Common Myths About Dyscalculia and Math Learning Disabilities

What is dyscalculia? Dyscalculia is a specific learning disability in math. Kids with dyscalculia may have difficulty understanding number-related concepts or using symbols or functions needed for success in mathematics.

It’s not as well known or understood as dyslexia. But some experts believe it’s just as common. Experts don’t yet know for sure if dyscalculia is more common in girls or in boys. But most agree it’s unlikely that there’s any significant difference.

Dyscalculia goes by many names. Some schools refer to it as a mathematics learning disability. Doctors sometimes call it a mathematics disorder. You may even hear kids and parents call it math dyslexia. (The term math dyslexia can be misleading, though Dyscalculia and dyslexia are not the same.)

They often don’t understand quantities or concepts like biggest vs. smallest. They may not understand that the numeral 5 is the same as the word five. (These skills are sometimes called number sense.)

Kids with dyscalculia also have trouble with the mechanics of doing math, such as being able to recall math facts. They may understand the logic behind math, but not how or when to apply what they know to solve math problems.

Who says dyscalculia isn’t common?

Here are five common myths about dyscalculia—and the facts to debunk them.

Source: Common Myths About Dyscalculia and Math Learning Disabilities

For Youth Who’ve Experienced “Complex Trauma”[Part 1]

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                       What is ‘Complex Trauma’?

Youth grow up in many different kinds of families and neighborhoods. When things go well, they have grown ups in their lives who look out for them, show them love, and help them grow up to be healthy and strong. However, sometimes the grown ups who children and adolescents are supposed to be able to count on to help and protect them say or do really mean or hurtful things, or just aren’t able to take care of them.

Life experiences matter—good, bad, and everything in between. As we grow up, both the things that happen and those that don’t happen affect us. Some youth don’t think what happens really matters. How about you? Some people think children and adolescents are supposed to get over what happens to them even if it’s something really horrible. But for many youth, things keep bothering them long after they happened.

A Traumatic Experience Versus a Lifetime of Traumatic Experiences

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There is a profound difference between a traumatic experience, like a car accident or a hurricane, or  a complex trauma occurring when lots of dangerous or hurtful things keep happening over and over again, like sexual abuse, bullying, or neglect. We have many different names for these kinds of things: stress, tragedy, adversity, and trauma. None of these words really capture the difference between what it’s like to deal with one or a couple of bad things that happened, versus living with lots of terrible things happening all the time.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

girl-stressAfter going through a traumatic event, many youth (and adults) have a hard time forgetting what happened. Sometimes they have nightmares, or can’t stop thinking about it. They can get jumpy or tense, feel afraid that the bad thing will happen again, or lose interest in things they used to like to do. These responses to trauma are normal, and aren’t just “kid” problems: they happen to athletes, soldiers, police officers, firemen, and parents. Sometimes it gets better on its own. When it doesn’t, and people keep getting triggered by things that remind them of what happened, this is called PTSD.

Complex Trauma

fireballSometimes, young people grow up with a lot of bad things or hardly any good things, or both. And sometimes the same bad things happen so often, youth might think that this is just how life is. There could be trouble at home, like grown ups fighting all the time or not giving children things they need like enough to eat, warm clothes, hugs, words of encouragement, or praise. Sometimes, things are bad in a way that hurts young people on the inside, where no one can see, like when grown ups, older siblings, or peers are constantly saying terrible things about them, threatening them, or getting mad and blaming them for things that are not their fault. Some youth live in scary neighborhoods where it never feels safe outside their home.

It can be really hard when bad stuff starts to pile up. Many children and adolescents feel like there’s no one around to fix things, and no one in their corner. They can feel afraid, sad, or mad a lot of the time, or blame themselves for what’s going wrong. It can also be hard to trust people when you never know if someone is going to let you down, disappear, or attack you all of a sudden. If you feel like people don’t care about you, you might start thinking you deserve the bad things that happen. Instead of feeling loved and special, you might not feel good about yourself.

