Blog 3: 19th February



I am often told by educationalists that it is bad to "label" people. All the dyscalculics I have worked with tell me that it is far, far better to be labelled dyscalculic than to be labelled stupid, not only because of the ways others see them, but, perhaps more importantly, how they see themselves.

There was a post on a dyscalculia facebook group earlier this year. It said "Do I tell my 10 year old about having dyscalculia? My doctor recommends not telling her, but she seems to be telling herself she is dumb." It has elicited 107 comments so far. Almost all of the comments rejected the doctor's advice.

Here are some examples.

  • I wish I was told. I would have been better at other subjects instead thinking I was stupid.

  • If I had known this as a child, I would not have grown up feeling inferior and stupid; I might have faced the terrible self-doubting teens without considering suicide; I would not have needed so much therapy to be able to live in my own skin.

  • I didn't get diagnosed with dyscalculia and dyspraxia until I was 38 and I wish I knew sooner.

  • I always wished I knew sooner. I wasn't diagnosed till I was almost 19 and almost all my life I thought I was stupid. When I was diagnosed everything clicked and made sense.

Of course, if she is not told, and finds out later that her suffering has been in vain for nothing, that could be a problem.

  • If you do keep it under wraps, when she does find out, guess who she will be mad at? and then she will question if you were embarrassed by her and something, you, nor she had no control over. I would question [the doctor's] ethics ?

Not only does it resolve personal insecurities, it can lead a better understanding of the problem, improve self-knowledge and self-esteem:

  • We told my son and I agree with everyone else. It actually helped his self-esteem to know he is NOT dumb, his brain just has to work a lot harder at math concepts than most people.

It can also can help define what the learner needs, at least in general terms, as in the following comment.

  • I knew when I was in grade school and it helped me understand myself a bit better. I never let it hold me back but knew WHY things were harder.

  • It's a learning difference and if she can get to understand what that really means then it will help her in the long run and be able to self advocate.

And it can lead to more appropriate methods of learning.

  • My daughter told me that doing math on a flat piece of paper just looks weird to her and visually bothers her. She said working on a whiteboard is a huge difference. I bought her a small whiteboard from Amazon and that's how she does her work. Her teacher also noticed that when she's working on the main class whiteboard (standing up) she seems to concentrate better.

I have argued that dyscalculia can be understood as a deficit in the most basic capacity for number - the "core deficit" - upon which everything in number work is built. What this means in practice is that most of what you find blindingly obvious Šso obvious, in fact, that you don't even realise that you know it - dyscalculics may struggle with. This is because the relationship between numbers and sets is not secure. Here are some things that you know that dyscalculics may not know:

Numbers are composed of other numbers: 4 can be composed of 1, 1, 1 and 1, or 2 and 2, etc. The parts of 4 are called "partitions" and there are 5 partitions of 4. These are very easy to see in terms of sets. □□□□ can be broken down into ones (□, □, □, □) into two subsets of two (□□, □□), etc.

Addition is commutative: 3 + 5 is the same as 5 + 3 □□□ + □□□□□ □□□□□ + □□□

Addition and subtraction are inverse operations: if 5 + 3 = 8, then 8 - 5 = 3 and 8 - 3 = 5 (□□□□□) (□□□)

Many good special needs teachers understand this analysis, even they have never heard of dyscalculia. So once you have the label, you can look for one of these teachers to help your child. It must be said, though, that few special needs teachers, and even fewer mainstream class teachers, have been specially trained to help dyscalculics. This is quite different from dyslexia, where there now are many properly trained teachers of dyslexic learners.

All is not lost. There are now several books of intervention schemes specially designed for dyscalculics based on this analysis:

One final comment:

  • I have some concerns that a doctor recommended that you not tell your daughter this. Time to find a new doctor.