Understanding Dyscalculia – Part 3

Our two previous blogs discuss dyscalculia in detail. Now that we know a little bit more, what can we do to help our learners?

Tutor tips (For the tutor and the parents):

  • Use concrete examples that connect math to real life. For instance, use examples that include their favourite things or shopping. This helps to strengthen your learner’s number sense.
  • Use visual aids when solving problems. Draw pictures or move around physical objects. Teachers and tutors can refer to this as “manipulatives”
  • Assign manageable amounts of work so your tutee will not feel overloaded
  • Review a recently learned skill before moving on to a new one, and explain how the skills are related
  • Supervise work and encourage your learner to talk through the problem-solving process. This can help ensure your tutee is using the right math rules and formulas
  • Break new lessons into smaller parts that help to show how different skills relate to the new concept
  • Let your tutee use graph paper to help keep numbers lined up or in columns
  • Use an extra piece of paper to cover up most of what’s on a math test so your tutee can focus on one problem at a time
  • Playing math-related games helps your learner have fun and to feel more comfortable with math
    • Answer fewer questions on a test and allocate more time for your tutee to finish a test
    • Record lessons and lectures
    • Use a calculator in class
  • Boost confidence:Identify your tutee’s strengths and use them to work on (or around) weaknesses. Activities that tap into your tutees interests and abilities can help improve self-esteem and increase your learner’s resilience. Try to pace yourself during your tutoring sessions and do not use more than one strategy at a time. This makes it easier to tell which ones are producing a good result and which are not
  • Help your learner keep track of time:Whether it is a hand on the shoulder, a few key words or an alarm; have systems in place to remind your time-challenged tutee when to start the next activity.
  • See what it feels like:Try to experience what it is like to have dyscalculia. Acknowledging that you understand what your learner is going through is another way to boost his or her confidence and to improve your own level of understanding
  • Be upbeat:Let your tutee know when you see him or her do something well. Praising effort and genuine achievement can help your learner feel loved and supported. It can also give your tutee the confidence to work harder!
  • Support, patience and understanding are key!

If you would like a tutor to assist your child or learner, contact BrightSparkz Tutors today!

Understanding Dyscalculia – Part 2

In our previous blog, an expansive amount of information was provided to help you (as a tutor or parent) to identify the symptoms of dyscalculia. Unfortunately, dyscalculia has also been known to affect other aspects of learner’s lives.

Other effects of dyscalculia include:

  • Social skills:Failing repeatedly in math class can cause your learner to assume failure is unavoidable in other areas too. Low self-esteem can affect your learner’s inclination to make new friends or to partake in afterschool activities. Some learners might also avoid playing games and sports that involve math and keeping score.
  • Sense of direction:Some learners might struggle to differentiate left from right and may have trouble getting places by reading maps or following directions. Some learners with dyscalculia cannot picture things in their minds.
  • Physical coordination:Dyscalculia can affect how the brain and eyes work together. Because of this, your learner may have problems judging distances between objects. Certain learners may seem clumsier than others the same age.
  • Money management:Dyscalculia can make it difficult to stick to a budget, to balance a checkbook, and to estimate costs. It can also make it hard to calculate a tip and count exact change.
  • Time management:Dyscalculia can affect your learner’s ability to measure quantities, including units of time. Learners may have trouble assessing how long a minute is or to keep track of how much time has passed. This can make it hard to stick to a schedule.
  • Other skills:A learner may have trouble figuring out how much of an ingredient to use in a recipe. Learners might have a hard time estimating how fast another car is moving or how far away it is.

There are various other learning disabilities that are SOMETIMES associated with dyscalculia:

  • Dyslexia, or difficulty reading
  • Attention difficulties
  • Spatial difficulties (not good at drawing, visualisation, remembering arrangements of objects, understanding time/direction)
  • Short term memory difficulties (the literature on the relation between these and dyscalculia is very controversial)
  • Poor coordination of movement (dyspraxia)

Because there is still so much we do not know about dyscalculia, no definitive cause has been found. However, there are some ideas that researchers are still studying.

Possible Causes of Dyscalculia:

  • Genes and heredity:Studies of dyscalculia show it is more common in some families than others are. Researchers have found that a child with dyscalculia often has a parent or sibling with similar math issues. So dyscalculia may be genetic
  • Brain development:Researchers are using modern brain imaging tools to study the brains of people with and without math issues. What we learn from this research will help us understand how to help learners with dyscalculia. Some studies have also found differences in the surface area, thickness and volume of parts of the brain. Those areas are linked to learning and memory, setting up and monitoring tasks and remembering math facts
  • Environment:Dyscalculia has been linked to contact with alcohol in the womb. Prematurity and low birth weight may also play a role in dyscalculia.
  • Brain injury:Some studies show that injury to certain parts of the brain can result in what researchers call “acquired dyscalculia.”

The most plausible cause for dyscalculia is due to a difference in brain function. Unfortunately, many people think that because it is in the brain, it cannot be changed but this is not true. There are many support systems and tutors available to help your leaner cope with their dyscalculia.

What Does This Mean?

The brain is a highly adaptable organ (most especially during childhood) and research has indicated that certain training programs can increase the functioning in brain areas involved with reading, and so researches are hopeful that the same is applicable for mathematics. For children with dyscalculia, it is unclear how much of their brain differences are shaped by genetics and how much by their experiences. Researchers are trying to learn if certain interventions for dyscalculia can “rewire” a learner’s brain to make math easier. This concept is known as “neuroplasticity” and has been shown to work in people with dyslexia.

