View Full Version : Dyscalculia - what made you suspect?

09-03-2015, 09:37 AM
I've mentioned on other threads, I think, that I've started to wonder if DS has dyscalculia. We've always struggled to find math that he can engage with, which was probably mostly my problem, as it's a subject i enjoy and comes easily to me. He grasps certain areas really quickly and easily, but things like basic addition facts seem to elude him. He was working on MobyMax for a while and remembering them, but when it came to using them in another context, he couldn't remember them at all. We started RightStart a couple of months ago because I know their focus in on number sense, and it does seem to be helping. However, he still struggles with that basic number sense.

Question is: how did it become apparent to you that this was not just a lack of practice or age thing and that there really was an underlying issue? I think that the RightStart programme is a good one for him, so maybe either way we just stick with it, but I don't want to get to a point in x years that I should have done something else sooner...

Thanks for the advice/experience!

09-03-2015, 10:11 AM
DD does not have a diagnosis of dyscalculia (has not been evaluated) but here are the things that make me suspect it:

She has really poor number sense and great difficulty memorizing math facts. For example, if I ask her what 8 + 5 is, she might guess 9. The fact that 9 is only 1 more than 8, but we're trying to add 5 to it, tells me she just doesn't have a good sense of the numbers. If she guessed even 11 that would make more sense than 9. Addition and subtraction facts seem almost random to her. I have even heard her guess that 9 + 9 is 8, because I taught her the trick of adding 10 and subtracting 1, but she might forget to add 10. But 8 seems to be a perfectly reasonable answer to her.

Additionally, we have to use special templates that I prepared so she can do long division, otherwise she will make major errors in lining up the columns. Long division has many difficult spots for her. First, she has not memorized her multiplication tables. (I let her refer to a printed one). Second, she needs visual assistance lining up the columns. Third, there are several steps that have to be done in the correct order (divide, multiply, subtract, bring down), and just keeping these seemingly arbitrary set of steps in the correct order can be somewhat trying to her. Fourth, she has difficulty knowing when she is done (she might stop too early and not catch a remainder, for example).

She had difficulty choosing the correct operation for a word problem. I think this is tied to the number sense issue. Let's say the problem is that there are 60 cookies to be divided evenly among 12 kids. She was likely to try multiplying 60 times 12 for the answer, or even adding 60 plus 12. It was all random to her; the way she saw it math was just sticking a couple of numbers together in one way or another and who knew which was the right one? Fortunately, we have been able to improve this issue pretty well.

I guess overall the theme is that it just doesn't make sense to her, it's just this confusing mashing of numbers together in some random fashion. Like you say, DD is actually ok with many higher concepts, but the basic mechanics elude her - and sometimes that can make the concepts themselves more difficult.

09-03-2015, 11:45 AM
Yes, that sounds familiar, especially the first part you said.

09-03-2015, 01:57 PM
I used to think dyscalculia was just a silly made-up thing (honestly!), until a friend heard me moaning about my daughter's poor grasp of math. My friend told me to look it up. Here are just a few things that caught my attention from the lists I found online:

Number sense - she has a hard time understanding the difference between one thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand. Even if we work on it a lot, she'll easily forget. Even more practical questions like "how many teenagers were there at camp last week?" She has no idea. She definitely knows it was more than 10 or 20, but was it 50 kids or 100 kids? Absolutely no idea.

Sense of direction - this is the child who got lost trying to find her way home from the playground at age 6, the same playground she walked to every single day for a year (she was with a babysitter, who also didn't know her way around)

Sense of time - she still has trouble reading an analog clock, and doesn't have a strong internal sense of how long 15 minutes or 45 minutes or 2 hours feels. I can't say to "call me at 4pm and let me know if you need a ride home." She has to set an alarm to remind herself to call me because she has no idea when it's 4pm.

Games - she has always resisted any kind of board games or card games that have anything to do with logic, strategy, or counting. They are just not fun for her. At all.

Memorizing anything like gymnastics routines, simple choreography in a dance routine, etc... (which is kind of a problem if you love musical theatre).

Math is just the most obvious place where these various issues reveal themselves. Fortunately, she is very, very smart in other ways, and strangely, tested very high with spatial relationships, which usually helps people be good at math, so she can kind of use her strengths to work on her weaknesses. The last couple of years have been interesting.