You might feel like you’re really different from other people and like you don’t fit in, especially if you see others having good times with their families and having grown ups they can count on. It might feel like you’ll never be good at anything no matter how hard you try, and you want to just give up. It can feel really hopeless. When youth feel like this, it usually doesn’t get better on its own. Sound complicated? You bet. That’s why it’s called Complex Trauma.

Complex Trauma can affect people in lots of different ways. Children and adolescents with Complex Trauma often have negative thoughts, emotions, or beliefs about themselves or the world. They might have uncomfortable feelings in their bodies from living with constant stress. Living a traumatic life can make it hard for young people to have healthy relationships or imagine a good future.

Even when bad stuff happened in early childhood and was supposed to be “over” years ago, the effects of Complex Trauma can last a really long time. This can be confusing and upsetting for teens and even young adults who still feel hopeless, unhappy, stuck, lost, or unsafe even though everything is supposed to be better and different now. This can create a lot of pressure and shame, especially when adults start to get impatient, frustrated, or blame youth for not trying hard enough to change. The important thing to remember here is that this is exactly how Complex Trauma works. The good news is that you don’t have to go through it alone, and you shouldn’t go through this alone- SEEK HELP! It helps!

 Part 2 will focus on strategies youth use to cope  with stressful experiences and feelings that may cause additional problems.


7 Phrases Parents Will Need to Use In I.E.P. Meetings

I.E.P.[Individualized Education Program] meetings/conferences are places when emotions run high and tempers may flare. What should be a constructive respectful conversation between key team members, can end up sounding like a shouting contest. No one wants to listen; just talk-dictation, in fact.There is a lot of unfamiliar jargon, educator-speak, and talking that seems words are coming at you instead of coming to you.  No two-way communication. There is scarcely any time in this discussion when the ‘professionals’ and ‘experts’ stop to ensure you understand what is going on. It IS your child and you, too, are an expert with valuable knowledge to share and questions to ask.

You may object to something being said, need further explanation, or wish to see the evidence that supports determinations regarding your child’s mandated or recommended services. As your child’s advocate, an expert in your own rights, you must speak up. Parents are equal members of the IEP team, and therefore should be heard. You have a voice. So, respectfully exercise it. Whether you are English language proficient or possess limited grasp of the language, your voice matters. If translation services are needed, insist.

Make sure that you understand all that’s being discussed, and the relevance to your child’s education. Don’t leave meetings confused, and don’t let anyone else exit the meeting with you not fully understanding, in laymen’s terms, what’s been said. Never leave a meeting filled with anger or confused, either. Here are a few phrases to help to ensure that you are respected, valued, consulted, and heard while defusing any tension in the room:


#1 ” I can show you!”

If anyone attempts to derail the conversation by telling you that they aren’t sure where your information is coming from, show him/her.

Example: “I’ve highlighted that information in the text of my progress notes. I can show each member of this team, and you will receive a copy, as well.”

#2 ” I may be misunderstanding”

IEP meetings can get heated when there is disagreement about interpreting test results and laws. It can be diffused by taking a step back and allowing the school to explain its position. However, if you are certain that you are correct, just relax, you’ll get your chance to say so.

Example: “I may be misunderstanding this. Can you show me a clear interpretation of that law? Here’s what I have with me that speaks to that issue.”

#3 ” How can we work together to make this happen?”

Hearing someone at your child’s school tell you it doesn’t provide a certain service can be frustrating. Or they tell you that there is no staff to implement it. The law is on your side, so it is best to focus on collaboration-working together to accomplish IEP goals.

Example: “How can we work together to make this happen? Legally, educational related services must meet my child’s individual needs and this service is recommended.”

#4 “May I see a written copy of this policy?”

A school staff may say to you: “this is how we’ve always done things.” Well, that doesn’t mean that it is a policy. Ask to see it in writing that this IS how they handle situations.

Example: “I understand this is how you do things, but may I see a copy of this policy that outlines the procedure?”

#5 “I understand”

This simple phrase can calm a heated discussion in so many situations. Saying this is not the same thing as saying,” I agree”. It just means that you acknowledge hearing what was said.

