Triveni Goswami Vernal
(Registered Special Educator CRR No: A64010)
In the previous blog, I had written about Dyslexia, the Specific Learning Disorder that is most commonly known because of widespread coverage in the press and in popular culture (movies/books etc). Dyslexia refers to the learning difficulty where the individual has challenges regarding the establishment of the sound symbol association, thereby making spelling and reading, challenging for the individual.
In contrast, Dyscalculia, is the learning difficulty regarding number sense and mathematical operations. Individuals with Dyscalculia find it difficult to understand number- based information and concepts, as their brains process the information differently. Like Dsylexia, Dyscalculia also has neuro-biological origins.
MATHEMATICS AND THE BRAIN
Mathematics is a product of Visuospatial memory. Hence it is influenced by the Right Hemisphere of the brain. Each of the hemispheres of the Brain have been divided into 4 parts—Frontal Lobe, Occipital Lobe, Temporal Lobe and Parietal Lobe.
In individuals with Dyscalculia and Mathematical Learning Difficulties (MLDs), neuroscience research has shown brain differences in the functioning of a particular area of the Parietal Lobe, the Intraparietal Sulcus, that is associated with the processing of mathematical information. Dyscalculic Brains show the following:
a) Reduced Activation of the Intraparietal Sulcus
b) Reduced Grey Matter
c) Differences in connectivity.
So, what do these translate into? Individuals with Dyscalculia or MLDs, have challenges with assigning meaning to numbers, understanding numerosities (collection of numbers), ability to make estimations and assigning number symbols to number magnitudes. Hence, such individuals have trouble understanding what numbers actually mean, unless they have concrete representation for it and also have trouble guessing which is more/less (when shown two different quantities in comparison).
According to Becky Lord, a Math & Special Education Teacher, every mathematical idea has 3 main components—the Concept (which is represented Visually), the Language (which describes the concept) and the Abstract (symbolic form). Also, there are several Levels of Knowing Math—Intuitive, Concrete, Pictorial, Abstract, Application and Communication.
A child begins with an Intuitive understanding of what numbers are. For eg., when asked how many candies should two friends get, they do understand the concept of division, as equal sharing. Then comes, Concrete representation of the numbers with manipulatives. After that comes, Pictorial representation, then Abstract representation and then Application of the concept of numbers to solve number problems etc. The final level, is Communication, when they can communicate the way they understand the concept, to another individual.
For the Abstract stage to develop from the concrete stage, the individual should be able to develop an internal representation/mental imagery of the number concept. It is only when an individual is able to create Visualization internally, can the dependence on concrete materials, decrease.
As Professor Mahesh Sharma, an expert in Dyscalculia and the founder of Mathematics for All (www.mathematicsforall.org), sums up, “Dyscalculia is difficulty in conceptualizing number, number relationships, and outcomes of numerical operations.”
In my next blog, I will be touching upon the techniques and strategies to work with individuals with Dyscalculia and MLDs.
References and Resources:
https://www.mathsexplained.co.uk/ (currently providing a 50% discount on its course)
Author Triveni Goswami Vernal
Triveni Goswami Vernal is an Autism advocate, registered Special Educator (CRR A64010) and an Independent Researcher. Her areas of interest include Autism, Disability Rights, Gender, Art and Northeast studies. She is a mum to an 11 year old on the Autism Spectrum.
The author is also Certified in Dyslexia Teacher Training, Learning Disorders, OG Phonics, Ripples Centre for Enhanced Learning, 2019.
Creative representation for this blog is done by Kabir Vernal.