My Dyscalculic Son…
My son is a summer baby, so school came too soon. His primary school was supportive, but the current national curriculum moves through early years and key stages like an express train, stuffed with different topics each week leaving little possibility for ‘over-learning’ or the embedding of core maths basics.
A retired teacher kindly gave my son a little bit of additional support, two half mornings a week. Her concern was that he was learning through ‘no’; untrained TA’s, somewhat exasperated and frustrated, put in charge to help the struggling kids had actually left my son worse off and guessing wildly at speed so the ordeal of their low tolerance would be over. Sad faces with children’s names attached were displayed on classroom ‘behaviour charts’, sinking lower and lower, a public shaming for ‘lack of concentration’. What happened to progressive education ? What happened to positive reinforcement?
By year 5 his grasp of maths was far from solid, his mind racing away from any given task in blind panic. No matter how nice and the kind adults around him were, other children could cope, but he couldn’t hold his memory for basic times tables. It was impossible not to feel a little outcast. His instinct was to lean with great curiosity towards the children with severe autism or ADHD. He felt closer and interested in their complexity, wondering if he related to them on a ‘spectrum’.
Attempting to support school work at home has been challenging and exhausting. The parent’s voice is loaded for the child. ‘You are angry with me and so stressed out Mummy!” I don’t think I am. I’m making great efforts to try to be as clear as possible, but my own memory of maths formulas isn’t that fresh, and I worry it’s hard for me to have the crystal clear instruction at hand. I don’t feel very convincing. I have to go back 40 years to retrieve it all. I suggest to my son that we record ourselves, so I can hear how I am sounding. Am I angry?
We play back the recording and it’s clear my son is apoplectic. He is shouting at me and furious at any suggestion to correct a possible mistake. He bursts into tears, realising his emotions are fraught, out of control, far from the cool kid he would like to see himself as. It was the coal calling the kettle black, or am I just better at masking my own panic?
Half way through year 5 we managed to get him into a calm, focussed and supportive learning environment which is building in all the missing foundational stones and crucially, his confidence. This is highly skilled work and requires patience and great sensitivity. It is pretty much impossible as a parent to deliver this within ‘homework’.
Talking of homework, I call my accountant to double check, ‘how do you calculate the percentage of a given number?’ She has been using a calculator for years now, she and her accountant husband suggest two different formulas. I still don’t know which one is simplest to explain to my son. Why would you need to learn how to do this now, she quips, unless to calculate the percentage of a shared meal with friends on a gap year in some remote place when all smartphones have lost their charge? But I believe maths is so much more than its direct application. Through maths we learn to think in abstract and conceptual terms and the use of this into adult life is infinite and creative. Learning seems to be a skill in itself, being both passive in order to take instruction, and then active to make what we can grasp our own. I am sure being a parent of a child without dyscalculia and dyslexia would be more plain sailing, I have no choice but to welcome the learning curve these challenges have thrown at me, (and re-experience my own dyslexic childhood experience).
By Rebecca – January 2021
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