Example: ” I understand that you have another meeting beginning in 10 minutes. However, while we are here now, is it possible to schedule a time to continue this conversation in the near future?”

#6 ” I’ve noticed…”

Since parents are key members of he IEP team, if you feel your concerns aren’t being heard, pause, take a deep breath and then very calmly speak up. Be specific about what you know and see in your child.

Example: “I’ve noticed that towards the end of the day, my child is unable to focus on her/his homework without getting frustrated. Can we talk about how to make it less frustrating for my child?”

#7 “Shall we talk about what is working?”

It can seem as though an IEP meeting is a lengthy discussion centered on what’s wrong. It doesn’t have to be. You can shift the focus onto what is going well-what works. In fact, with this in the fore, you can discover ways to ensure a continuation of progress and also address other related issues.

Example: ” Let’s talk about what’s working. Maybe some of those difficult troublesome areas can be addressed and helped by exploring some of the identified strengths and effective strategies already in place.”

IEP meetings/conferences don’t have to be a gathering of opposing mindsets in which collaborative consultation is impossible. Every member of the team, including the parents and the child should be on the same page, with the same objective-to maximize learning progress and ensure, comprehensively, the development of total wellness and optimal academic achievement of your child. You can be a confident and effective advocate for your child at school, home and in the community. Be that person!

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It is vital that you keep a ‘cool’ head should others lose theirs. Maintain self-control, stay calm and articulate your thoughts as clearly as you can. Mutual respect should be the framework within which these conferences are conducted. However, if tempers do flair up, and there are any perceived ‘bad guys’ at these meetings, let it be the other person- not you. Be the ‘good guy’ for your child, for it isn’t about you nor staff; it is about doing what’s best for your child, and ensuring your child receives services that address their learning needs according to IEP mandates. It’s about achievement!


Why it Takes the Right Kind of Teacher to Recognize Gifts and Talents Within Student Diversity


I’ve written about my children before and once again, I will place a different slant on an already explored subject: THE GIFTED CHILDREN OF COLOR, within the public school system.

As a 3 year old early reader, my first born entered kindergarten at age 5. So fortunate were we that she had an excellent teacher who totally recognized her aptitude in that traditionally, play-filled learning environment.

Besides my daughter’s  she could have been trapped in the web-like boundaries placed many other children of color as they navigate the public school system. Having seldom before interacted with her teacher, we both felt it necessary to collaborate  in my daughter’s best interest. At first, this teacher let her read everyday to the class. She also consulted with the school principal who, upon recommendation, advanced my daughter, mid-year, into 1st grade.

My daughter performed all grade level work, but after about three days, wasn’t having it. She was miserable in her new class. So we moved her back where she felt supported, and had already made friends. After her return to kindergarten, we still didn’t want her talent to become lost amidst the future crowded public school classrooms.

I met with the teacher and principal again, and this time I was made privy to a little known Gifted and Talented program at another school. It is now the end of her first year at school, and that program was in high demand. Although it was summer break, I was so very encouraged by that teacher’s dedication to my daughter’s education. With great resolve, we made an appointment to interview for this program.

At her 1st interview, conducted by the district coordinator, we were told that she recognized no exceptional ability, and that the program had also reached max enrollment. My child was reading at a 2nd grade level in kindergarten! No??!!!  Floored and in disbelief, this wonderful teacher, still packing up for her vacation, kept in touch with us. I gave her the news and she insisted that we return to that office, now with her and the principal’s recommendation in hand. They miraculously found a spot for my daughter and the rest is history. My daughter spent all of k-12 in accelerated learning, was awarded Valedictorian, grad of Penn State in Mech. Engineering, earned wings as an Air Force Pilot, now an IP[Instructor Pilot] a Major and is still shattering all ‘glass ceilings’, with a Master’s degree in Diplomatic Relations. She was the poster child for public education. It takes the right kind of teacher to recognize gifts and talents among students of color!

Now, here are some statistics:

Nationally, more than 80 percent of teachers are white; at the same time, students of color make up more than half of public school students. And often, the demographic disparity between white teachers and their students of color shows up in the data.

