychology there are various approaches to explaining dyscalculia; Depending on the person affected, these may be more or less applicable: For example, it is possible that the dyscalculia is based on a developmental disorder in a certain area.
It is also possible that a person concerned has not yet understood mathematical relationships. Frequent teacher changes and teaching methods, as well as class size and structure, can also influence dyscalculia. In rare cases, dyscalculia can also hide concentration disorders and / or performance blockages, which are caused by anxiety or depressive moods.
Symptoms, ailments & signs
As a rule, those affected with dyscalculia suffer from a pronounced intellectual disability. There are various weaknesses that have a negative effect on everyday life and the quality of life of the person concerned. Child development is also considerably delayed and restricted by dyscalculia.
With this disease, those affected primarily suffer from problems calculating with numbers. Even simple arithmetic operations with small numbers lead to severe complaints and difficulties, so that the children affected already show problems at school. Concentration disorders can also occur, so that the children are not paying attention at school or appear hyperactive.
Many children continue to be irritable or even slightly aggressive. They can also suffer from apathy, which can lead to severe social discomfort. Due to dyscalculia, some people suffer from bullying or teasing, especially in childhood, and develop psychological complaints or even depression as a result.
If the dyscalculia is not treated, it leads to considerable complaints in everyday life even in adulthood. The disease usually does not have a negative impact on the life expectancy of the person affected.
Diagnosis & course
Various tests can be used to diagnose dyscalculia. Corresponding tests are to be carried out, for example, at the responsible school psychological offices.
Both the test results and the behavior of a person affected during the test can provide the test administrators with relevant information. Usually an affected child is first subjected to an intelligence test; in this case, for example, a possible over- or underload can be determined.
To diagnose dyscalculia, these test procedures are supplemented by tests of perception and motor skills. Because all of these factors can be indicators of an existing dyscalculia.
The course of dyscalculia depends on various factors. If an affected child is given individual support measures, a weakness in numeracy can improve over time.
Children with dyscalculia suffer more often than their peers from disorders or behavioral abnormalities. These peculiarities can occur parallel to the dyscalculia or indirectly go back to the arithmetic weakness: Children with dyscalculia sometimes feel inferior and sometimes try to compensate for this feeling through abnormal behavior.
However, the children do not always react with undesirable behavior such as aggression, oppositional behavior or fears: Some children are particularly ambitious and try to make up for their (perceived) “failure” through other achievements. Any fears that may complicate dyscalculia take very different forms. Some children develop an isolated arithmetic anxiety, while others are prone to school anxiety.
Various other anxiety disorders are also possible as a result of dyscalculia: Social anxiety and generalized anxiety disorder can also affect adults. In general, dyscalculia can indirectly affect the psychological development of children. They have an increased risk of developing another mental disorder. Possible accompanying illnesses (comorbidities) such as ADHD or dyslexia can cause further complications.
Mental stress, as it can be triggered by dyscalculia and the associated fears, is also reflected physically in many cases. Palpitations, sweating, and tremors are possible symptoms of anxiety. In addition, somatic complaints such as abdominal pain or headache can develop.
When should you go to the doctor?
Many sufferers first notice dyscalculia at school age. While normal to good results are achieved in other subjects, there seems to be a lack of understanding when dealing with numbers. In some cases, affected children are already noticed in kindergarten in projects with numbers and counting games. If educators and primary school teachers share such observations with parents, they should be taken seriously and reported to the pediatrician.
He or she can advise whether further examinations by specialists, for example in special early intervention centers, are advisable or whether waiting and a good observation of the further development of the child make sense. Dyscalculia is not a disease that causes long-term physical damage.
As long as those affected are mentally well with their impairment, i.e. there is no psychological stress, the suspicion of dyscalculia does not necessarily have to be clarified by a doctor. It should be noted, however, that an early diagnosis, especially in children, also offers the chance to specifically promote further mathematical development and thus prevent poor school performance and emotional pressure.
