How exactly does Dyscalculia affect our Number Sense?

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REVIEWED BY NUMBERDYSLEXIA’S EXPERT PANEL ON MAY 26, 2022

Understanding the actual reason behind a disability is important to come up with fitting strategies. You may be aware that Dyscalculia is all about shortcomings in learning numbers and math concepts. But what leads to this instability is to unveil. What makes this important is that the individual can be better aware of what care they can take and also to make sure it can be cured or to be managed. 

Here you will find out the truth behind the condition and also the neural background. With these insights, you can clearly make out what strategies are needed to handle Dyscalculia.

Understanding the essence of dyscalculia

Dyscalculia is a learning disability in which the individual may face challenges in acquiring math concepts- especially number sense. Apart from the definition, it is important to note how exactly this affects an individual with numbers

dyscalculia

Learning difficulties have decades of history. Looking into history, Dyscalculia was coined by Dr. Gerstmann in 1940 when he addressed a rare neurological disorder as a result of brain injury. In the 1990s, further in-depth research was done by David Geary in the fields of semantic, procedural, and visual-spatial memory and its link with math.

Today, with growing awareness of learning disabilities like Dyslexia and Dyscalculia, people are showing better interest in comprehending them in detail. Thankfully, recent studies brought out crucial insights about the same. 

Dyscalculia- Is it only about number sense?

Dyscalculia is defined as the condition in which an individual can face challenges to deal with number sense and related concepts in math. Right from elementary concepts like multiplication and fractions to higher-order notions like geometry and Calculus, this condition needs the individuals to come up with some strategies to compete effortlessly. 

While the definition speaks about the condition and related challenges in math-related concepts, it is seen that this condition can have an impact on other subjects in academics as well. Individuals may feel arduous in physics concepts like circuits and optics. In chemistry, comprehending the analytic reactions and atomic number retention may be the area to address. In drawing, proportions, and in physical education, spatial awareness may impact. 

Not only in other subjects, but Dyscalculia also has a reasonable effect on real-life too. This can start from looking at the clock, shopping at a grocery store, or even executive functioning too. 

Despite the varying levels of impact in multiple areas of life, the central reason behind this is almost the same- the difficulty in grasping the number sense. This makes it important to understand what makes this condition affects arithmetic abilities. 

The science behind dyscalculia and number sense

Occasional challenges with numbers can be manageable, but longer issues are often tagged with Dyscalculia.  To understand it further, comprehending the actual science behind it can give out a clearer idea. 

science behind dyscalculia

1. Cognition of Number Sense concepts- The Brain Process behind it

The ability to understand math is often linked to the intellectual levels of individuals. However, busting these myths with the results of some neuroimaging experiments resulted in a much clearer picture of what exactly a person with a learning disability like dyscalculia can go through.

Brian Butterworth[1]  in one of his researches observed in detail the functioning of the brain while number sense is acquired. 

He outlined with a demonstration that neurological experiments show the role of parietal lobes – especially the left side in grasping complex numeric tasks. Another interesting fact is that the organizations of number-related facts are not stable. They shift from one subnetwork to another while the individuals learn new information. To facilitate this, an internal brain component, intraparietal sulci (IPS) in the parietal lobe plays an important role. 

IPS is responsible for the presentations of numbers and magnitudes in the brain in the form of arrays. It is also important for processing this information. Consequently, if the function of IPS is affected by stimulations like magnetic, the numeric processing may get affected.

2. The science behind Brain Executive Functioning – And its relation to Math

Butterworth analyzed patterns of both adults and children to study their parietal lobes bilaterally towards changes in magnitudes. This was the base to see how they respond to number sense abilities. It was observed that there was development in the capabilities in the sense that these arithmetic activities shifted from frontal areas and temporal areas to parietal and occipital-temporal areas- this way the brain can facilitate better executive functioning. 

3. Effect of Dyscalculia on the Brain- Its effect on Number sense and Executive Functioning.

Butterworth observed that the core reason for Dyscalculia is the reduced activation of gray matter and the right side of the IPS. This means that the IPS and gray parts of the brain are less developed in these special individuals. 

