Dyscalculia learning disability

Dyscalculia Treatment – Neurofeedback

While there are a few general learning difficulties/disabilities that can impact mathematical performance, there is really only one identified math-specific learning disability. This disability is called dyscalculia and refers to several areas of difficulty with specific mathematical concepts and calculations. However today there is a lot of scientific evidence on the effectiveness of Neurofeedback  in dyscalculia treatment.

Dyscalculia learning disability is a lifelong condition that makes it hard for kids to perform math-related tasks. It’s not as well known or understood as dyslexia. But some experts believe it’s just as common. Approximately 15% of the population has reading and/or spelling learning disabilities and 10% have math learning disabilities.

For many children, getting through math classes and homework assignments is a daily struggle. No matter how hard the child tries to study, the math still does not come easily. Many adults deal with the same issue. Despite years of math classes and exams in the past, many adults still have difficulty doing basic math problems, which can affect day-to-day life and create feelings of embarrassment.

Researchers don’t know exactly what causes dyscalculia. These are the possible causes of dyscalculia:
Genes: Research shows that part of the difference in kids’ math scores can be explained by genes. In other words, differences in genetics may have an impact on whether a child has dyscalculia. Dyscalculia tends to run in families, which also suggests that genes play a role.
Brain development: Brain-imaging studies have shown some differences in brain function and structure in people with dyscalculia. The differences are in the surface area, thickness and volume of certain parts of the brain. There are also differences in the activation of areas of the brain associated with numerical and mathematical processing. These areas are linked to key learning skills, such as memory and planning.
Environment: Dyscalculia has been linked to fetal alcohol syndrome. Prematurity and low birth weight may also play a role in dyscalculia.
Brain injury: Studies show that injury to certain parts of the brain can result in what researchers call acquired dyscalculia.

SYMPTOMS OF DYSCALCULIA LEARNING DISABILITY

Preschool

  • Has trouble learning to count and skips over numbers long after kids the same age can remember numbers in the right order;
  • Struggles to recognize patterns, such as smallest to largest or tallest to shortest;
  • Has trouble recognizing number symbols (knowing that “5” means five);
  • Doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of counting. For example, when asked for five blocks, they just hand you an armful, rather than counting them out.

Grade School

  • Has difficulty learning and recalling basic math facts, such as 2 + 4 = 6;
  • Struggles to identify +, ‒ and other signs, and to use them correctly;
  • May still use fingers to count instead of using more advanced strategies, like mental math;
  • Struggles to understand words related to math, such as greater than and less than;
  • Has trouble with visual-spatial representations of numbers, such as number lines.

Middle School

  • Has difficulty understanding place value;
  • Has trouble writing numerals clearly or putting them in the correct column;
  • Has trouble with fractions and with measuring things, like ingredients in a simple recipe;
  • Struggles to keep score in sports games.

High School

  • Struggles to apply math concepts to money, including estimating the total cost, making the exact change and figuring out a tip;
  • Has a hard time grasping information shown on graphs or charts;
  • Has difficulty measuring things like ingredients in a simple recipe or liquids in a bottle;
  • Has trouble finding different approaches to the same math problem.

Dyscalculia can create challenges in more areas than just learning. These include social interactions and time management. Sometimes, these challenges can make kids with dyscalculia feel anxious about having to do math-related tasks. But dyscalculia is not the same as math anxiety.

Math anxiety can make kids question their abilities in math, even if they have strong skills. And although it’s not a learning issue, it can certainly get in the way of learning math.

When kids feel pressure to show what they know or worry they’re going to fail, they can become so anxious that they actually do poorly. This is particularly true on tests because performance translates into grades. In some cases, their anxiety can build and spill over into other areas of life.
Dyscalculia and math anxiety is different, but the signs and struggles can overlap. And it’s possible for a child to have both. This chart may help you better understand what you’re seeing in your child.

