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Dyscalculia is a term that has been used for many years when talking about a math disability. Dyscalculia means "a severe or complete inability to calculate". Some people use the term dyscalculia to describe a child who has problems learning mathematics skills and concepts. However, the terms learning disabilities in mathematics and math disability are used more widely today.
By Diane Pedrotty Bryant, Ph.D.
As the curriculum becomes more demanding, a math disability is manifested in different ways across the grade levels. For example, the specialized language of mathematics — including terms and symbols — must be mastered in more advanced mathematics curriculum. Problems with counting strategies, retrieving basic facts quickly, and solving word problems seem to persist across grade levels and require extra instruction to reinforce learning.
We do not fully understand how a math disability affects a child's ability to learn mathematics in all of the different areas because of the limited research base on math disability. To date, the majority of research has focused mostly on the skills associated with mathematics calculations including number, counting, and arithmetic (e.g., arithmetic combinations or basic facts) and on solving word problems. Much less is known about development and difficulties in areas such as algebra, geometry, measurement, and data analysis and probability.
We know that a group of students exhibit problems learning mathematics skills and concepts that persist across their school years and even into adulthood. We understand that specific problems in the areas of memory, cognitive development, and visual-spatial ability contribute to difficulties learning mathematics. Fortunately, researchers and educators are focusing efforts on better understanding the issues these students face as they encounter the math curriculum across the grade levels. In my next article, I will explore methods for identifying a math disability and offer parents ideas for working with their children and teachers to address such difficulties.
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