When your primary school-aged daughter can’t count to 10 or do basic arithmetic, alarm bells ring for worried parents.
Yet there is not always a simple solution to figuring out what to do when maths just doesn’t add up for your child.
Dyscalculia, which affects about 5 per cent of the population, is an unwieldy word that describes a maths learning disorder related to understanding numbers.
A workshop by SPELD Victoria this month provided a welcome lifeline to Border parents trying to help a child with dyscalculia.
The workshop at Wodonga TAFE was hosted by the Albury-Wodonga Dyslexia Support Group, a group that has gathered huge momentum since its launch in 2016.
About 40 parents and teachers heard dyscalculia expert Ann Williams explain the neuroscience behind the disorder and provide take-home strategies to help children from kindergarten to Year 10.
Ms Williams said it was fantastic to be able to bring an awareness and understanding of dyscalculia to regional areas.
She was quick to point out the disorder was not an intellectual disability but a “deficit in one part of the brain” that affected maths skills like multiplication, addition and subtraction.
“Dyscalculia is the reason able kids are unable to do arithmetic,” the “ex-chalkie” said.
Affected children may struggle with “low-order” maths skills but excel at other branches like geometry, according to Ms Williams.
“Parents and teachers can get a bit phobic about things like times tables so students can end up with maths anxiety and tune out,” she said.
Ms Williams conceded it could be a difficult road to diagnosis and is an advocate for broader teacher training to red flag learning issues.
“Most people have never heard of dyscalculia yet 50 to 60 per cent of kids who have dyslexia also have dyscalculia,” she said.
“There is evidence that if you have one learning disability you are likely to have others … in kids with multiple issues it’s not always easy to tease apart what is going on.”
SPELD Victoria CEO Claire Stonier-Kipen said the Wodonga workshop was one of five outreach programs the organisation would hold in 2018.
The organisation’s mission is to help Victorians of all ages with dyslexia and learning difficulties achieve their learning potential.
Ms Stonier-Kipen said she has heard many challenging stories from frustrated parents “choking” with the effort to find help for their child.
And she said schools were a “mixed bag” in terms of awareness and support for learning issues “with enormous variance across the board”.
“Often it’s parent intuition that picks up something is not working here,” Ms Stonier-Kipen said.
“At SPELD we have the full suite of diagnositc tests and assessment as well as access to educational psychologists.
“We have an information line and and an online chat facility, which was originally aimed at teenagers but has had a broader take-up.”
Parents and a growing number of teachers are becoming hungry for more information about these types of learning disorders, according to Ms Stonier-Kipen.
She encouraged teachers to utilise SPELD’s online guide that offered a summary of strategies and a checklist of red flags for use in the classroom.
But it’s in the direct contact with regional communities where the need for more support becomes most apparent.
“With our outreach programs overwhelmingly the feedback we get is gratitude,” Ms Stonier-Kipen said.
“Some parents are choking and we allow them the chance to breathe and feel like there is a way forward.”