"He had problems counting up in twos, fives and even tens"
'We used to live in South Africa and when Robbie first started primary school there at age seven he was seen as able and focused. But I had concerns about his maths even then as he had problems counting up in twos, fives and even 10s which I thought was strange. He also seemed to have no idea whether he should add or subtract.
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'In Year 2 his new teacher was less understanding and said it was down to a lack of concentration. This situation escalated and the teachers thought that he could possibly have ADHD. In an attempt to help we enrolled Robbie for extra maths teaching, but he didn't progress at all.
'We moved to the UK in 2008, just before Robbie turned 11, and he started Year 6 at his new private school. We were disappointed that they didn’t offer him any chance to catch up and placed him in the bottom set, but because the schooling is so strict in South Africa Robbie was initially praised for this manners and good behaviour.
'However his new Year 7 maths and form tutor was very strict and believed his problem with maths was just an excuse not to work, that he was lazy. We tried speaking to the school as by then we wanted him assessed, but their attitude was that he would just have to work harder. Things got worse when he turned 13. He had the same teacher and it seemed he spent every Saturday that year in detention for things like disorganisation (which we later found was part of his condition anyway).
'At the end of Year 8 he moved to the senior school and two weeks in the tutor called and said he thought Robbie had possible learning difficulties as he had noticed him struggling.
'We finally had him assessed by an educational psychologist at the age of 14 and the report suggested that he had signs of dyscalculia. We showed the report to the school who told us they didn't have the resources to help him, so we moved him to a state school.
'Robbie started his new school, which was much more supportive, in Year 9. His new maths teacher was happy to read the educational psychologist's report and Robbie could access extra time with a teaching assistant as well as extra time in exams. The first term was hard as he was new, but Robbie was happier and less stressed although he was still struggling to catch up. That's when we went to [dyscalculia expert] Steve Chinn who carried out a wider assessment and diagnosed dyscalculia. The report has helped both his maths teacher and the teaching assistant understand him better and give him the extra support he needs.'
Dyscalculia: practical tips for parents
- Always let the school know what is going on and pass on any specialist reports to make sure you get the extra support you are entitled to. Remember that teachers leave and sometimes information doesn't get passed on, so keep reminding people!
- If you as a parent think there's a problem with your child, get help and go with your instincts – your feelings are probably right.
- Find other areas to build up your child's self-esteem if they're struggling with school work. Robbie is very strong at IT and music and has even set up his own skateboarding club.
Dyscalculia: advice and information
Dyscalculia is a dysfunction in a person’s ability to understand or work with quantitative or spatial information. It is predominantly concerned with numbers and arithmetic. For more information and advice head to our dyscalculia section; you can also try some practical tips to help you with your child's fear of maths (or your own!).
Steve Chinn is a consultant, researcher and writer who specialises in dyscalculia.