How to Help Kids With Dyscalculia
Tips for supporting your child
Clinical Expert: Meredyth D. Kravitz, PsyD
What You'll Learn
- What is dyscalculia?
- What can we do to help kids with dyscalculia?
- How does dyscalculia affect kids’ self-esteem?
Dyscalculia is a learning disability that makes it hard to understand math. Kids with dyscalculia need extra support to help them stay on track in math class, handle homework and deal with tests.
A math tutor can help, especially if they have experience working with students who learn differently. So can educational therapists. And you and your child can work together to find useful tools like calculators, graph paper, or even apps that make practicing math fun.
Kids with dyscalculia may also be entitled to accommodations at school. Examples could be access to a calculator, extra time on tests and a quiet space to work. Kids may also be allowed to tape lectures or get copies of the teacher’s notes so they can go over them after class.
Like most learning disabilities, dyscalculia often has hidden costs. Kids may feel frustrated or embarrassed when asked to do things like reciting multiplication tables or doing a problem on the board. Or they may feel ashamed of not being “like other kids.” Problems can go beyond school. Dyscalculia’s impact on day-to-day activities — playing board games, spending money or even reading clocks — can make kids feel so embarrassed they might avoid them altogether.
Helping kids understand how and why dyscalculia causes problems — and making sure they have the tools and support to manage it — will boost self-esteem and help succeed.
There are a number of ways you can support a child with dyscalculia – both in school and out.
Provide academic supports
Kids with dyscalculia need extra support to help them stay on track in math class, handle homework and deal with tests. Trying different types of support can help you and your child find the right tools for his needs.
Experts: Educational specialists or a math tutor, especially one who has experience working with students who learn differently, can help your child learn to approach math problems in a more effective way. Tutoring will also allow your child to practice his math skills in a slower, less stressful setting.
The right tools: Supportive tools and tech can help your child navigate difficult problems.
- A calculator he knows how to use
- Pencils (for erasing!)
- Graph paper to help him keep columns and numbers straight.
- Pre-set phone reminders and alarms to help him keep track of time.
- Math apps and games that allow him to practice essential skills in a fun way
Accommodations: Work with your child’s teacher to ensure he’s able to access appropriate supports including:
- Access to a calculator during class and tests
- Extra time on tests
- A quiet space to work
- The option to record lectures
- Access to the teacher’s notes
- Time in the math resource room (if his school offers one)
- In-school tutoring or homework assistance
Many children — with and without dyscalculia — struggle with what’s commonly called math anxiety. “Kids who have a hard time with math often feel serious anxiety when it comes to doing any math-related task, especially homework or tests,” explains Meredyth Kravitz, PhD, a clinical neuropsychologist.
Oftentimes, this anxiety becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, says Dr. Kravitz. “Kids who struggle with math often become so anxious that the anxiety takes over. They’re unable to concentrate on learning the problem or passing the test because they’re worried about doing badly.”
Math anxiety isn’t exclusive to kids with dyscalculia, but it is common among children with the disorder. “One of the keys to helping kids with dyscalculia is teaching them anxiety management strategies,” says Dr. Kravitz. As kids learn to manage the anxiety provoked by math challenges, they become more able to absorb information and techniques that can help.
Like most learning disabilities, dyscalculia often has hidden costs. If your child has dyscalculia he may feel frustrated or embarrassed when asked to do things — like reciting multiplication tables — that are difficult for him, especially during class or when other students are present.
But the problems can often go beyond school. Dyscalculia’s impact on day-to-day activities — playing board games, making correct change or even reading clocks accurately — can cause kids to feel self-conscious and avoidant.
Helping your child understand his learning disorder can give him the tools he needs to manage his dyscalculia — both academically and emotionally.
- Don’t keep him in the dark. Talk to him about the difficulties dyscalculia can cause and be specific: “You know how you have a hard time remembering your times tables, or knowing how much change to give the lunch lady? That’s dyscalculia.”
- Acknowledge his struggles and praise hard work — even if the results aren’t perfect: “I understand how hard that math assignment was. I was so proud of how hard you worked on it.” “Praising efforts instead of outcomes will help your child feel proud of his work, even if it’s not reflected in his final grade,” says Dr. Kravitz.
- Help him identify his specific strengths, and offer positive reinforcement: “Your essay about Dad was so well written and moving. You’re a great writer.”
- Combat negative self-talk: If your child starts saying things like “I’m just stupid,” don’t ignore it. Instead, check out these ideas for helping kids who are too hard on themselves.