Also, some important observations were revealed through the diffusion tensor imaging trajectory done by Elena Rykhlevskaia[2]. These showed that there is a difference in connectivity of parietal regions, and occipitotemporal regions in Dyscalculic brains. These areas were directly linked to the processing of symbolic numbers, therefore, can affect number sense. These insights imply that Dyscalculic learning is not completely developed mentally to make estimations precisely. 

How is this Condition related to other personal attributes?

The inferences that are taken above are related to IPS only and are mostly related to grasping math concepts. But research by Orly Rubinsten[3] studied Dyscalculia’s effect on other attributes. It is outlined here that the network breakdown in dyscalculia is done in multiple ways (apart from IPS as we previously referred). This can lead to multiple challenges in these individuals in areas like cognition, working memory, reasoning, and language. 

Strategies for better number sense- Plan of actions for dyscalculics

Traversing through the detailed science behind Dyscalculia, it can be inferred that looking over for a permanent solution is not feasible. Because this condition is related to the special arrangement and functioning of the brain. But dyscalculic individuals can make sure of some working strategies to make their performance easier and better:

  • Set up a list of goals. Based on the grades or the present academic requirements, teachers or parents can make a list of goals that the student should learn within the predetermined session. These may include building numbers and sequence skills and dodging numbers. If the student is under the umbrella of IEP, some number sense goals can be listed as a part of it as well.
  • Formulate a lesson plan. Making a list of goals determines precisely what is the actual need of the child. The next step would be to have a proper lesson plan to enhance number sense skills. These may differ from the concepts like place value plans, and compare plans.
  • Procure resources and worksheets. Lesson plans can make out what concepts are to be practiced. During or after the class if the student is provided with resources like worksheets, the learning can get repetitive and thereby fruitful.
  • Make a habit of reading books. Reading books is often important learning and pass time habit. There are some amazing books that are based on number sense and learning. Adults can read out these for their children and also let them indulge in self-study sessions.
  • Ensure some easy tips and tricks. Even though a learner has mastered the basics of numbers, they may later feel arduous to apply these skills in exams and class tests. Acknowledging simple tips and tricks like multiplication of milestones and operation reverses can save them time along with providing precision of estimates.
  • Try classroom activities. After regular teaching and assignments are provided to the children, indulging them in interesting real-life and collaborative activities can take them closer to the concept. Simple activities like counting, dice, and dominoes can create a noteworthy impact on the children. Also, the little ones can inculcate some routine activities to make sure they master the notion. 
  • Fill leisure time with Quality games. The learning is not often complete with classroom learning and activities. There is still a scope of personal learning with sessions of games. There are some free online games that pupils can traverse and get bonus practice at the end of the day. 

So, how exactly does dyscalculia affect number sense?

From the above valuable insights, we clearly comprehend the scientific and logical reason behind the Dyscalculia-numbers link. 

  • The individuals with Dyscalculia have lesser functioning IPS and Gray matter. This may directly have an effect on grasping concepts related to numbers and estimation. Also, there are related areas like executive functioning and reasoning that also may be affected.
  • But, Taking advantage of creative minds, innovative approaches can be preferred to polish up number skills to a great extent. 

Before we wind up.. 

Shortcomings of Dyscalculia may be genetic and are often not completely uncontrollable. But understanding the science behind the details can bring about better clarity. With these insights, the individual can look into further steps like listing out the needs, making a set of objectives, and then strategizing how to manage these. Also, the inferences stated above can have a future scope of research- which can give out a better picture of the condition and also the relevant solutions. 

References

  1. Butterworth, B., Varma, S., & Laurillard, D. (2011). Dyscalculia: from brain to education. science, 332(6033), 1049-1053.
  2. Rykhlevskaia, E., Uddin, L. Q., Kondos, L., & Menon, V. (2009). Neuroanatomical correlates of developmental dyscalculia: combined evidence from morphometry and tractography. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 3, 51.
  3. Rubinsten, O., & Henik, A. (2009). Developmental dyscalculia: Heterogeneity might not mean different mechanisms. Trends in cognitive sciences, 13(2), 92-99.

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