09-03-2015, 02:38 PM
Elly, my son was the same way. Could grasp number facts in and of themselves. But try to use them in another context (multi-step problem, for example) and he would "lose" that info. It turned out to be a rather severe working memory deficit. He did have developmental vision issues, as well, and that affected his ability to do math, too. So we did vision therapy, and while it helped in his ability to see, write, and add columns of numbers correctly (and many other things outside of math), there were still issues with math. We had a full assessment with an educational psychologist (we privately hired) and using the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Cognitive Abilities (WJ-III) they figured out what was going on. He will begin therapy for this issue in a few weeks. And, I am learning scaffolding to set up to help him manage this, and over time, he will learn how to do that himself. It does (and will in the future) affect much more than math (for example - multi-tasking at a job, driving a car, remembering to check on your baby, etc.)

What made it apparent to me? Working on 4th grade math for a year and having very little of it stick. He could still ace standardized tests, because he was smart enough to figure out which multiple choice answer worked by plugging it in and working enough of the problem to see if it worked or not, and common sense to rule out the obviously incorrect answers. But give him the same math problem to solve, with no multiple choice answers and he'd get lost in the process. We tried a second year of 4th grade math, and only got half way through it, and no matter how many times he tried to do multi-step problems (say 2 digit number times a 2 digit number), it just was not sinking in. Actually, the process of doing it - he could explain. But the actual DOING it - he'd get lost, start adding the whole problem after he carried a ten, forget his times tables facts because he was trying to manage the many steps of the problem. And long division? Forget it. WAY too much to keep track of, too many steps.

DS is a 2E kid, which I suspect yours may be, as well, if my memory is correct on what you have shared about your DS. So one of the things he was experiencing with this was terrible frustration. He knew he KNEW this stuff. He picks stuff up so quickly, he reads and knows history, geography, and science many grade levels above his age, but there are things that when there are many steps, he just gets lost, or forgets. And he gets so frustrated with himself for "acting stupid". It's been very heartbreaking to watch. I had never heard of working memory issues, so this has been a learning experience for me, as well. I was expecting a dyscalculia or non-verbal learning disorder diagnosis, because I knew something was going on. I wish I had done the testing earlier.

09-03-2015, 07:35 PM
^^ yes, he learned to read really easily - he obviously has a great sense for language (which I think helps him a bit - he actually finds word problems easier, I think because they have meaning and context). I do think that part of the frustration with maths is that it isn't something that comes so easily and not being able to do it frustrates him.

So how do you go about getting testing? I feel like I'd like to give Right Start a bit longer, but it's in the back of my mind. At least then, when he's counting on his fingers or needs extra help, I have something to offer :O


09-04-2015, 09:19 AM
Elly, that is my DS, too. He would rather do word problems all day long rather than see a stack of numbers and symbols to keep track of.

For us, we googled for "educational psychologist" and "educational testing" and found a Nationally Certified School Psychologist in our area. In our initial phone consultation, we shared what DS's struggles were, how frustrated he was, what his strengths seemed to be, and which issues were on our radar that we wanted to rule out (or in) such as dyscalculia or NVLD, and basically get a good overview of strengths and weaknesses.

Our situation was a bit different in that my DS spent the past 8 years on many, many therapies and did have a brief assessment at age 5 from the local PS. It wasn't as detailed and at that time he had some pretty severe issues with his speech and ability to function, so I had no idea how accurate that testing was.

The testing we had done this time was relatively simple and only took about 2-3 hours. The psychologist was willing to break it up over 2 days if my son would have needed that. In our situation, with traveling and vacations (both us and the psychologist) it took 6 weeks to get results. Though not inexpensive, the test results were significantly more helpful than I anticipated. It explained so much about how DS learns and functions. The psychologist gave us recommendations for therapies to investigate and ways to work within DS's limits and maximize his strengths (long term memory, reading, writing, & verbal skills) to help him manage the weaknesses. We are now approaching math in an entirely new way, customized for his needs, and it really didn't have any bearing on curriculum choice, as much as the approach we now use.

