Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Day 2308 - Did you know that for some children with dyslexia all maths symbols look the same?

Imagine if all math symbols were the same.

Image source

Imagine if there was no divide, minus or multiply symbol, just a + + + used for everything.

Imagine if you were give a sheet of maths equations and you had to guess whether or not you were meant to plus, minus, divide or multiply.

Imagine if you loved maths and you were good at maths, but on test day all the symbols were removed from the test paper and you had to take a stab as to what was expected of you.

That would be like a very bad dream.

It turns out for some kids, they can't wake up from it. This is their reality.

As you know our boy has dyslexia.  More specifically he has what's known as Irlen Syndrome which we've addressed with coloured glasses and having his work printed on blue paper (among other things).

He was doing well enough last year that he no longer needed to attend learning support classes and was feeling pretty good about things,  He still has a low reading level, but reading will never be easy for him.  We've found ways to get around that.

One thing that he's always enjoyed is maths.

He's quite analytical and often working out everyday maths problems in his head.  If Harvey Norman is offering 20 months interest free and we bought a TV worth this much then we'd have to pay blah blah each month to have it paid off. 

So it would come as a surprise to me that his school results never showed his aptitude for numbers.

I was always baffled. He can read numbers and doesn't get numbers out of place or back to front.

6, 792, 456 is not 6, 972, 546.  He can actually see it as 6, 792, 456.

I just figured the low results were because they were giving the maths assessments to him in words instead of just numbers.  Because he's totally fine with numbers.  I assumed he was testing low because they were text based problems.

Last week he started high school.

Of course this provides a whole new learning environment and a bunch of new dyslexia challenges.

He came home one day early in the week to say he'd had a maths test.  When we asked how he went he said he'd felt good doing the test, but then when he had to mark it he got less than 50%.

Because he was marking the test himself he was able to identify where he went wrong. It turns out he couldn't make out when the addition equations then switched to division equations.  The plus symbol and the division symbol look the same.


Shit, shit, shit.

How have we not picked this up before?

I guess because in primary school they would preface each section of work with "this is addition" or "let's do multiplication".  Then when it came to testing time it was easy to assume that he just doesn't know his work.

You can imagine what this does to a kids confidence.

He's basically been running blind.

So I did some research and it turns out this is a fairly common problem for people with dyslexia.  That the minus and the division look the same, and that even addition and multiplication are confusing because they are both crosses and the eyes/brain can't actually determine that the angle of the cross is different.

He agreed.  He often gets his symbols wrong.  All of them.

There is a form of dyslexia that relates specifically to maths called dyscalculia where people have trouble with the language, the sequencing and the orientation.

It's the orientation we're talking about here today.  Confusion with maths symbols and having trouble with the coding subtext (decoding symbols).

So I could have sat around swearing to myself all day or crying because we've taken so long to work this out.  Or I could scream at the unfairness or make myself physically ill with worrying about his future.

And I guess I did all those things to some degree.

But the first thing I did was organised a meeting with his mentor teacher to get processes in place to ensure that the school is not only aware of the problem but that they can find ways to help.

A change of font, increasing the size of the symbol, making sure that testing is done in a way that actually assesses his knowledge not just his ability to see and read.

We talked about other subjects too including what impact this whole "decoding symbols" thing was going to have on his ability to learn Chinese.

I also strongly suggested we get all of his English texts on audio in addition to hard copy so that his English class can be about analysing the text and comprehending the story, rather than simply focusing on reading the words.

We are all working together to help him be the best he can be within his challenges.

This new information had me feeling powerless for a few hours but by taking the power back we're moving onward and upward.

Did you know that for some children maths symbols all look the same?

Have you heard of dyscalculia?

What's had you feeling powerless recently?


  1. Oh Leanne. I really feel for you and your little boy. At least you're on top of it now. I had no idea some dyslexic people had issues with symbols. With such a great support network behind him, I'm sure your son will continue to excel #teamIBOT

  2. glad it was a quick solve with his support team. next time, I bet he gets 100%!

  3. That must be such a frustrating thing for him. I'm glad he had you there to work out a solution- I wonder how many kids muddle through, unsupported.

  4. Wow that is tough. But at least you've picked it up now and he can work on some strategies to get through high school.

  5. It's good that you've now identified this challenge and have been able to notify the school and work on implementing strategies to assist your son. All the best to your son in his studies.

  6. Oh I had no idea!
    Don't feel too bad though; we can't be expected to know everything. Especially if he himself couldn't work it out. And at least you picked it up at the start of high school. Hopefully now things will get easier for him.

  7. I've always wondered that about how people design education - is it really testing the knowledge? Like with the reading skills vs maths. I remember wondering in high school why I had to perform in English class - it wasn't drama so what wasI being marked on?

  8. Oh wow I didn't know about dyslexia also impacting maths in that way. I hope that now that the school is aware of it that they can help your son reach his potential.

  9. I think I have dyscalculia! Honestly, I was total shite at maths and always understood the problems when with a tutor but left to my own devices pure shite. So glad your son found out about his problem now. imagine attempting to do year 11 or 12 math without knowing!!

  10. I had no idea about this either Leanne. Thankfully you have now figured out the problem and he will thrive. I guess with something like dyslexia, it's an ongoing learning process.

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