For example, 1 in 4 black boys with a disability was suspended during the 2013-2014 school year, compared with 1 in 10 white boys with a disability. For black girls, it was 1 in 5, compared with 1 in 20.

At high-needs schools, behavior problems are one of the early warning signs of a student’s probability of dropping out. The National Center for Learning Disabilities analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Education and found that students with learning disabilities drop out at nearly three times the rate of students overall. And for black students, dropping out is even more likely.

There exists a double stigma these students face that is a key factor in their graduation rates. It’s not only the academic challenges that can affect these students’ self-esteem and motivation to learn. For black students, there’s also the awareness of racial biases and discrimination.

In the 2014-2015 school year, about 37 percent of black students with a disability left high school without a regular diploma, compared with 23 percent of white students with a disability — a 14 percentage-point difference.

If teachers aren’t aware of the stereotypes that minorities and special needs students face, and aren’t cued into that, the cycle continues.

To interrupt cycles of generations in which students of color fail to graduate high school or complete the basic k-12 education course requirements, we must logically begin with pre-service and in-service teacher training. Teachers must be provided opportunities, within their graduate coursework, to explore and  become  aware of their own biases — implicit or explicit. Soon-to-be teachers ought to be required to take courses in the exploration of culture and diversity to prepare them for the variety of school environments in which they may work. Cultural responsiveness can only approach authenticity and empathic sensitivity, with greater assurance, by teacher prep programs largely devoted to this exploration, examination, and experiential learning… just plain old practice[within safe spaces where the impact upon  diverse populations are controlled]. In other words, teachers need to build their capacity before they interact with diversity as leaders at the school level.

In order to identify a student’s giftedness or school, do we view giftedness as an exception to the group, racially, culturally, or only an exception within your specific group? We must be willing and open to spot intelligence within all groups, races and cultures. A narrow lens, which has framed the public education system, held black children to be viewed as possessing less intelligence and greater problematic behavior than whites. If a black child demonstrated unfamiliar or negatively associated  behaviors or attitudes within a school setting, discipline and discouragement was the strategic go-to. It reinforced negative stereotypes by the masses, and was attributed to academic incompetence, or intellectual disability. Thus, special education placements  ran rampant in public schools, as their idea of appropriately educating students of color. Schools test and refer for identification of disability far more often than  to identify accelerated ability, intelligence or aptitude among children of color. A true dilemma! Therein lies the problem…not them, but us[educators].

On the flip side of this dilemma, when a student earns unusually high grades on exams and assignments, the initial reaction has frequently been to assume dishonesty, cheating, or luck. Consider that mindset permeating an entire school culture. Throughout his or her school day, an exceptionally gifted child continues to be second guessed and doubted. It will wear off onto that child, and other children will receive the same message, as well. Without sincere acknowledgement, encouragement and recognition, they stop trying, stop engaging and anger, disappointment, and disillusionment soon follows. Students act up, act out, are absent more often, and eventually drop out, unprepared for life outside and beyond the classroom. These scenarios all are made possible by the lack of cultural proficiency and bias on the behalf of  underprepared educators.

With the best of intentions, educators have biases that creep into their interactions with students of color. It is largely under the surface, and when they believe they are being fair-minded, unbiased, it slips out, and seeps into the learning spaces of students. It is important that these biases are identified, examined and conscious decisions, communication, practices and perspectives guide pedagogical methodology, and instructional delivery in the best interest of all children. Academic achievement, successful learning outcomes and life and career excellence should be an expectation and not an exception for students of color. It should be communicated as such, too!

Cultural sensitivity comes from a position of strength, value and a desire to build upon that which is already there. It is empowerment, with an understanding that everyone comes with unique and equally valuable sets of beliefs and experiences-all of which are relative and subjective. A cultural difference is not a deficit, but strengths to be acknowledged, appreciated and celebrated.

When teachers understand how a student’s background can affect his or her behavior in the classroom, they can build better relationships and diminish the effects that double stigma has on their students. In a classroom of 30 students, so many have gifts and talents, but it takes the right teachers to recognize them!