A general fear of maths is quite a common experience of a considerable proportion of the world population. But not all dread of numbers is due to us being naturally challenged in intelligence as is tended to be believed. From the ‘standard’ sounding prospect in harbouring a math anxiety to the more scientifically startling revelation as dyscalculia, not having a way with numbers need not always boil down to a lower quality of the grey matter.

The terminology of these two seemingly similar but actually distinct identities though happen to be simultaneous in their origins. Academic study of dyscalculia though emerged a couple of decades after an exploration of math anxiety had already been underway. It is essential then to understand both in separate capacities despite their existence upon the same spectrum. Math anxiety can in fact present as one of the many symptoms of dyscalculia- the latter being a medical consideration that occurs due to a certain way some human brains cannot naturally function. The assertion might occur as a bit tricky to correctly comprehend the distinction but it is vital nonetheless to recognise the true nature of either.

difficulty in interpreting numbers
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The very literal identity of its naming as dyscalculia points immediately to the manner of it existing as a dysfunction of the brain across a specific area. Of course this is the region where mathematic processing is slated to happen otherwise. But less development and fewer connections between brain cells in those areas in certain human brains is what makes people emerge as dyscalculics. Despite no clear consensus on why dyscalculia develops in some of us, it is more generally believed that the condition is embedded in our genes though not necessarily as something prevailing in a continued legacy of struggling with numbers. It is in fact a greater possibility rested in the entire fore of a wide many learning disabilities in which dyscalculia is more likely to be entertained.

What makes dyscalculia different indeed from the purported fear that mathematics induces in many is the way it manifests. Speak simply and this is a condition that does not let mathematical skills to develop in an individual due to reasons not in their control and about which they might not even be aware at times. No wonder people who find themselves struggling to grasp even the most basic concepts start doubting their own intelligence as does those around them. They lack the innate sense of number that humans are ‘predisposed’ to even when it needs some nurturing for all. For dyscalculics, numbers are nothing more than mere symbols that they cannot quantify which obviously renders null and void the very understanding of all mathematical concepts and reasonings that have all to do with quantification especially at the introductory level.

math learning disability
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Dyscalculia then occurs as essentially a childhood diagnosis but it is quite possible that many adults might also be dyscalculics without ever being diagnosed as such. There also asserts the possibility of developing the condition later in life as associate of some other medical condition most certainly. Brain injuries can alter the capacity of an adult human to process numbers in the way they have been otherwise doing and this different dynamic of dyscalculia is accounted for by the definite expression of acalculia. Dyscalculia itself manifests differently in different ages and tends to get more apparent with time even when the condition persists largely from birth.

The understanding of neurodiversity is where dyscalculia finds representation. The level of difficulty encountered can vary from mild to extreme but it also would be these very symptoms of an extreme assertion that would make a diagnosis of the condition more likely. In fact it does not have to be purely such math as well as occurs in the academic context. Symptoms might also be deciphered in such instances of difficulty in reading the time from an analog clock, a general confusion regarding ideas of left and right or befores and afters and many such general concepts that do not necessarily occur as mathematical. But bring numbers into the picture and the situation gets aggravated indeed and the symptoms worse as dyscalculics find themselves unable to deal with the divergent range of difficulties that presents to them.

Unlike a weakness in learning maths that might arise due to a loathing of the subject and inadequate attention as well as non resourceful methods of teaching and practise, dyscalculia cannot be readily ‘reverted’ by intensive efforts at teaching and attempts at learning. Which is why a non diagnosis of the condition as such bears the risk of aggravating the stress one experiences in such frustrating failures at carrying out even the most simplest of calculations. There also expresses problems in perceiving or what occurs as visual spatial awareness that impacts other areas of daily living. The more academic challenges simultaneously assert as well and even when dyscalculics can comprehend the process and reasoning through which mathematical solutions are arrived at, they do not quite retain that information due to an unawareness of the very context in which these are performed.

dyscalculia impacts life
Source: discovering dyscalculia

Dyscalculia then stands out from math anxiety which is an experience of some nervousness and tension that impairs the sufferers performance in this arena of functioning. Those dealing with math anxiety might not always be limited in their innate ability of the mathematical kind. Math anxiety might even be possibly spurred from the connotation of academics in terms of fear and anxiety, as something institutionalised enough to not be pursued in much relaxation. That, along with the conventions that already dictate math as something highly rigorous and taxing and only stuff meant for geniuses further make it easy for anxiety to cripple human brains and minds to an extent that challenges their efficiency.

Questions on efficiency also arise and in greater concern indeed for those dealing with dyscalculia irrespective of the more than competent manner of their attending to other areas of academics. The condition isn’t much known of to immediately be considered for proper addressing and there does not prevail as well any single test for dyscalculia to be definitely identified. The inability to perform that breeds out of these circumstances obviously reflects upon their report cards which makes it difficult to avoid the glaring ‘shortcomings’. Decimated then as weak learners or being of low intelligence, dyscalculics not defined as such continue to deal with this dual dilemma of their unattended unmathematical identity and a low intellect perception. And thus dyscalculia continues even to be one of the most underdiagnosed learning difficulties there is, murking further the scope that should have prodded a need for its examination.

dyscalculic types
Source: SlideShare

Treating the dyscalculic disability is possible but only when it is understood and diagnosed and attentively accounted for. The approach needs to be specifically attending to the deficits that compose this math learning disability. But what perhaps is even more important than a wholehearted effort at reversing the innate dysfunctioning is the way the individual is approached. The situation is frustrating indeed for dyscalculics as they grapple with issues that inadvertently affect lives outside academics even when this might assert as the greater problem.

What might be helpful then is building a relationship with the person and make them realise that not having their way with numbers does not in any way deign their faring in other roles. Concentrating on these other interests that they skillfully pursue will help not just their cause but also their confidence. And this also ultimately paves the way for them to respond better to treatments specifically devised for altering their mathematical disability. That one is only different is what sums up the celebrated uniqueness of humans and that this difference is not a disability but a discovery of the special essence in which every individual experiences their life and which they can choose to reimagine can make a world of difference for everyone living with dyscalculia.