What Do I Do?

If during your tutoring sessions, you suspect that your learner may be suffering from dyscalculia, it is your responsibility to keep record of your tutee’s difficulties. You then need to communicate your thoughts to your learner’s parents. The learner’s parents should discuss any concerns with the learner’s teachers who will ascribe a school therapist or specialist. The specialist will ask you, the tutor, the parents and the teachers various questions as well as chat to the learner to discern whether the learner does in fact have dyscalculia or perhaps a different learning disability.

If your learner does have dyscalculia, there are many things that you can implement and do during your tutoring sessions to help him or her with their studies and academic outlook. Our next blog will list important hints and helpful tips to use during your tutoring sessions (or as a parent) J!

If you would like a tutor to assist your child or learner, contact BrightSparkz Tutors today!

Understanding Dyscalculia – Part 1

Despite the fact that Dyscalculia affects around 6% of the general population, many learners, tutors and educators are unfamiliar with the specifics. The next few blogs will cover some important aspects of dyscalculia, what is entails, the symptoms, the diagnosing of dyscalculia, various effects, and more. I hope you find this helpful!

What is Dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia is a learning disability that affects one’s ability to do mathematics and to grasp mathematical concepts. Learners with dyscalculia struggle to learn mathematics and to develop mathematical skills despite an adequate learning environment at home and at school. There are different severities of dyscalculia and learners will react or adapt to each differently. Some learners might work hard to memorise simple number facts. Other learners may know what to do but not understand the reason behind certain mathematical methods or steps. This is likely because learners with dyscalculia are not able to see the logic behind mathematics. Learners with less severe dyscalculia might understand the logic behind maths but are unsure how and when to apply their knowledge when solving mathematical problems.

Dyscalculia affects people throughout their lifespan. Children with dyscalculia tend to begin falling behind from as early as primary school. Oftentimes, learners may develop a strong dislike for mathematics as a result. Once learners reach secondary school, they usually struggle to pass maths and science subjects.

Warning Signs of Dyscalculia:

Dyscalculia comprises various types of mathematical difficulties. Your learner’s symptoms may not look exactly like those of another learner. Observing your learner and taking notes to share with teachers and doctors are good ways to find the most effective approaches and support for your learner. While the signs of dyscalculia look dissimilar at different ages, it does tend to become more apparent as kids get older but it can be detected as early as preschool. There is not sufficient research done on dyscalculia and so there is also no definitive list of symptoms and other than the obvious difficulty with mathematics, we know very little about what symptoms continue through to adolescence and adulthood. Because dyscalculia is best monitored and helped when spotted as early as possible, the following list has been comprised to help you identify any presently known symptoms:

Warning Signs in Preschool or Kindergarten

  • Has trouble learning to count, especially when it comes to assigning each object in a group a number
  • Has trouble recognizing number symbols, such as making the connection between “7” and the wordseven
  • Struggles to connect a number to a real-life situation, such as knowing that “3” can apply to any group that has three things in it; 3 cookies, 3 cars, 3 kids, etc.
  • Has trouble remembering numbers, skips numbers, or counts in the wrong order
  • Finds it hard to recognize patterns and to sort items by size, shape or colour
  • Avoids playing games that involve numbers, counting and other math concepts

Warning Signs in Grades 7 – 9:

  • Has trouble distinguishing numbers from symbols
  • Has trouble learning and remembering basic math facts, such as 2 + 4 = 6
  • Struggles to identify mathematical signs (+-) and use them correctly
  • May continue to use fingers to count instead of using more sophisticated strategies
  • Has trouble writing numerals clearly or putting them in the correct column
  • Has trouble coming up with a plan to solve a math problem
  • Struggles to understand words related to math, such asgreater than and less than
  • Has trouble telling left from his right, and even a poor sense of direction
  • Has difficulty remembering phone numbers and game scores
  • Avoids playing games that involve number strategies
  • Has trouble telling time 

Warning Signs in High School

  • Struggles to apply math concepts to everyday life, including monetary matters such as estimating the total cost, making exact change and figuring out a tip
  • Has trouble measuring things such as ingredients in a simple recipe
  • Struggles finding his or her way around and worries about getting lost
  • Has a hard time grasping information shown on graphs or charts
  • Has trouble finding and using different approaches to the same math problem
  • Learners may lack assurance in activities that entail estimating speed and distance, such as playing sports and learning to drive


The following are likely to be symptoms of dyscalculia:

  • Difficulty imagining a mental number line
  • Particular difficulty with subtraction
  • Difficulty using finger counting (slow, inaccurate, unable to immediately recognise finger configurations)
  • Difficulty decomposing numbers (e.g. recognizing that 10 is made up of 4 and 6)
  • Difficulty understanding place value
  • Trouble learning and understanding reasoning methods and multi-step calculation procedures
  • Anxiety about or a negative attitude towards maths (caused by the dyscalculia)

Now that you are aware of the many and varied symptoms of dyscalculia, it will be easy for you as a tutor to spot any correlations or learning disabilities should your learner ever have. If, during your tutoring sessions, you notice your learner experiencing difficulty, it is important that you keep a record and then speak to his or her parents about your concerns.

The next blog will briefly list how dyscalculia is diagnosed and discuss various other effects of dyscalculia. If you have any further information or experiences, please write in and let us fellow tutors know!

If you would like a tutor to assist your child or learner, contact BrightSparkz Tutors today!