Dyscalculia and Brain Activity-The Connection

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MEDICALLY REVIEWED BY NUMBERDYSLEXIA’S MEDICAL REVIEW PANEL ON JUNE 24, 2020

The fear of Mathematics and numbers is called Dyscalculia which is a learning disability also termed as number blindness.Extensive studies have recorded that nearly 7% of the population with average intelligence have the problem. The innate number sense of the human brain is not in sync in dyscalculics as numerical ability relies on special brain networks.

The theory that separates Dyscalculia from other deficiencies of memory, language and memory is that the approximate number sense gets severely affected. Common symptom that defines the problem is the inability to recognize the place value system. The mathematical ability of people who are unable to grasp the recognition pattern of small numbers is impaired significantly.

Brain Function In Dyscalculia Sufferers

The inability to properly estimate and grasp quantifiable figures is the hallmark of Dyscalculia.The disability signifies the inability or impaired ability to recognize small numbers. The brain scans of persons suffering from this issue show that the intraparietal sulci show less activity and are less connected with the greater brain when dealing with numbers.

Other learning disabilities like dyslexia and aligned problems like ADHD and autism spectrum disorder is also common in dyscalculics.

The treatment becomes a little complex as it is difficult to separate the issues. These comorbidities often make the diagnosis difficult.

 The neuronal basis of Dyscalculia is not widely studied due to this phenomenon. Several neuroimaging studies have detailed the representation and processing of numerical information, but no comprehensive and conclusive findings are available. There are many forms of Dyscalculia, and some of them are associated with demonstrated alterations in metabolism, brain structure and function.

Developmental Dyscalculia

Developmental Dyscalculia tends to present as abnormalities in the parietal cortex and involves the cortical and subcortical regions. Recent studies have given clarity on brain activity during number processing as well as calculation. The IPS or intraparietal sulcus is known to be the centre for numerical processing. Research has illustrated that the IPS is activated when mathematical tasks and even simple counting exercises are carried out.

Memory, perceptual, spatial and motor functions are also involved in the process. Attention is also a key factor. The cognitive processes that are involved in calculation tasks add to the complexity. Developmental Dyscalculia (DD) demonstrates deficits in core brain regions associated with number processing. The brain activation pattern is also not adequate in children afflicted with DD. The gap is bridged with the child resorting to finger counting and memory to compensate.

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The need for remediation measures and education for children with special needs is the need of the hour. There are some steps taken in this direction by experts, but the gap is much more significant than the remedy. Urgent intervention is needed to collate research findings and create practical special education resources to help children suffering from DD.

Practical Application of Research in Educational Processes for Special Needs

The first step is to recognize that the child has a problem. Unfortunately, the children suffering from Developmental Dyscalculia are not even diagnosed in time to help them. They are often labelled as slow or below average and are left to fend on their own. The need of the hour is to educate parents and educationists alike about the existence of DD and how it affects the child. 

Academic and emotional negligence often tortures the otherwise intelligent child. They are special and hence need proper guidance and help, more than the other children. They may be subjected to bullying and rampant ignoring in the classroom. Teachers need to be sensitized about the occurrence and issues related to Dyscalculia as they are prone to dismiss the condition as a lack of general intelligence. There are few practical steps that can be taken to ensure that the child finds a way to cope with the problem and even overcome it to a certain extent.

Break the task into subsets to facilitate learning

Students suffering from Dyscalculia have an innate tendency to be overwhelmed when presented with complex concepts. This is magnified when they also present with comorbid conditions like ADHD and Dyslexia. If the task that the child is given is complex with many steps to its completion, it can pose a big problem. This is especially true if the basis of the said task is a series of steps that require prior knowledge of the concept. For all practical purposes, the child does not have the ability to retain the same from earlier lessons.

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The solution to the problem is to break the concept down into manageable components that can be completed one at a time. The smaller segments of the task can help the student focus. It will also help avoid overload and help the child see patterns and connections. In due course of patient training, the student will be able to complete the task given correctly.

Write out or talk the student through the task

Mathematical concepts can be abstract and numerical representations a squiggle on the page for a child suffering from DD. The solution is simple. The task has to be explained through talk or by writing it out in words. Positioning the word problems in a more straightforward and organized way to make sense to the dyscalculic student can be the way out. 

Draw the problem on paper

Dyscalculic children are visual learners. The teacher can draw the problem for the child to help explain the concept and the relationship between the symbols. The technique involves teaching the student to illustrate the problem with visual imagery that reflects the concept involved. The drawing should also showcase the way to reach the solution.

Usage of Real-life cues 

Objects that personify numbers and the problem in hand can be of immeasurable help to DD afflicted students. The complicated math problem can be practically related to examples from real day to day life to explain the concept and draw out relationships between numbers. Measuring cups, rulers and other objects that are countable and can be manipulated can help the child to make the concept more real than abstract. For example, if you have to subtract, the objects can be counted and removed physically. The child will gradually learn to solve complex problems in this manner.

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Review and repeat the problem

It is often seen that DD patients struggle to retain problems that involve numbers and mathematical information. As retention is minimal, it becomes difficult to build on previous concepts. This is a skill that can be built by sheer repetition. Frequent repetition can help the child retain previous information successfully. The use of visual cue cards and diagrams are best to achieve retention and the ability to use the retained data.

Conclusion

Professional help can help dyscalculic students learn to use the ways mentioned above to master mathematics. The trick is to detect the problem early and provide practical support to learn in a way that makes sense to the child. It is not the end of the road if a child is found to be suffering from Dyscalculia, it merely reiterates the need to find innovative ways to teach concepts in the manner that the child can follow, build on and retain.


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