Treatment & Therapy
If the diagnosed dyscalculia of a school child is to be counteracted, experts usually suggest interventions that focus on the child’s individual problems.
The therapy methods offered against dyscalculia, which can be used in schools, for example, usually last two years. Appropriate therapy ideally not only includes the affected children, but also their parents and teachers. Depending on the child, such dyscalculia therapy takes place twice a week in small groups or with individual children.
A first therapeutic goal in the treatment of dyscalculia is to stabilize a child’s self-worth. The supported child is the focus of the therapy session, which is initially designed for example by painting or singing; this should reduce the pressure to perform. In a second step of the therapy for dyscalculia, this is usually followed by training in mathematical skills – for example, by first calculating with three-dimensional, tangible objects.
These items can then be gradually replaced with worksheets. At a given point in time, dyscalculia therapy ultimately also focuses on mental arithmetic. Depending on the individual case, it can make sense to supplement a described support program with accompanying methods (such as occupational therapy).
Outlook & forecast
The dyscalculia will not get better without treatment and support. The sooner it is recognized and remedial action is taken, the better the chances of those affected are to learn to use numbers – slowly, but ultimately to a comparable extent to other people.
There is therefore a good chance of learning success if dyscalculia is recognized in elementary school age, because then it can be counteracted with targeted support for the child. Often the affected child does not have to be transferred to another school at all, but only needs special support in the mathematical area.
If, on the other hand, the dyscalculia is only discovered and treated in adulthood, the process can firstly take longer and secondly, it is no longer guaranteed that the person affected can cope with all the difficulties associated with it. An adult’s brain does not develop as quickly as a child’s, and corrective action may not be as effective as a child with dyscalculia. It is possible, however, the only important thing is continuous exercise.
The prospect of improvement from dyscalculia can also be made more difficult by the fact that those affected have already noticed for themselves that they have difficulties with numbers, which is why they develop fears of situations in which they have to calculate. This fear may need to be resolved first, or at the same time, before the dyscalculia itself can be treated.
Dyscalculia can be prevented, among other things, by carefully observing the first signs of arithmetic problems. In this way, appropriate children can be encouraged at an early stage. An important time for recognizing the first problems that can lead to dyscalculia is the first years of elementary school.
In most cases of dyscalculia, the patient has very few options or measures for follow-up care. The person concerned is first of all dependent on medical and medical treatment of the disease so that there are no further complaints and also no delayed or restricted development of the child. The earlier the dyscalculia is treated or recognized, the better the further course of the disease will usually be.
In most cases, the dyscalculia is treated with various exercises or therapies. There are usually no further complications. Parents can do many exercises with their children in their own homes to counteract dyscalculia. However, a lot of calm is required from the parents in order not to overwhelm the children.
Dyscalculia can be treated relatively well with small tasks that are spread over the day. In some cases, this disease also requires psychological treatment, although discussions with family or friends can have a positive effect on the course of the disease. Contact with other affected parents can also be very useful.
You can do that yourself
When dyscalculia is diagnosed, parents play a very important role. You can support your child in many ways. In principle, there is the possibility of integrative individual support during school time. This must be requested by the parents.
The way is often arduous, but it is worthwhile. Tutoring within the regular remedial lessons is rarely successful for the children concerned. The large group size is a hindrance. It is important to enable so-called 1-to-1 care by a trained social pedagogue or remedial pedagogue.
In the last two years of kindergarten, the children are taught their first mathematical terms and understanding of quantities. Here parents can actively seek discussion with the supervising educators and thus offer initial support measures.
It has been proven that in dyscalculia there is a connection between the mental state of the child and its problems of understanding basic arithmetic mechanisms. Parents should ask whether their child is suffering from anxiety or even depression. A psychotherapeutic counseling should not be excluded. It is also important to rule out any behavioral problems. Because these can also cause learning difficulties.
Basically, parents have to accompany their child through school with a lot of patience and understanding. There are also physiotherapy- supported programs that improve the child’s ability to concentrate. They ensure physical and mental relaxation after the school day and are easy to incorporate into everyday life.