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Does your child think math is hell on wheels, with a lick of graph-paper paint? They may have dyscalculia.

As my peers were learning to add and subtract, the weird symbols on the pages of my math textbook simply didn't make sense to me. Later on, as they mastered long division and multiplication, I had trouble playing board games because I couldn't add up the numbers on the dice, or even tell what the dots actually represented. Frustrated teachers told my mother I was lazy and defiant and she, in turn, tried to remedy my lack of understanding with more pages of stuff that didn't make sense. 

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By the time we were in high school, my peers were tackling other things I didn't understand — algebra, geometry, and calculus, I think these things are called. I still couldn't handle basic addition and subtraction, read music, or even tell the time on an analog clock. Math was such a problem for me that I nearly didn't graduate high school because of it. Even after I had kids of my own and was a competent, productive member of society, I had little idea whether cashiers gave me the right change. 

"What is dyscalculia?" you may wonder if you have a child who simply doesn't seem to "get" math — no matter how many times you or anyone else tries to explain what is so obvious to most adults, and what comes quite naturally to most kids with little to no instruction. 

Well, that, to me, is what dyscalculia is. Dyscalculia is when math is your nemesis; a scary, alien stranger everyone desperately wants you to get on with. If you are the parent of a kid who doesn't seem to understand math, this is a diagnosis you may be exploring. 

What Is Dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia is a learning difference that significantly hampers a person's ability to do math, or at least arithmetic. The exact way in which math is troubling varies from dyscalculic to dyscalulic. Research into dyscalculia is still limited, no central data bank exists, and not everyone working with dyscalculia sufferers agrees on the exact nature of the learning difficulty. You may think of dyscalculia as dyslexia's less popular, less understood cousin.

While nobody knows how many people are affected by dyscalculia, some researchers believe it is at least as common as dyslexia. An estimated six percent of elementary-school students has dyscalculia. 

Tony Attwood, founder of the British "Dsycalculia Centre", used online dyscalculia surveys to learn more about the disorder. This enabled him to come up with five distinct types of dyscalculia. Though there is still much to be learned about the disorder, Attwood's types can be very useful at helping others understand the various ways in which sufferers may be affected. 

Type 1 dyscalculics, Attwood says, report significant worries about their mathematical abilities and cannot complete math-related tasks 90 percent of their peers have no problems with. Not only do they have serious trouble learning to understand math, they also lack helpful support from teachers and parents. They've developed a strong fear of math that convinces them that they cannot improve their abilities. Some may have developed a basic understanding of the four operations but can't get into more complex concepts, while others lack even those basics.

Type 2 dyscalculics are very similar in that they experience strong worries about their abilities, but they have learned some coping strategies. They may not be able to earn a passing grade on their high school math exams, but they can generally get by in day-to-day situations. The calculations they perform still take them much longer than they would take others. 

Type 3 is characterized by a profound difficulty in understanding and coping with the concept of time and time passage. According to Attwood, this type of dyscalculic has problems with long- or short-term memory as well, and cannot handle tasks that require sequencing. This type is much rarer than the other types, and also more debilitating. 

Type 4 may not be actually be dyscalculia at all, but memory and processing difficulties that manifest as an inability to do math. Not being able to remember sequences of numbers may make these people unable to compute anything. According to Attwood, they may also lack the support that might help them move beyond their difficulties, and they aren't typically diagnosed with memory issues. 

Type 5 dyscalculics have trouble understanding how math relates to the real world. The abstract nature of math phases them to the point that they cannot come up with correct answers, or can get to correct answers without understanding what they actually mean. 

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