Problems with numbers? Tools to detect and treat dyscalculia

Numbers have a constant presence in the life of any person. They are used in a wide range of situations. For example, to remember the PIN number of the phone. To know the date and time in which we live. Or to identify the best offer during day-to-day purchases.

But, even though they are crucial in our lives, not all people have the same ability to understand and manipulate them. There are those who are geniuses of numbers. But there are also people who find it very difficult to perform any type of calculation, make estimates or solve arithmetic problems. The latter, without knowing it, may have dyscalculia.

What is it and why does it happen?

This condition is characterized by a special difficulty with the handling of numbers. It is also known as number dyslexia. Dyscalculia manifests itself from the first school years and is a lifelong condition. Significantly interferes with adult academic performance or activities of daily living.

Dyscalculia has a neurobiological origin. It is currently known that people with dyscalculia have a smaller volume of gray matter in different areas of the brain. Likewise, the connections between these areas are affected. Therefore, the processing of numerical information is slower and of poorer quality.

Most studies agree that dyscalculia affects men and women equally. However, other research shows mixed results. More studies are needed to determine whether or not there are differences.

How does it manifest?

The first warning signs usually appear in early childhood education. The diagnosis is made from the age of 6. It can manifest itself in isolation, or together with other school learning disorders.

Comorbidity with dyslexia and attention deficit disorder is between 25% and 30%.

Dyscalculia comorbidity with other learning disorders.
Source: NeurekaLAB

warning signs

The main warning signs appear at the end of early childhood education:

  1. Difficulties classifying objects by size, shape, or quantity.

  2. Confusion between concepts such as “greater than”, “more than”, “greater than”.

  3. Errors when writing or naming small figures, less than 10.

  4. Errors in the recognition of mathematical symbols (+, -).

In primary education (6 to 12 years), the main warning signs are:

  1. Difficulty learning and remembering how to perform operations.

  2. Difficulty recognizing arithmetic signs.

  3. Fragility in memorizing single-digit operations.

  4. Use of fingers to calculate.

  5. I reject mathematics.

two courses below

In dyscalculia there is a performance in mathematics much lower than expected. It is usually two courses below the level that would correspond by age.

file 20230510 27 tw7ct7.JPG?ixlib=rb 1.1
Evolution of average performance in mathematics compared to infants with dyscalculia.
Source: NeurekaLAB

From the third year of primary education, awareness of the difficulties is made. This has consequences on an emotional level. Anxiety towards mathematics often appears and performance in other subjects may be compromised.

Interventions and training

Like dyslexia, dyscalculia can be treated and improved. However, difficulties will persist throughout life.

The effectiveness of the intervention is greater if it is started early. It is very important to have early detection tools at the end of early childhood education. If at this age there are already warning signs, a training program should be started.

The training must be individual and adapted to each student. It is recommended that it be intensive, with 4-5 weekly sessions of 10-15 minutes each.

Scientifically validated programs

There are currently scientifically validated programs for the intervention of dyscalculia. Among them, those in digital format stand out. Its main strength lies in its ability to adjust to the level of difficulty of each case.

For example, the program The Number Race: by practicing daily with it for five consecutive weeks, you improve in number comparison tasks and in mental calculations.

The Rescue Calcularis program has achieved improvements in mathematical performance and changes in the level of brain activity.

A Spanish method

In Spain, researchers from the University of Barcelona and the University of Vic-Central University of Catalonia have developed NeurekaNUM. This method gamified allows you to work on the key components of numerical processing:

  1. The verbal. For example, for dictation or reading numbers.

  2. The executive. For example, mental calculation.

  3. The visuospatial. For example, building blocks.

  4. The one of magnitude. For example, the comparison of numbers.

Currently, work continues to improve the detection and early intervention of dyscalculia. This should result in a lower rate of school failure.

This can be achieved, above all, thanks to the early detection and intervention that these tools allow and that it is very important to adjust to the specific difficulties of each child to improve their effectiveness.

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