Dyscalculia and ADHD

What is Dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia, math learning disorder (MLD), is caused by anomalies in brain areas responsible for numbers, procedural memory, and visual-spatial processing. In the math center, dyscalculics show little or no activation and less gray matter.

Dyscalculia and ADHD, image used with permission from the artist: Jo-Ellen Bosson

MLD  affects 6 people in every 100, yet on the 2017 international math test, over half of all US 4th and 8th graders were not proficient in math, and in 2015, 72% of US 12th graders were incompetent in math.

In severe MLD, there’s delay and inflexibility in key aspects of development: counting; comparison; association of digits with amounts; combining amounts physically and symbolically; and awareness of patterns and relationships.

In milder dyscalculia, basic knowledge develops, but with obvious difficulty memorizing and recalling math facts (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division). Although able to follow patterns, there’s shallow understanding of decimal place value, and the why of facts and procedures. 

With advanced instruction, one is quickly overwhelmed by compounding cognitive demands: symbol recognition + association of meaning + interpretation of visual-spatial-directional-sequential information + recall of rules, patterns, and procedures + visualization + problem-solving + translation + encoding into speech, action, and writing.

Math learning disorder is caused by a combination of impairments in the specific faculties involved in processing quantitative information. Dyscalculics cannot quickly interpret math symbols and syntax, math vocabulary, and complex visual-spatial information. A breakdown in cognition often occurs when concepts go from concrete to abstract. While these faculties are adequate for many things,  they can be uniquely inadequate for quantitative demands.

Dyscalculia Symptoms

Dyscalculia is characterized by insufficient comprehension, problem-solving,  and strategies. For example, unable to envision and mentally manipulate numbers to calculate, fingers and tally marks serve as auxiliary memory, reinforced by touch and thinking aloud. Unable to consistently recall math facts, dyscalculics may count out even small numbers, add repeatedly to multiply, and subtract repeatedly to divide. On the spot, they’re unable to quickly figure change due, when paying with cash. Talking to themselves helps to keep ideas in mind.

Real Life Impacts

Dyscalculics can be brilliant at reading, writing, speaking, and socializing, yet may secretly struggle with clocks, time, management, and money. Daily calculations are daunting- figuring percentages for tips, taxes, and discounts; estimation and comparison; and navigation inside buildings and through town.

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