Did quadratic equations ever haunt you during your sleep? Was calculus the worst thing that ever happened to you? Was algebra your greatest foe? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it doesn’t necessarily imply you don’t have the smarts. Instead, you might have Dyscalculia – a learning disorder that makes calculating anything a near-insurmountable challenge.
Now, Dyscalculia is still a relatively little-known (not to mention little-understood) learning disorder, contrary to its more popular cousin – Dyslexia. That doesn’t mean it’s any less valid though! In fact, as much as 6% of the world’s population may suffer from this pesky disorder. Read on to learn how Dyscalculia develops, what its symptoms are, why it makes calculating so difficult, and most importantly – how to deal with it.
Dyscalculia – How It Develops
As is the case with many learning disorders, the causes of Dyscalculia lie either in genes or in early childhood development. In other words, if serious difficulties with anything math-related run in your family, or if you did not receive quality early-stage education as a toddler, you might have/develop Dyscalculia. But remember that even if you do have it, it’s not your fault! You couldn’t have possibly supervised your educational pursuits as a three-year-old, let alone choose your genes prior to your birth!
Dyscalculia – Symptoms
Various symptoms of Dyscalculia become apparent at different stages of one’s life. In pre-school, if a child struggles to learn how to count to ten and has difficulties identifying quantities from images (for example, can’t answer questions like “how many apples are in this image?”), then Dyscalculia is a plausible diagnosis. Of course, a specialist is needed to confirm it.
In grade school, if a child struggles with basic equations like “4+7” and has to write every problem down to solve it, that might be a sign of Dyscalculia. Outside the educational realm, if a child at grade-school age struggles with understanding sports scores or struggles with games that involve numbers, calculating, or lots of memorizing, then that child isn’t “lazy” or “dumb.” They might just be experiencing symptoms of a learning disorder.
At later stages (High School/College), math difficulties turn from a mere nuisance to a genuine source of anxiety, especially if there’s a lot of pressure to do well on exams. As equations become more and more abstract, it might no longer be possible to “take the long way round,” in other words, to write everything down or count the numbers out loud. So, if you suspect yourself of having Dyscalculia, it might be worthwhile to look at your High School years and recall how hard it was for you to study for your calculus/algebra exams. If your peers seemingly spent less time studying and yet got better grades than you, that’s a red flag. Of course, if you got bad grades because you didn’t really care or because you really were lazy, that’s a different story!
But Dyscalculia doesn’t just hinder your academic pursuits. It can also make your adult life quite a hassle. Here are just some potential symptoms of Dyscalculia in everyday life:
- Forgetting names and faces of the people you meet
- Getting lost when reading maps, listening to directions, or trying to understand timetables
- Generally not being able to concentrate for a long time
- Difficulty with learning dance moves or song lyrics
- Making very poor estimates of distance
- Having problems with all things related to finance/budgets
- Or even struggling to read analog clocks
Remember, people without Dyscalculia may struggle with these things from time to time as well. But if your issues with math are consistent and if they have a tangible negative effect on your daily activities, then Dyscalculia is a very probable culprit.
Dyscalculia – Why It Makes Calculating So Difficult
Dyscalculia is all about the brain. The reason one person can solve 23×71 in their head while someone else struggles with 13+9 has a physical explanation. In other words, the brains of people with Dyscalculia are built differently from the brains of people with no learning disorders. This is why “Dyscalculiacs” have to take the long way round sometimes. It’s not that they want to make their own lives more difficult. Their brains are simply not wired to calculate in the “mainstream” way.
On the flip side, there are those whose brains are uniquely equipped for all sorts of calculations. Read our article here to find out if you’re one of them!
Dyscalculia – How to Deal With It
But are victims of Dyscalculia doomed to a life of eternal math-related suffering? Well, no, not necessarily. While it’s more or less impossible to “adapt” to Dyscalculia and even beat it, it is possible to alleviate its negative effects.
If you are a parent of a child with suspected/diagnosed Dyscalculia, here are just some potential ways to deal with the disorder:
- Encourage your child to get into games that involve math/calculation. Of course, these games have to be fun! You should avoid forcing your child to improve at math at all costs.
- Make sure teachers are aware of your child’s learning disorder. This will (hopefully) prevent your child from facing excessive scrutiny.
- Tell your child to divide difficult equations into smaller, more manageable chunks. In fact, this is a good tip for all students, not just those with Dyscalculia.
- Suggest that your child connect abstract math problems with real-life scenarios. This will make math less boring and more tangible.
If you are an adult with Dyscalculia, then you can try to:
- Get into chess (as well as other board/card/video games that make you calculate)
- Be open about your learning disorder. In other words, make sure people understand why you struggle with math)
- Talk to a therapist. They might not help you calculate better, but they will help you deal with the anxiety that often accompanies Dyscalculia.
- Use technology to your advantage. Your teacher might have told you that wouldn’t have a calculator with you at all times, but guess what, they were wrong. We don’t live in the 18th century and most of us have a powerful supercomputer in our pockets. So, if you need to calculate something, just use your phone!