Math was my least favorite subject growing up. I remember the long nights doing math homework with my dad at the kitchen table. He’d pull his hair out trying to understand why I couldn’t just follow the directions for the “simple” problems.
But nothing about math was simple to me. I couldn’t remember basic math facts. And don’t get me started on algebra—just saying the name gives me the shakes.
Now, years later, I find myself in the same situation. Except this time I’m the parent and my child is struggling with math.
When my daughter started showing signs of math issues in elementary school, my panic level started to rise. I thought about my childhood. I remembered how kids teased me in class when I couldn’t solve a math problem on the board. And all the name-calling behind my back on the playground. I felt ashamed as I failed test after test while my friends all passed with flying colors.
I couldn’t and wouldn’t let my daughter go through that same stigma and pain.
So I worked closely with her teacher, and the school recommended that my daughter get evaluated. I had no idea there was an assessment for math issues!
Our daughter was diagnosed with dyscalculia, and we were immediately able to get support for her in the classroom with an IEP. But many people don’t realize how much this issue affects her outside the classroom, too.
Here are eight things I wish people knew about parenting a child with dyscalculia.
Basic math can be a challenge.For kids with dyscalculia, math that may seem simple can be very difficult. That’s why my daughter needs accommodations, like extra time on tests. She needs teachers to adapt tests to have fewer problems on each page. Using graph paper to line up numbers also helps.
Telling time can be hard, too.My daughter doesn’t wear a watch because she struggles to tell time accurately. I remember when a middle school teacher asked her in front of the class what time it was so they could finish their group projects. When she couldn’t respond quickly, the entire class laughed at her. That was a tough day.
Getting lost is a real concern.My daughter struggles with navigation. Even with a compass or a smartphone, it can be hard for her to keep track of directions. Even figuring out which way is left or right can be a challenge. (One of our favorite tricks is making a letter “L” with both hands to verify the true left hand.) To this day, our daughter, who’s now a teenager, needs written directions with landmarks and signs for when she walks into town. She often gets nervous that she’ll get turned around or lost.
We have to get creative with games.My daughter avoids any sport or game that requires mental math. Popular board games like Monopoly and Risk can be complicated for her. But when she was younger, we learned that she loved more creative games and toys, like Jenga and Legos.
Math isn’t the only school subject that dyscalculia affects.Measuring things can be tough for my daughter. This is a common sign of dyscalculia. When she was in middle school science lab, she had to measure liquids for an experiment. I remember she had trouble comparing the measurements of liquids and solids. The teacher noticed she was struggling to complete her assignment in time. I’m glad this teacher offered to work with my daughter during lunch period. That extra time with the teacher really boosted my daughter’s confidence.
Even a trip for ice cream can get tricky.Figuring out the right amount of cash or change to use is a constant concern for my daughter. In the school cafeteria, she worries that the kids behind her in line will make fun of her if she takes too long at the cash register. And during a recent visit to our local ice cream parlor, she struggled to estimate the cost of her order. Her wallet tends to be disorganized with large and small bills crumpled together. It took her several tries to pull out the proper bills to pay for her ice cream.
Her struggles can make her feel ashamed.My daughter used her fingers to count for much longer than most kids do. In middle school, she would often try to hide her fingers under her desk as she counted. Or she would clap her hand against her leg. She knew other kids weren’t still counting on their fingers, and she felt ashamed that she was.
Dyscalculia doesn’t just “go away.”It would’ve been nice to think that after my daughter’s diagnosis, all of her math issues would’ve gone away. But you don’t grow out of dyscalculia. It’s a constant in her life (and in ours). And there will be challenging times in school and beyond. But as a family, we’ve learned to adapt to give my daughter the support she needs.
Learn more about classroom accommodations for dyscalculia. See a day in the life of a teen with dyscalculia. And watch as a college student with dyscalculia shares her story.
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