Weekly Roundup: Dyslexia

Headlines

The discussion: dyslexia, dyscalculia blog has mentioned a few famous dyslexics in past posts. We were cheered this week to see a new list published on the Codpast: famous comedians who are dyslexic. You´ll find English, Irish, Scottish, and American comedians on the list, including the late great Robin Williams. Comedian and actress Ruby Wax is even quoted on the effect dyslexia had on her comedic skills:

“I was dyslexic, and would make up sentences and people would laugh. I wasn’t trying to be funny. I just chose the wrong words.

You can discover the full list here: read more. The rest of the Codpast site is also worth exploring and is full of appealing content and informative nuggets for dyslexics.

As the new academic year looms around the corner, first time college students may feel a bit apprehensive about starting this period in their lives. For dyslexic students this apprehension can be even greater than for others. USA Today ran this article by Esther-Irene Egan, a dyslexic student who initially dropped out of college but, powered by her love of learning, re-enrolled and is now a student at University of South Carolina Upstate. Egan share´s her list of study tips for dyslexics and ends with this quote:

Your disability doesn’t define you. So, when someone tries to tell you that you can’t do something, know that you have the power to disprove that. Read more.

Resources

For parents or students a new diagnosis of dyslexia can feel overwhelming. Likewise, a parent who thinks their child may be dyslexic but is not sure how to confirm this may feel lost and uncertain of where to start looking for information. For a good jumping off point, have a look at the International Dyslexia Association. The website can give you an overview of dyslexia and point you towards testing centers (primarily in the U.S. and Canada).

The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity offers resources for both parents and teachers and has a special focus on dyslexia success stories and overcoming dyslexia. For families based in the U.K., turn to the NHS website on dyslexia to find testing options and resources for dealing with dyslexia.

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What Causes Dyscalculia?

According to sources listed on both Understood.org and AboutDyscalculia.org, there is no universal consensus on the causes of dyscalculia. However there have been studies on what happens in the brains of dyscalculics while solving math problems. To understand this let´s first have a look at how children develop mathematic abilities in general.

NeuronalActivityBy the time they are just three months old, babies are able to differentiate between large and small quantities. When they get to preschool, children learn number words to enable them to describe these quantities. In elementary school, they learn Arabic numerals, which will not make any sense without those number words from the previous stage. Finally, children develop a mental conception of numbers – an internal number line – which automates such judgements as large vs. small, and estimations.

During this development, new skills are first processed in the anterior regions of the brain. These regions are responsible for logical thinking and for controlling attention and working memory. But as the brain masters these skills they are taken on by the posterior regions. This automates basic number tasks and frees up capacity in the anterior regions for processing more complex and difficult ones.

Student photo © Dybuster

Student photo © Dybuster

For children with dyscalculia, this process of skills becoming automatic happens much more slowly than for their peers. Instead these skills stay in the anterior regions of the brain, meaning that dyscalculic children have to concentrate fiercely to solve simple math problems. They rely on “counting out” the answer, a very slow process. As they advance through school the quantity and complexity of math problems they are expected to solve increases and along with it their anxiety. The more anxious a child becomes, the more overloaded will be his or her anterior brain regions, making it even more difficult to tackle numbers and solve problems. This can result in a life-long fear of math and can impact a dyscalculic student´s entire school and working career.

Dyscaculia is not nearly as well-known as dyslexia (chronic difficulty in reading) or dysgraphia (difficulty in writing). As a child with dyscalculia may be otherwise bright and creative, teachers and parents may not understand where the problems in math are coming from. This can lead to additional pressure on the child, who is already struggling with numbers and the feelings of inferiority these struggles cause. To learn more about dyscalculia browse through the Dybuster blog or have a look at these other resources.

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Weekly Roundup: Dyscalculia

Headlines

Weekly Roundup: dyscalculia. Image: Stack of newspaper on street from barnimages.com.

Weekly Roundup: dyscalculia. Image: Stack of newspaper on street from barnimages.com.

This week´s headlines start on a cheerful note: a team of middle school students designed and patented their own invention for helping students with dyscalculiaHuffington Post ran this article on a competition hosted by FIRST, an organization that supports STEM programs in schools. The competition ended with team that placed first visiting the U.S Patent and Trademark Office to celebrate their winning patent with a ceremony.

The winners, Team Storm, developed software that helps dyslexics to learn math and could also be used by students with dyscalculia. Devon Langley, 13 years old and a member of the winning team, wrote the following of his experience in the competition:

My favorite part of developing our invention was getting to meet with children and adults who struggle with dyslexia. We learned that they are really smart and creative people, and this motivated us to create something to give these kids more success with math.

Runner-ups and past winners are also described in detail in the article and make for a fascinating read. Read more.

Over at Understood.org, blogger Savannah Treviño describes her experience of school and learning as a dyscalculic. Her inspiring story of her journey to higher education despite her learning disability is refreshing for those who struggle to find information on dyscalculia. In her blog post Treviño concludes:

In the future, I know I will have to work smarter and harder than others because of my learning disability. But I also know that I will continue to embrace my dyscalculia as an important part of who I am. (Read more.)

