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Healthy Habits for Bonsall & Fallbrook Folks – Dyscalculia – When math is a problem

Dr. Megan Johnson McCullough

Special to the Village News

The field of mathematics comes easy for some and is quite the "problem" for others. We are presented with the basics in our elementary years of schooling and can progress to as far as calculus and beyond. Some of us can memorize equations and numbers, while others can actually apply math to real world functions.

Many people have heard of dyslexia which is when a person has trouble with reading, spelling and writing. There are nearly 3 million people diagnosed per year in the U.S. with dyslexia. But.....have you ever heard of dyscalculia?

This is a learning disability in which a person has impaired ability to learn number-related concepts, such as math skills like reasoning and problem solving. It is sometimes called number dyslexia or math dyslexia. It is true that dyslexia can be related to dyscalculia especially with math word problems.

It is very important to note that just because a person has a learning disorder, that does not mean they're less intelligent or less capable. Dyscalculia is when a person struggles with their number sense.

Concepts that are difficult could be subjects such as smallest versus biggest, and/or understanding that the word "five" and the number "5" are the same and represent that same amount. It is mainly pointed out between the ages of six and nine when math concepts are presented. A person's brain who has dyscalculia is considered neurodivergent. This is related to neurodiversity, which means that no two persons' brains develop the exact same way.

Many people might think that "2+2 = 4" is basic math. Just this equation uses many parts of the brain that have to work together. All of these parts include short-term memory, long-term memory, visual processing, language, understanding quantitative and amounts, and calculation.

Short-term memory helps you recall specifics about math problems, such as numbers, amounts and symbols. Long-term memory helps you recall the process of solving the problem. The brain is using memory to identify the associated items in the problem such as the addition sign. Visual processing takes what you see looking at the problem and sends it to the brain to process.

Language is translating math symbols to their meanings. Understanding quantitative and amounts is the association that the number "2" is referring to that specific amount/quantity. Calculation is the entire process of the brain telling you that "2+2 = 4."

An educational professional will determine the diagnosis. Treatment in most cases requires a one-on-one learning program. It is best to treat it as soon as possible because unfortunately, dyscalculia is considered untreatable in adults. The adult brain is fully developed, and other technologies can be used to adjust to circumstances.

Early intervention is highly recommended. Our brains are incredible entities, but sometimes, special attention is needed to help the brain do its job.

Megan Johnson McCullough, EdD, recently earned her doctorate in physical education and health science, is a professional natural bodybuilder and is a National Academy of Sports Medicine master trainer.


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