By Erica Ranzato
Mathematics is an important life skill. Research findings tell us that individuals with poor numeracy skills have poorer educational prospects, earn less, and are more likely to be unemployed, in trouble with the law and to be sick (Parsons and Bynner, 2005). Moreover, poor mathematical abilities affect not only the individual but bear an impact on the whole society. The accountancy firm KPMG estimated that the cost to the UK of poor mathematical abilities in terms of lost direct and indirect taxes, unemployment benefits, justice costs and additional educational costs was £2.4 billion per year (Gross et al., 2009).
There are many causes that can explain difficulties with mathematics. For example, a low intellectual level, attention difficulties, use of inadequate strategies, or limited numeracy learning experiences. One cause of poor mathematical abilities is developmental dyscalculia – from now on we will refer to it as dyscalculia. Dyscalculia is a learning difficulty with neurobiological origins that can persist into adulthood. At the heart of dyscalculia there is a difficulty with learning maths, despite an IQ within the typical range, that is not caused by difficulties experienced in formal education (such as prolonged absence from school through illness, etc) or other social settings.
Dyscalculia is a heterogeneous disability but, generally, people with dyscalculia experience difficulties with the most basic aspects
of number processing and arithmetic. These learning difficulties manifest in different ways depending on the age of the person, and the setting – i.e., not only in the school environment but in their everyday life, for example, when they have to tell the time. In his book More Trouble with Maths, Steve Chinn lists 31 indicators/behaviours with the aim of providing a checklist that can be used by a teacher, a parent or an adult learner as a screening survey of mathematics learning difficulties and dyscalculia. Some of them are reported below:
- Find it difficult to “see” that 4 objects are 4 without counting
- Difficulties with counting (e.g. lack of one-to-one correspondence)
- Find it much harder to count backwards compared to counting forward
- Has difficulty retrieving addition facts from memory
- Counts all the numbers when adding
- Has poor skills with money
- Finds it difficult to write numbers which have zeros within them
- Difficulties with estimating
- When solving columnar operation does not line up columns of number properly
- Writes 51 for 15
- Struggles with mental arithmetic
- Learns multiplications facts, but then forgets them overnight
- Gets very anxious about doing any mathematics
- Shows inability to “see patterns” or generalize
In 2008, the UK Government Office for Science published a report as a result of the project “Mental Capital and Wellbeing: Making the most of ourselves in the 21st century” where the following recommendation was made:
“Because of its low profile but high impacts, [Dyscalculia’s] impact should be raised. Dyscalculia relates to numeracy and affects between 4-7% of children. It has a much lower profile than dyslexia but can also have substantial impacts: it can reduce lifetime earnings by £114,000 and reduce the probability of achieving five or more GCSEs (A-C) by 7- 20 percentage points.”
Dyscalculia does not have a high public profile such as other learning difficulties – e.g. dyslexia -, but since 2008 Dyscalculia and maths learning difficulties have received more attention (Butterworth, 2018). There are now helpful websites – you can find some listed in the references – and the British Dyslexia Association now recognise it as a separate learning difficulty from dyslexia and has started courses to qualify teachers in teaching learners with specific learning difficulties/dyscalculia. This accreditation enables teachers and practitioners to conduct informal, curriculum-based assessments and deliver specialist teaching programmes to learners up to 18 years of age.
Butterworth, B. (2018). Dyscalculia: from science to education. Imprint Routledge
Bynner J. & Parson, S. (2005). Does numeracy matter? London. Basic Skills Agency
Chinn S. (2017). More trouble with maths: a complete manual to identify and diagnose mathematical difficulties. Second edition. Imprint Routledge.
Gross J., Hudson, C., & Price, D. (2009). The long term costs of numeracy difficulties
http://www.ronitbird.com/dyscalculia/ https://www.smartickmethod.com/blog/education/psychology/dyscalculia- detected/