Signs of Math Anxiety Signs of Dyscalculia
Your child worries he’ll do poorly on a math test, even though he understands the material and has studied.
Your child expects to do poorly on a math test because he doesn’t understand the material, even after studying.
Your child does poorly on math tests, even after preparing for them, because anxiety gets in the way.
Your child does poorly on math tests, even after preparing for them, because he doesn’t understand the material.
Your child can get through homework fairly easily and answers most problems correctly. But he may feel anxious about doing it. He may even make errors because anxiety makes it hard to focus on some details. It may also make him focus too much on other details.
Your child spends a long time doing homework and gets many of the answers wrong.
Your child tries to avoid going to math class when there’s a quiz or test.
Your child tries to avoid going to math class, especially when there’s a quiz or test because he’s sure he’ll fail.
Your child gets good grades on math homework and classwork, but not on tests.
Your child gets poor grades on math homework, classwork, and tests.

It can be easy to think of dyscalculia and math anxiety as one and the same, especially because the signs can look similar.  Knowing what’s behind your child’s difficulty with math lets you respond in the best way.

  • Dyscalculia is a learning issue that affects math skills like counting, recalling math facts and understanding math concepts.
  • Math anxiety is an emotional issue involving self-doubt and fear of failing.
  • Both can create test anxiety and lead kids to try to avoid going to math classes.

It is believed that learning disorders are the result of changes in brain function. These problems may be in auditory function, memory processing, difficulties in understanding and remembering words, in express or comprehension of verbal or written language, forming letters or mathematical concepts. Research suggests that individuals with attention deficit have lots of slow brain wave activity.

Learning disabilities in children with brain mapping show one or several of the following cues: sharp and focal slow waves in one or more brain regions such as the occipital lobe, Wernicke area, Broca’s area, and sensory-motor area. EEG Neuroimaging research has consistently found dysfunction in the left posterior temporal lobe (behind the left ear) and in the occipital lobe (visual cortex) in the back of the brain. We see letters in the visual cortex and attach sounds in the left posterior temporal lobe. If these areas are dysfunctional or disconnected or the timing is off, then reading/spelling is likely to be impaired.

Dyscalculia learning disability is related to  the parietal lobe (the upper back of the head). EEG neuroimaging can indicate the types and severity of the dysfunction in this area. Moreover, the frontal lobes need to be functioning well in cooperation with both sides of the brain, as altogether they are responsible for working memory and concept development, which is crucial for math solving ability. EEG neurofeedback can usually remediate the blood flow and metabolism abnormalities, timing, and connectivity dysfunctions in affected areas.

Dyscalculia presents itself as a neuronal dysfunction in the intraparietal sulcus of the brain. In the image below, we can see the area that is affected by dyscalculia.

Dyscalculia learning disability develops a pattern of cognitive deterioration that usually manifests itself with skills deficits such as:

  • Focus (concentration)

Skill related to the pattern of cognitive deterioration linked to dyslexia. The structural deficit in these connections of neural networks is also related to inhibition, which affects the mind’s sharpness, making it more difficult for the child to learn math.

  • Divided attention

This skill is important as it allows for multitasking. Children with math disabilities present problems when responding to a stimulus because they are unable to focus, they get distracted with irrelevant stimuli, and they tire easily.

  • Working memory

This cognitive skill refers to temporary storage and the ability to manipulate information in order to complete complex assignments. Some difficulties as a result of this may be trouble following directions, forgetting instructions and tasks, low motivation, incomplete memories, being easily distracted, not remembering numbers, and delayed mental arithmetic.

  • Short-term memory

The capacity to retain a small amount of information during a short period of time. This mental deficit explains the inability to carry out math assignments. The problems present themselves when they calculate or attempt math problems. This is also related to the inability to remember numbers or multiplication tables.

  • Naming

Implies the ability to recall a word or number and use it later. Children with dyscalculia have difficulties remembering numbers because their ability to process information is deficient.

  • Planning

Low levels in this cognitive skill imply difficulties in planning and making sense of numbers and exercises. This inability to anticipate events or outcomes prevents the student from correctly completing the exercise.

  • Processing speed

This corresponds to the time it takes for our brain to receive information (a number, a mathematical equation, a problem…), understand it, and respond to it. Children that do not have any learning difficulties complete this process quickly and automatically, while children who have dyscalculia need more time and energy in order to process the information.

