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When Trouble With Math Equals a Learning Disability

Our series on learning disabilities continues with a report on dyscalculia. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

So far in our series on learning disabilities we have talked about problems with reading, writing and movement. Today we talk about a problem that affects the brain's ability to process and understand the meaning of numbers. The name for this is dyscalculia.

Children with dyscalculia have trouble reading numbers and picturing them in their mind. For example, they might mistake a three for an eight because the numbers look similar. They also have trouble counting objects and organizing them by size.

Memory is another issue. Children with dyscalculia may not remember the correct order of operations to follow in solving math problems.

Difficulties like these can lead to a lifelong fear of mathematics.

Of course, just because people have trouble with math does not necessarily mean they have dyscalculia. But experts say parents and teachers may begin to suspect a problem if a child is good at speaking, reading and writing but slow to develop math skills.

Does a child remember printed words but not numbers? Does the child have trouble making sense of time or understanding the order of events, like yesterday, today and tomorrow?

People with dyscalculia might also have a poor sense of direction. They might have difficulty keeping score during games, and limited ability to plan moves during games like chess.

Children suspected of being dyscalculic should be examined by a professional trained to recognize this condition. Experts say the disorder never goes away. But Sheldon Horowitz at the National Center for Learning Disabilities says carefully designed practice can improve math skills.

For example, a teacher might use a number line to help a child understand the difference between larger and smaller numbers. The child could be asked to point to different numbers and to describe their relationship to other numbers on the line.

Or objects could be grouped to represent numbers. Something else that can help children understand number relationships is to have a math problem described in the form of a story.

Experts say students with dyscalculia need extra time to complete their work. Sheldon Horowitz also advises letting them work with a calculator in school.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Nancy Steinbach. Transcripts and MP3s from our series on learning disabilities are at I'm Bob Doughty.