It is estimated that seven percent of the population has a neurocognitive disorder that inhibits the acquisition of basic numerical and arithmetic concepts. Called dyscalculia, the problem does not get as much attention as the more familiar reading disorder, dyslexia. There is a concentrated effort by educators and scientists to remedy the lack of attention and to create assistive technologies.
Specialized software such as DynamoMath is necessary to help math-disabled students
Until better funding and more research into the cause can be achieved, remedial methods are recommended. Specialized software programs must be developed to help affected individuals grasp what numbers are all about.
Research suggests that the disability has a genetic component that is yet to be pinpointed. However, four years ago a research team at University College London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience discovered that the right parietal lobe is responsible for dyscalculia.
The scientists were able to cause dyscalculia in normal subjects using neuronavigated transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to stimulate the brain. Dr. Roi Cohen Kadosh said the study was an important step towards achieving early diagnosis through analysis of neural tissue, which in turn will lead to earlier treatments and more effective remedial teaching.
People with dyscalculia don?t understand the relationship between numbers
Examples of symptoms of the disability that may be noticed in individuals with dyscalculia were given in Science Daily:
- Doing addition problems by counting on their fingers.
- Determining which playing card is larger 4 or 7, they may count all the symbols on each card.
- Counting up from 60 in tens, they say ’60, 70, 80, 90, 100, 200, 300?.
Dr. Diana Laurillard, is a professor of Learning with Digital Technologies at the Institute of Education, London. She is one of the proponents of shining more light on the problems of dyscalculia. Dr. Laurillard told BSN*:
"Although they [dyscalculic individuals] can count, they do not see the relationships between the numbers – e.g. that 5 is made up of 2 and 3. For them it is just a sequence, like the alphabet – we do not see E as made up of B and C, because it’s not, it’s just later in the sequence. But the counting sequence is different – 5 is later in the sequence, but it is also made up from 2 and 3. So dyscalculics need a program that shows them how numbers work together to make other numbers, because this is the basis of arithmetic."
Laurillard goes on to point out that the software used in training must be adaptive, adjusting the difficulty in relation to how well the learner is doing, just as a special needs teacher would do. The person must be able to do the current task, but be challenging enough to keep their interest. The software should be fun, not just drills, and must make numbers meaningful by showing the relationship between the numbers and "how the number sequence refers to a sequence of collections of things each of which is larger than the previous one." Dyscalculics need many such programs, and the professor is concerned because most software companies target mainstream learners, not the disabled.
Brian Butterworth, an authority on the disability, has developed The Dyscalculia Screener which is available on line. It helps to discriminate between dyscalculic students and other pupils. The Developing Number Sense website provides links to several resources. A video introducing a DynamoMaths program geared specifically for dyscalculics can be seen here.