Brain Mapping - Neurofeedback in Discalculia Learning Disability

Mapping results on children meta-analyses (in red), on the triple-code model (green), and adult meta-analyses (orange). In green are illustrated the schematized cortical locations of the triple-code model proposed by Dehaene and Cohen, 1995, Dehaene and Cohen, 1997:
(1) Inferior parietal cortex: quantity representation,
(2) Temporal cortex: visual-computational number symbols,
(3) Articulatory loop,
(4) Verbal system,
(5) Basal ganglia: arithmetic facts,
(6) Thalamus: arithmetic facts, and
(7) Prefrontal cortex: strategy choice and planning.
In orange are additional schematic locations of areas concordant among adult studies, as demonstrated by meta-analyses (Arsalidou and Taylor, 2011):
(a) Superior frontal BA 10: formulates complex goals, sub-goal creation,
(b) Middle frontal BA 46: in more or less misleading situations it monitors more than a few items,
(c) Inferior frontal BA 9: monitor simple rules or a few items,
(d) Precentral gyrus: eye movements,
(e) Insula: interoceptive motivation of goal-directed and default-mode processes,
(f) Cingulate gyrus: converts affective goals into cognitive goals to be implemented,
(g) Right angular gyrus: visual-spatial fact retrieval (i.e., spatial-temporal schemes with non-verbalizable configurable relations), and
(h) Cerebellum: goal-directed, visual motor sequencing.
(i) Right basal ganglia: coordination of top-down and bottom-up operative/motor processes. (j) Claustrum: integration of motivated top-down and bottom-up processes.
Children implicate the right insula (BA 13) more extensively than adults in calculation tasks, whereas adults implicate more prefrontal areas

Dyscalculia test for parents and teachers

Dyscalculia is not easy to diagnose, and most schools do not have any type of early detection system in place to identify this disorder in the classroom and help children get the tools they need. For this reason, it is often up to parents and families to be alert and identify the early symptoms. If you think your child has dyscalculia, a cognitive assessment may also be useful. Deficits in cognitive skills such as focus, divided attention, working memory, short-term memory, naming skills, planning, or processing speed may be indicators of dyscalculia. 

Print this test out. It is the first step in improving your child’s future.

Dyscalculia treatment with Neurofeedback

The most effective treatment for dyscalculia learning disability, just like with dyslexia, is an early diagnosis. The earlier the problem is identified, the earlier those children with this disorder can learn the necessary tools to help them adapt to a new learning process, and the more likely they are to avoid learning delays, self-esteem problems, and other more serious disorders.

Dyscalculia treatment - solving games
Ways to help children with dyscalculia dyscalculia treatment

Studies on the effects of Neurofeedback training on learning disabilities especially mathematics disorders are not as large as on dyslexia, but confirmation of Neurofeedback effective use for ADHD by the FDA has been approved.

Neurofeedback training for dyscalculia treatment can be used both as a stand-alone therapy and as a complementary therapy. The symptoms of dyscalculia can be sustainably reduced by continuous training, as a comprehensive meta-study from 2018 clearly shows. The working memory can be increased and lead to an increased ability to concentrate.

Neurofeedback training for Concentration Improvement

Thanks to the neuroplasticity, with the use of neurofeedback in dyscalculia treatment we can rebuild deteriorated brain functions and help these children develop new brain strategies aimed to efficiently improve the difficulties associated with dyscalculia.

Dyscalculia treatment with Neurofeedback (NFB) involves a brain-computer interface that allows users to learn to control their cortical oscillations. 

Neurofeedback is considered to be a noninvasive tool for treating brain disorders and impact on brain function. Recent research provides evidence that Neurofeedback training is useful for dealing with patients suffering from an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning difficulties, etc. but it also used in order to enhance cognitive function and improves brain operating efficiency of healthy people.

Neurofeedback brain training exercises for children with dyscalculia learning disability evaluates the level of cognitive deterioration and automatically creates an intervention strategy that is personalized for each profile. This allows for stimulation of the parts of the brain that show deficits through fun clinical games and exercises. Some of the deteriorated brain modules that these exercises work to improve are associated with the ability to concentrate or focus, divided attention, working memory, visual memory, and short term memory, naming, and processing or planning speed. It is proven and well-known that neurofeedback is helping to improve executive functioning, including short and long-term memory, focus, concentration, and task management, which undoubtedly make an impact in dyscalculia treatment.