The testing absolutely confirmed for us that homeschooling is the best, and probably the only, choice for DS right now, too. The psychologist shared that even though DS's working memory deficits are severe and he'd probably always struggle in math without a lot of intervention, he also is doing work in a few subjects many grade levels above his age. Yet, at PS he would not currently qualify for an IEP! The psychologist says he really does need his learning/teaching adapted, because of the extremely wide gap between strengths and challenges.

Since DS can manage to get top scores on standardized testing (which is an ability to test well, more than proof of mastering the material), PS's in our state would not give him an IEP but he would fail math without interventions to adapt it to his working memory disability, and is already 2 grade levels behind on math from the time we needed to resolve his vision issues! It was validating to hear that his struggles and frustration (and mine) are real and have a legitimate reason, that he is learning many grades above his age level in certain areas -and he IS able to continue with that (sometimes well meaning relatives, therapists, doctors, etc. question if he can REALLY be learning what he's working on at his age), that his strengths can be adapted to help him with the challenges, and that homeschooling can make the best of both his challenges and strengths, by teaching him what those are, and how to set up his studying in ways that work best for him going forward. It helped DS to know he wasn't "stupid", there was a reason for his struggles, and we can do something about it, even if it is just knowing how to change his approach to learning something.

09-04-2015, 10:19 AM
Thanks, that's so helpful and runs roughly along the lines I was thinking. I think I might give it a few more months and see how it goes. At least right now we are DOING math, rather than him just freaking out as happened for so long, so there might be progress. I don't know how much of it is that he needed a different approach, as it does seem like RS is helping.


09-04-2015, 10:29 AM
I was pretty sure this was the case with my youngest. We spent kinder, 1st and beginning of 2nd working on addition up to 10. He couldn't get it. He had to think about how many fingers he had. Then...we tried Right Start. What a load of difference that made! He could "see" the abacus in his head. We played Go Fish addition pairs up to 10. He got it! He is now 5th grade and moving along. Still doesn't have totally firm times table, but I am okay with that. The one thing I found with Right Start is to do the program exactly how it says...if you don't...you will miss something you need later.

09-04-2015, 11:23 AM
Ejsmom, so glad the wait paid off!!! My goodness, you must be relieved.

Elly, dd was diagnosed with ADD (inattentive type) pretty young, like 6. Even knowing what she had, we had her fully tested with a method very similar to what EJ was tested with (am at office now and cannot access paperwork) at 8.5...they really don't suggest testing any earlier than that because really it's checking development too. Short story is kiddo wasn't reading at end of 2nd grade and after hearing all the Montessori blahblah about "kids developing at their own pace" we took no chances and got the full monty of testing...mainly because LDs can hide in kids with ADD. Results were no lds but for sure working memory deficits that are quite common anyway with ADD, and NO dyscalculia.

But...well. DD is math-resistant for sure and still at 11.5 won't or can't do her times tables. Great with the big picture lousy with the 12 steps to get there. We just go slowly. Writing and calculating are just slow processes with her; she slogs through and gets it done, but she's still young enough that it's mostly disinterest that drags out the process.

I have loved the samples Ronit Bird puts on her website.

09-04-2015, 12:48 PM
To be fair, I never mastered my tables either, although I remember spending ages trying. I got a masters degree in engineering and worked in the space industry. I think I have pretty good number sense, though ;)


Norm Deplume
09-04-2015, 01:47 PM
To be fair, I never mastered my tables either, although I remember spending ages trying. I got a masters degree in engineering and worked in the space industry. I think I have pretty good number sense, though ;)

My son has struggled with learning his math facts, too. I was never very good at it either (so many hours of drill with my parents, and I still can't tell you what 9x6 is). For a while I wondered if he had dyscalculia. But after learning recently about my 19-yo nephew's lack of number sense (he even struggles to count money), I stopped worrying so much about DS.

03-29-2016, 10:20 AM
I grew up with dyscalculia and eventually got an engineering degree...

I went to public school, but my mom spent two years drilling multiplication tables in the car, at home or at the grocery store with me. I still have a hard time remembering numbers (it takes me about 2 years to remember a new phone number) and I have a very hard time telling right from left, but with lots of repetition and help it works.