What are dyslexia and dyscalculia, and how do they affect our lives?
Very briefly, they are both specific learning disabilities in which a person has a discrepancy between what they are achieving in a specific area and their overall intelligence. Generally their IQ in all other areas is average or above average. People with dyslexia are intelligent people who have trouble with language. People with dyscalculia are intelligent people who have trouble with numeracy and mathematics. In both cases, there generally seems to be a genetic link.
Dyslexia research has shown us specific areas of the brain that seem to be wired differently. People are now beginning to think of it more as a cognitive difference than a cognitive defect. People are born with a natural ability to speak and understand language. Reading and spelling, however, are not innate. Some people have brains that are just designed to process written language more efficiently. Some people call it “word blindness.” If you can imagine, throughout most of human history, written language was not necessary to live or thrive. People with dyslexia did not have a disadvantage, in fact, their strong visual-spatial skills may have put them at an advantage. It is our use of written language in society that has changed over time, making it more important to be able to read and write.
While there has been a lot of research on dyslexia, the research on dyscalculia is much more sparse. There is still a lot to learn here. Dyscalculia is sometimes called “math dyslexia,” or “number blindness.” People with dyscalculia have trouble with basic numeracy. Again, while people have an innate ability to understand larger or smaller quantities based on visual assessment, numbers themselves are an abstract concept, and the mathematics we do with numbers is even more abstract. These are skills that must be learned and are not innate. Some people have brains that are structured so that this is harder for them to learn. Again, this was not so important while trying to hunt large animals, so what is now perceived as a problem is a very recent phenomenon. People with dyscalculia can have trouble with math in different ways, but very often it is the abstract qualities of numbers that underlie the problem.
So, how do we help? In both cases, we must help develop new connections in the brain. In some ways, we have to think about how a child learns since this is how we first make those connections. Children learn by touching, tasting, smelling, seeing, feeling, hearing — using their senses. This is how we have to teach people with dyscalculia and dyslexia. We must use multi-sensory learning to retrain the brain. Then we can move to more abstract ways of thinking.
Multi-sensory learning is at the heart of what we do at DYScover learning.
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