Resources

Looking for more discussion on dyscalculia? Check out the tumblr blog Let´s Talk Dyscalculia. The blog is a personal account of dealing with dyscalculia and features conversation and comments with and and from readers. If you want a glimpse into what living with dyscalculia is like, this is a place to start.

For keeping up with news on dyscalculia around the web, visit the site Dyscalculia Headlines. Featured items include not just recent news but links to general information and useful websites.

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What is Dyscalculia?

"Math on walls." People with dyscalculia struggle with numbers and basic mathematical skills. Source: SplitShire free stock photos.

“Math on walls.” People with dyscalculia struggle with numbers and basic mathematical skills. Source: SplitShire free stock photos.

Dyscalculia: even the term sounds unfamiliar. Many people with dyscalculia might not even know the condition exists. Instead they may just think they have difficulty with math, or that anything with numbers is a struggle for them. Even those familiar with the terms dyslexia and dysgraphia may never have heard of dyscalculia.

So what is dyscalculia exactly? Dyscalculia is a learning disability that affects around five percent of the population. People with dyscalculia may be intelligent and creative but struggle enormously with basic mathematical problems.

During childhood, specific regions of the brain develop and become specialised in the processing of numbers and mathematical thinking. In children with dyscalculia, the development of these specialised brain functions lags behind that of their peers.

Dybuster Calcularis website

When children experience these difficulties with numbers they can develop feelings of anxiety and inferiority whenever faced with math and arithmetic problems. These feelings can persist into adulthood, meaning that dyscalculia can have long-term psychological effects on those who have it.

Compared to dyslexia or even dyspraxia, dyscalculia is less widely-known and there are fewer resources out there for those dealing with dyscalculia. A dyslexic can do a quick search of “famous dyslexics” and come up with a list of celebrities and famous historical figures who are or were dyslexic. Dyscalculics will have much greater trouble locating others who can relate to their experience.

There are support communities and resources out there for those who have dyscalculia. Check back here Friday to learn about a few of them in our weekly roundup focusing this week on dyscalculia.

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Weekly Roundup: Dyslexia

Headlines

Carly Simon on Martha's Vineyard

“Carly Simon on Martha’s Vineyard” by William Waterway – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Dyslexia surfaced in the world of the arts this week, generating headlines in the fields of film, dance, and music. Wbur.org profiled singer Carly Simon in this article on her own and her family´s struggles with dyslexia. Simon does not consider her dyslexia a hindrance, but rather something that helps her see the world in a different way. Read more.

Film director Luis Macias released his documentary Embracing Dyslexia in 2013. This week, St. Augustine College of Chicago announced the bilingual institution would hold a special screening of the film on 13 August. The screening features the Spanish version of the documentary; the original English version is available through the film website.

“This film is my chance to make things right. I can’t take back the decision to hold my son back in first grade, something that will always be a terrible memory for him. I can’t take back the many times I accused him of being lazy and not trying hard enough,” says Macias in the event´s press release. “This is my way of trying to prevent other children and their families from having to go through what we did.” Read more.

Darcey Bussell. Chelsea, London December 2012.

Darcey Bussell. Chelsea, London December 2012.
By Brian Minkoff- London Pixels (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Moving on to dance, Dyslexia Advantage featured Darcey Bussel in a blog post last week. This famous dyslexic made it to the top of the dance world by becoming a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet when she was only twenty years old. Bussel and is one of the most celebrated British ballet dancers of modern times. Now retired and a judge on British television show Strictly Come Dancing, Bussel addressed her the impact dyslexia had on her life in a recent article in the Daily Mail. Read more.

Resources

Right after posting an article on Discuss: dyslexia, dyscalculia that covered possible symptoms of dyslexia, I noticed that Dyslexia Action had released something similar. What are the signs of Dyslexia? walks the reader through signs of dyslexia across different age groups. Plenty of other information on dyslexia is available on the site, so have a look around.

Understood.org has a broader focus on learning issues but includes these useful tips for helping children with dysgraphia. If you search for “dyslexia” on Understood.org you will find a wealth of articles and videos. One or my personal favorites was 5 Things Not to Say to Your Child About Dyslexia, which succintly explains some of the more hurtful comments people with dyslexia receive.

See you here next week!

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Symptoms of Dyslexia

What are the symptoms of dyslexia?

The earlier dyslexia is diagnosed, the sooner intervention can help children overcome their learning difficulties. This list from the Dybuster website shows that early symptoms may include difficulty with:

  • Learning the alphabet in the correct order
  • Associating sounds with their corresponding letters
  • Identifying or generating rhyming words or counting syllables in words
  • Segmenting words into individual sounds, or blending sounds to make words
  • Word retrieval or naming problems
  • Distinguishing between similar sounds in words; mixing up sounds in multi-syllable words (for example, “aminal” for animal, “bisghetti” for spaghetti)

Older children may exhibit:

  • Slow or inaccurate reading
  • Very poor spelling
  • Difficulty reading out loud, reading words in the wrong order, skipping words and sometimes saying a word similar to another word
  • Difficulty with associating individual words with their correct meanings
  • Difficulty with time keeping and concept of time when performing certain tasks
  • Difficulty with organizational skills
  • Failure to see (and occasionally to hear) similarities and difference in letters and words
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