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To provide an insight into dyscalculia and what it entails, we commissioned a short film‘….Sorry, Wrong Number’ with Professor Butterworth and Alex Gabbay.

Dyscalculia and maths learning difficulties.

Children with dyscalculia find calculating using the four operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) difficult. Approximately three to six percent of the population are affected. These children only have difficulties with these aspects of maths, while other areas of their learning are not affected and intellectually they may be average to outstanding. Dyscalculia appears to be prevalent in more males than females.

It is important to discriminate between children with difficulties and those with dyscalculia. For example, some children have poor attention, working memory or special skills and may find maths difficult, but they are not necessarily dyscalculic. They can make progress with maths in a way that children with dyscalculia can’t. ‘Catch up’ is not possible for dyscalculic children, and they need extra help from a specialist teacher as early as possible. They don’t have a natural feel for quantities of numbers (number sense); a conceptual understanding of number or relative sizes; they can’t tell ‘how many’ without counting in ones; see number patterns; or understand the place value system. They experience problems with all aspects of money (an abstract concept), have a noticeable delay in learning to read an analogue clock and managing time. They have memory problems and find it demoralising that they constantly forget what they learn. They do not enjoy number work, so they develop avoidance strategies, such as going to the toilet and offering to do jobs in the classroom!

To address their difficulties.

Dyscalculic children need specially-designed teaching programmes that encourage active participation and make learning maths fun and positive. This can be accomplished by using concrete materials that children can see and feel, to make better sense of numbers, which are very abstract.

What can parents and teachers do to help?

There are activities and strategies that can be introduced immediately, e.g. using computer games or learning through games and game cards instead of drilling arithmetic facts. Calculators may be used instead of memorising. Many people who do not have facts well-memorised, may still be very good at maths.

Try to focus on your child’s understanding, especially of quantity, and use concrete materials to help link mathematical symbols to quantity, for example use counting rods (Cuisenaire), number strings, dice, dot patterns, caterpillar tracks and counters.
Start at a level which your child is comfortable with, so that they experience some success, and slowly move to more difficult areas. Provide lots of practise for new skills and concepts, and reduce the need for memorisation by linking facts using logic. Ask a lot of questions to engage your child and get them thinking about their own thinking. Finally, make learning active, and as much fun as possible!

To find out more about Professor Butterworth’s work, go to

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