What follows is a guest blog by Ann, who has a daughter with dyscalculia
I consider myself a very lucky Mother of a beautiful 10 year old, young lady called Maryanne.
For some years now, Maryanne has really ‘struggled’ with Maths. As her Mum I could personally see her difficulty with grasping Mathematical concepts, retaining & recalling what she had learnt, from a very young age. Her struggle became more apparent from 1st class onwards. From simple things like telling the time, to working out how much things
cost, to her change in the shops (all simplified in relation to her age!).
Maths homework became a hardship for us both. Sometimes I would laugh with her thinking ‘she’s having me on’, pretending not to remember something we had just covered. Sometimes I became frustrated with her thinking ‘she was just not concentrating’. Yet repeatedly it was as though someone has literally pressed ‘erase’ on her Maths memory bank. On occasion I would put her poor ‘short term memory’ down to the fact that she has Epilepsy and takes medication twice daily to control her seizures.
Each school year I spoke with her teachers in 1st class, 2nd class and 3rd class. Expressing my concerns and bringing this to their attention, (especially due to the fact that each year Teacher’s change). With the best will in the world, Maryanne receives ‘learning support in school’. The ‘learning support’ teacher, whom has consistently worked with Maryanne, can see ‘exactly’ the learning difficulties that I can see. This, as her Mum is supportive for me (in other words ‘I am not imagining this’). However Maryanne’s learning difficulty still continues.
In general the class Teacher’s reactions towards her situation have ranged between ‘she will grow out of it, she’ll be grand before she’s married, “we’ve had lots of students just like her and the penny drops around 5th class”. It wasn’t until the Drumcondra tests in 3rd class 2009 that her ‘well below average’ score, rang the school bell !!
In my unending quest to ‘put my finger’ on the source of Maryanne’s learning block, I kept my investigative antenna alert. I recently heard an interview on RTE RADIO 1 with Pat Kenny and a man called Ron Davis. They were discussing Dyslexia and a new book called ‘The Gift of Dyslexia’(by Ron Davis). A fascinating interview, well worth a listen to on the RTE player …(ref: 15th October 2010) with Pat Kenny from RTÉ Radio
In summary Ron Davis (himself a successful entrepreneur with a childhood learning difficulty history) demonstrated the following. A child associates a word such as ‘apple’, with a mental picture of an apple. The word ‘pencil’, with a mental picture of a pencil. The word ‘elephant’, with a mental picture of a large grey elephant. However if one then recites the word ‘and’ to a child with a learning difficulty it suddenly has no mental picture of ‘and’. This ‘disassociation’ with a mental picture (that of the word ‘and’) causes confusion to the child. Almost the same feeling you would get if you were sitting on a train, beside another train, both in the same train station. The other train takes off but for a brief second you feel your train is moving. Suddenly you realise your train hasn’t moved at all, that it’s the other train that has moved. Can you sense that disorientation ?.This is the disorientation a child with a learning difficulty experiences.
So this interview led me to research the book and its author.
My research led me to some ‘inspirational’ findings. I came upon some fantastic websites, in the area of Dyscalculia. Dyscalculia is basically a version of Dyslexia but rather that effecting reading, writing (etc), it effect’s Math’s. Yippee! I suddenly feel as though I have found a key to unlock the door to Maryanne’s learning difficulty with Math’s.
I then looked up the Irish Dyslexia Association website to see if there was any information on Dyscalculia. Thinking to myself that there must at least be some reference or links to, what seemed like to me, a cousin of Dyslexia called Dyscalculia. To my surprise and frustration there was neither reference nor mention on their website. In addition to this I am additionally surprised that neither the school nor Maryanne’s Teachers had heard of Dyscalculia.
There are, in fact some positive, informative, inspiring and up to date study’s, programmes and online diagnosis, both for sale & free on the internet on the subject of Dyscalculia.
This website is most informative. It offers information, symptoms, online diagnosis, suggestive learning and website links.
Ronit Bird is the author of The Dyscalculia Toolkit (2007) and Overcoming Difficulties with Number (2009). The earlier book is a practical manual full of teaching activities and games aimed at teachers of dyscalculic pupils in primary school. The second book addresses math’s difficulties of older learners by providing games and resources suitable for adolescents, followed by step-by-step teaching ideas for key numeracy strategies.
Her website offers some positive, informative, inspiring and up to date information. With some free, printable, online learning aids for, child, guardian and teacher. In addition to ‘training courses’ for both guardians and teachers.
This website has some very useful tactile ‘tools’ to enable the child to easily absorb, learn and remember multiplication tables in a fun way.
Does this story have a happy ending ? With the help and assistance of Maryanne’s (now 4th class) teacher and learning support teacher we are all working together to improve Maryanne’s learning ability with Math’s. In addition, we have found and are fortunate to be able to have a Math’s teacher to give her a weekly (one to one) Math’s class at home. I have bought The Dyscalculia Toolkit by Ronit Bird and the Elephant tables. With allthese boxes ticked I feel we are on a good road now. I am hopefully that the Dyslexia Association of Ireland will include information on Dyscalculia on its website update, in the near future !
I personally believe that early intervention is key with any learning difficulty. It is simply not good enough to waste a child’s precious, fresh, absorbent mind. In doing so we, their Guardians, Teachers and Education system are failing them both now and in their future. When I recently made contact with Ronit Bird, in relation to her training courses she sentme the following reply:
'I am afraid I know of no courses or dyscalculia teachers in Ireland. But I do hope you will find my book useful - I deliberately made it as practical and accessible as I could.
'It is not so surprising that teachers have not yet heard of dyscalculia, which is now where dyslexia was some 20 to 30 years ago. So, it will be people like your daughter who will be contributing to an increased awareness of the problems and the development of a growing consensus about what does and does not help pupils with specific math’s difficulties. Good luck to both of you.'
As we are all so aware, the Irish Economy is struggling to reinvent itself, specifically in both areas of Science and I.T. How can we possibly push forward if we fail to arm ourselves with the relevant, up to date, informative resources available specifically for those who need the extra assistance in this field. Surely we and specifically our precious, future recruits are all worth it !
Knowledge and Awareness is power.
I truly hope that our experience to date may help even just some ‘one’ out there!