Beta waves are essential for attention. Beta reduced activity in these patients can lead to learning problems. Enhancing beta waves can solve this problem. There are a number of researches that had indicated high effectiveness of dyscalculia treatment with Neurofeedback. Best results are described with neurofeedback BTR protocol with the enhancement of beta/theta ratio.

Chronic stress and math anxiety, which can make the brain pattern irregularities even greater, can make dyscalculia worse. Decreasing this stress pattern in patients with dyscalculia learning disability can significantly improve symptoms. In case of presence of math anxiety, the good results obtained with neurofeedback alpha/theta protocol with the enhancement of alpha/theta ratio.

Neurofeedback Protocols for Dyscalculia

When designing a neurofeedback protocol for dyscalculia, the primary goal is typically to encourage brainwave patterns associated with improved attention, focus, and cognitive processing, especially in brain regions involved in numerical processing and mathematical reasoning.

While there isn’t a specific neurofeedback protocol universally established for dyscalculia, researchers and clinicians have explored various electrode application sites and protocols targeting brain regions associated with numerical processing, attention, and cognitive functions. Here’s an overview of some research findings regarding electrode application sites for dyscalculia neurofeedback.

1. Frontal Cortex (Fp1, Fp2, F3, F4, F7, F8):

The frontal cortex is involved in executive functions, including attention, working memory, and cognitive control, which are crucial for mathematical reasoning.
• Research suggests that training frontal brain regions through neurofeedback may improve attentional control and cognitive processing, potentially benefiting individuals with dyscalculia.

• Protocol: Beta/SMR Training
1. Beta (13-30 Hz) training aims to enhance focused attention, cognitive processing, and executive functions associated with the frontal cortex.
2. Sensorimotor rhythm (SMR) (12-15 Hz) training focuses on promoting calm focus and inhibiting hyperactivity, which can support attentional control and cognitive performance.

Dyscalculia NFB - electrode location-1

2. Parietal Cortex (P3, P4, Pz):

• The parietal cortex plays a key role in numerical processing, spatial awareness, and visuospatial processing, which are essential for mathematical tasks.
• Studies have shown that dyscalculic individuals may exhibit differences in parietal cortex activation compared to typically developing individuals, indicating a potential target for neurofeedback training.

• Protocol: Alpha/Theta Training
1. Alpha (8-12 Hz) training aims to promote relaxed alertness and inhibit excessive mind wandering, which can enhance attentional focus and cognitive stability.
2. Theta (4-8 Hz) training targets deep relaxation and introspection, which may facilitate access to subconscious processes and creative problem-solving abilities.

Dyscalculia NFB - electrode location-2

3. Central Cortex (C3, C4, Cz):

• The central cortex is associated with sensorimotor processing and motor planning, which contribute to fine motor skills and numerical manipulation.
• Neurofeedback targeting central brain regions may help improve motor coordination and processing speed, which can be beneficial for tasks requiring numerical computation.

• Protocol: SMR/Theta Training
1. SMR (12-15 Hz) training, as mentioned earlier, promotes calm focus and sensorimotor integration, which can support motor coordination and cognitive processing related to numerical manipulation.
2. Theta (4-8 Hz) training may also be used to facilitate relaxation and introspection, depending on the individual’s specific needs and treatment goals.

Dyscalculia NFB - electrode location-3

4. Temporo-Parietal Junction (TP7, TP8):

• The temporo-parietal junction is implicated in various cognitive functions, including attentional allocation, social cognition, and numerical processing.
• Research suggests that dyscalculic individuals may show differences in temporo-parietal junction activation during numerical tasks, indicating its potential relevance for neurofeedback training.

• Protocol: Alpha/Theta or Beta/SMR Training
1. Similar to the protocols targeting parietal and frontal regions, training at the temporo-parietal junction may involve alpha/theta or beta/SMR protocols, depending on the desired outcomes and individual response to treatment.

