Doing poorly in school traumatizes children. This is a fact that parents who watch their children struggle with schoolwork on a daily basis understand better than anyone.
But even parents may not realize just how lasting this trauma can be. Panicker and Chelliah (2016) concluded that children with learning disabilities exhibit chronically elevated levels of stress, and that stress is disruptive to brain development and learning. The trauma of doing poorly at school frequently results in the formation of negative thoughts that can be deep and lasting (Sapolsky, 2004). If left unchanged, a negative self-image can detrimentally impact a child’s life well beyond school.
Math and reading disabilities equally prevalent
Many people assume that the term learning disability refers to a reading disability. One often hears the saying, “A learning problem is a reading problem.” This, however, is not true. Among students classified as learning disabled, arithmetic difficulties are as prevalent as reading problems. McLeod and Crump found that about one-half of students with learning disabilities require supplemental work in mathematics.
In today’s world, mathematical knowledge, reasoning, and skills are also no less important than the ability to read. Whether in science, business, or daily living, we cannot escape the use of numbers. Every job, from the rocket scientist to the sheep herder, requires the use of math! No matter the country you live in, the language you speak, math is an unavoidable and required knowledge.
When extra support is not enough
Around 25 percent of students in a class are likely to struggle with math at some point during their education. Most of the time, these difficulties can be overcome with a little extra support. Sometimes, however, extra classes make little to no difference, as children have difficulty with math at a fundamental level, such as counting, recognizing numbers, forming numbers, understanding money, and telling time. They may also be unable to perform basic mathematics such as adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. Like written language, math is governed by many rules that must be followed to be successful. These children often have difficulty learning and remembering these rules (Franklin, 2018).
The word dyscalculia is often used to described mathematical difficulties of this nature. It is thought that around 6% of the population have dyscalculia, or roughly 1 in 20 people, with girls and boys being affected equally (Hornigold, 2015). Dyscalculia and dyslexia frequently occur together, which means that children with dyscalculia are also likely to have a hard time understanding written directions, examples, and word problems.
According to Franklin (2018) children with dyscalculia are more prone to math anxiety than other children. The catch-22 with math anxiety is that these children are less likely to engage in math-related activities, and therefore they fall farther behind their peers in math skill development. Falling behind exacerbates a child’s level of anxiety, which in turn diminishes his or her desire to engage in mathematics. And so it goes.
Early intervention essential
Early intervention is essential to minimize the impact a learning disability can have on your child. If you recognize that your child is struggling with the spoken or written word, or with mathematics, no matter how old he or she is, you should intervene as soon as possible.
In Part 2 of this article we’ll explore the symptoms of dyscalculia.
Franklin, D. (2018). Helping your child with language-based learning disabilities. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Hornigold, J. (2015). Dyscalculia pocketbook. Alresford, Hampshire: Teachers’ Pocketbooks.
McLeod, T., Crump, W. (1978). The relationship of visuospatial skills and verbal ability to learning disabilities in mathematics. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 4, 237–241.
Panicker, A., Chelliah, A. (2016). Resilience and stress in children and adolescents with specific learning disability. Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 25, 17–23.
Sapolsky, R. M. (2004). Why zebras don’t get ulcers: The acclaimed guide to stress, stress-related diseases, and coping, 3rd ed. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.