The other day I got an email from a parent who said her child had been diagnosed with dyscalculia. I had to look up what she meant. According to Wikipedia, “Dyscalculia (or math disability) is a specific learning disability involving innate difficulty in learning or comprehending simple mathematics. It is akin to dyslexia and includes difficulty in understanding numbers, learning how to manipulate numbers, learning math facts, and a number of other related symptoms (although there is no exact form of the disability).”
I’m not a doctor or a psychologist, but I take umbrage at labels placed on our children.
Later in the Wikipedia article are listed other symptoms of dyscalculia, which made me start thinking that perhaps I was afflicted with this disease. Here are some of the symptoms:
- Mistaken recollection of names. Poor name/face retrieval. May substitute names beginning with same letter. I do this!
- Inability to concentrate on mentally intensive tasks. Depends on how mentally intensive the task is, but I could say yes on this one too.
- Difficulty with games such as poker with more flexible rules for scoring. I’m a horrible poker player, besides finding it boring.
- Might do exceptionally well in a writing related field- many authors and journalists have this disorder. OH NO, I’ve written a novel, so I must definitely have dyscalculia!
If you haven’t seen the TED video of educator Sir Ken Robinson, then you must. And watch it to the end. He believes that the possibilities of children are largely ignored if they don’t fit into the norm of what we expect of them.
Seriously, I could have been classified as someone with dyscalculia IF the word had existed then (the word is not in my trusty Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary). I remember in 6th grade I was told in class that a negative one times a negative one equals a positive one. I could not/would not accept this as true. It defied logic, or so I thought. My stubbornness continued over a week until a very frustrated teacher called my parents. After my father, an analytical engineer, got off the phone, I waited for his reprimand, but instead he said, “Don’t worry about it.” The next evening he brought a mathematician home from work. The man sat me down at a table and with pencil and paper proved to me that a negative number times a negative number equals a positive number. After that it was clear, and I was able to move on.
M3.4 in Elevated Math covers multiplying and dividing integers. We use counters and then we use a number line to show how a negative times a number equals a positive. This is all we had time for, but there are other ways of showing why this is true. Here is a link to an algebraic proof I found. This might have been what the mathematician showed me years ago.
We might be tempted to label kids as having dyscalculia when we can’t help them grasp math concepts. Labeling them as such might help us feel more adequate, but this is wrong. We need to remember that the capacity of children to learn is infinite, and children must be approached as unique individuals. Don’t ignore them if they don’t fit into the norm of what we expect. If a kid doesn’t get a math concept, please don’t give up on him/her. You have a really unique kid on your hands.