The parents of Jeremy Gordon thought they had an over-achiever for a son when he started speaking in sentences at the age of one. He learned how to write when he was three years old and read the Harry Potter book series by the time he was four. There was just one slight problem with Jeremy , he seemed to be able to learn about anything his parents taught him except things that had numbers.
“When he started learning how to count, I started to teach him about number groupings and sets. Like 4 sets of cars, 4 horses, 4 children…” His mother Debbie shared as we sat down to a snack of coffee and wafers. “He could not remember the numbers associated with the groups. I thought that it was normal. After all, he was not even attending pre-school. I did not want to place undue pressure on him. But then he started going to school and his number problems only got worse. “ She continued. “ We got him Math tutors to help him learn the basic math formulas for addition, subtraction and others. But he just did not have the long term memory for math functions. That was when we sought professional help. We were devastated to learn that he had Dyscalculia.”
Experts often define Dyscalculia as the Math equivalent of Dyslexia. Their Dyscalculia counterparts cannot understand how number formulas work. This is a learning handicap that the person will carry for the rest of his life. It is not something that can be cured by drugs because of the visual-spatial difficulties connected with the illness.
“My husband and I immediately jumped to the conclusion that our child was mentally handicapped. That is why we were relieved when the doctor took the time to explain the illness to us and help us develop a treatment plan for Jeremy.” Debbie clarified. Her fear that her son was mentally handicapped is one that is shared by other mothers who know that their children have a great difficulty in learning about Math related topics but are afraid to have the child diagnosed.
School age children who suffer from Dyscalculia often have great difficulty in adjusting to the learning environment. Since very little is known about the illness, and even fewer teachers are aware that such a learning disability exists, the Dyscalculia student is made to suffer undue stress in the classroom. Even though an estimated 3%-6% of the population suffers from this learning problem, schools have not undertaken any procedures to help these children. That is because these figures represent only the purely Dyscalculia students who manage to do very well in their other areas of study.
Cognitive psychologists such as Brian Butterworth believe that the disability is an inability to conceptualize numbers as abstract concepts of comparative quantities. There are also some child experts who believe that there is a direct connection between Dyscalculia and Dyslexia as Dyslexia sufferers often exhibit problems learning their math lessons as well. They have an even greater difficulty in solving word problems because the brain misunderstands the written word.
“I remember my doctor telling me that I had a problem with numbers because my pencil test said so.” Jeremy recalls over a glass of soda and a slice of pizza. He had just joined our interview after a long eight grade day at school. “He asked me if I could read properly and I said I could. But he decided to have me tested for Dyslexia just the same.” He continued between bites.
Debbie further explained that, “He wanted to make sure that whatever was wrong with his math abilities, it would not affect the way that he learned in the other academic disciplines”.
People like Jeremy learn how to deal with the disability by working around it. Child learning experts agree that teachers and other educators must take the time to learn more about Dyscalculia than any other learning problem in their school. School counselors in particular, need to help the sufferers integrate into a school life where they are viewed as dumb and strange by their teachers and peers. Instead, they should advocate a shift in attitude that explains how Dyscalculaic people are not mentally handicapped. Rather, they just learn at a different pace and in a different way. Otherwise the child may decide to go down a different path that does not include completing his education.
Pierce Blaine grew up in a lower income community where the highest educational level achieved by anyone was a (GED). Although he developed at a normal pace as a child, he displayed the same math problems as Jeremy. Pierce’s problems remained unchecked and caused an unreasonable amount of stress on the boy. Since Pierce was unable to keep up with his peers at school, he was often stuck in remedial classes that did nothing to help him since the method of teaching was not geared towards the problem that he had. His parents became physically abusive of him out of sheer frustration at trying to teach him the rudiments of Math. The boy became withdrawn and morose. He dropped out of school and refused to go back. until one of his teachers, taking pity on him because of his uncertain future, learned about Dyscalculia and had him tested. “Going with my teacher to get tested was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.” He relates. “Before then I thought I was destined to live a gang members life”. With the proper teaching and learning adjustments in place, Pierce is now looking at becoming the first member of his family to graduate from High School.
So remember, if the numbers look like snakes to your child,he just can’t get those items grouped, and the Math symbols scare the bejeezus out of him, it may be time to get him pencil tested for Dyscalculia. If he can’t do the Math, it’s got to be Dyscalculia.