Although it is not common to all sufferers from dyscalculia, the experience of being unable to handle specific calculations which are considered at the easier end of the maths spectrum, while being able to undertake other more advanced calculations, is something that a minority of people with dyscalculia suffer from.
Quite why this happens is unknown, but since dyscalculia is a condition caused by the malfunction of one gene, we can assume that this is a variance in the genetic malfunction.
It is, of course, a significant issue for those who suffer from this variation because the effect of being able to do certain more advanced forms of maths calculation but not some simpler forms is something that non-dyscalculics can find hard to comprehend.
“But you must know how to divide if you can calculate percentages,” is the type of response one can get. And this can be very upsetting for the dyscalculic person, for this individual has no more idea why she or he can grasp one form of maths so readily, but not something else, than anyone else does. And it is all the worse when that “something else” is thought by non-dyscalculics to be incredibly simple.
Regrettably I can offer no quick fix for sufferers of what we could call “sectional dyscalculia,” save to say that the only way through this minefield is to study maths from the base point where it is understood and then keep going until we reach the troublesome area.
The benefit of this approach (in which I must add, the earlier more simple areas of maths can be moved through very rapidly with a tutor or helper) is that it helps find any earlier difficulties with maths which may be hidden in terms of everyday experience.
So, if we take the example of a person who can grasp percentages but does not have a full understanding of multiplication, I would suggest working through maths from the very start, going through the series of numbers, then looking (in a multi-sensory way) at addition, followed by subtraction, then multiplication and then division and so on.
As I say, it can all be done fairly quickly, but it should be done, with a non-dyscalculic friend or tutor, just to make sure nothing has been missed.
Then, when problems arise the process can be slowed down and considered in full, but where the individual has got a full grasp the exercises and activities can be completed quickly and the individual can move on.
But here is a word of caution.
For individuals whose grasp of maths stops at a logical point (for example, they can understand addition and subtraction but not multiplication) then generally I would say one needs to do only the basic revision of addition and subtraction first – and this only to introduce the multi-sensory approach, in preparation for multiplication.
But where a person can grasp a lot of maths of a higher level but still has a gap in an understanding of a less advanced part of maths, I would say one should work through all the earlier materials, just to check there are no other misunderstandings.
This doesn’t have to take time nor does it have to involve doing every exercise, but it is still worth undertaking, just to check there are no hidden problems.
After that, when the problem area is met, everything should slow right down, and a full-blown multi-sensory approach should be adopted.
If you are not sure where your problems (or those of your son or daughter) begin, we have the on-line dyscalculia test which can help in this regard. The advantage of this is that you not only discover if dyscalculia is present, but you will also discover where the problem starts to manifest itself and if there are certain later areas of maths that are fully understood and will not need re-visiting this is reported too.
Tony Attwood C.Ed., B.A., M.Phil (Lond), F.Inst.A.M
Head of the Dyscalculia Centre