5. Midline Sites (Fz, Cz, Pz):

• Midline electrode sites encompass regions such as the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and midline parietal areas, which are involved in attentional control, error monitoring, and cognitive processing.
• Training midline brain regions through neurofeedback may enhance attentional focus, cognitive flexibility, and error detection, which are important for mathematical problem-solving.

• Protocol: Alpha/Theta or Beta/SMR Training
1. Training at midline electrode sites typically involves alpha/theta or beta/SMR protocols, aiming to enhance attentional control, cognitive flexibility, and error monitoring functions associated with the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and midline parietal areas.

Dyscalculia NFB - electrode location-4

6. Individualized Approaches:

• Some studies advocate for individualized approaches to electrode application, where electrode sites are selected based on each individual’s unique neurophysiological profile, as determined by quantitative EEG (QEEG) assessments.
• By tailoring neurofeedback protocols to target specific areas of dysregulation in each individual, greater efficacy and personalized treatment outcomes may be achieved.

• Protocol: Tailored to Individual Needs
1. Individualized neurofeedback protocols may incorporate a combination of frequency bands (e.g., beta, alpha, theta, SMR) and training strategies based on each individual’s unique neurophysiological profile, as determined by quantitative EEG (QEEG) assessments.
2. The specific protocol used for each individual may vary based on their presenting symptoms, cognitive strengths and weaknesses, and treatment goals.

Before initiating neurofeedback training, a quantitative EEG (QEEG) assessment is often conducted to identify the individual’s baseline brainwave patterns and areas of dysregulation. The QEEG analysis can help determine which specific brainwave frequencies (e.g., theta, alpha, beta) and brain regions may be contributing to the dyscalculia symptoms.
Based on the QEEG results and the individual’s specific needs, a personalized neurofeedback protocol is developed.

Dyscalculia Treatment with Neurofeedback Home Use Device

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Double your learning speed by knowing your learning effectiveness! When you are effective, you can absorb more and retain more. If you are not effective, try changing your learning method, switching to a different task, or taking a rest. The Effective Learner app uses a NeuroSky’s brainwave sensing headset to detect your learning effectiveness and show it as 6 different color coded levels, so you can gauge your effectiveness with a quick glance. MindWave Mobile headset required. Buy your headset then download the Effective Learner App with optional Study Trainer add-on. Read more…

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The Excellent Brain Home Kit

The Excellent Brain Home Kit will enable you to train your attention and focus abilities using a cutting-edge Neurofeedback kit at the convenience of your own home. Excellent Brain software is a revolutionary program that helps children and teens with attention deficit problems, overcome learning and behavioral difficulties and improves their self-esteem significantly.

This software is friendly, easy to use, and challenging. The software helps the children to understand when they lose focus and when they are present, and thus they are able to take responsibility and be focused while doing homework alone or with friends.

The Excellent Brain kit comes with a Neurosky EEG wave measurement headset that can connect to your PC (Excellent Brain and the MindWave Mobile 2 in combination are only compatible with Windows 10) or tablet with a standard Bluetooth device.

Our brain operates at varying frequencies (electrical brain waves), some are higher and others less. Functioning require a certain frequency. For example, for thinking, attention, motivation, we need a higher frequency. It was noted that when people suffer from ADHD symptoms and are required for one of these activities, the brain waves frequency does not rise to the required height or does not maintain long. The neurofeedback training method is a non-invasive way to practice and improve focus and attention by changing your brain waves to the good regardless to medications.

Read more….

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References:

Antonia Plerou, Panagiotis Vlamos. 2016, Neurofeedback Training Effect in Cognition and Mathematical Perception: IORE Journal of Bioinformatics & Computational Biology IJBCB Vol1.1 (2016), DOI: 10.21770/0907-3004.004

Peyman Hashemian, Pezhman Hashemian. Effectiveness of Neuro-feedback on Mathematics Disorder; Hashemian and Hashemian, J Psychiatry 2015, 18:2

Marie Arsalidouab, Matthew Pawliw-Levaca, Mahsa Sadeghia, Juan Pascual-Leonea. 2018. Brain areas associated with numbers and calculations in children: Meta-analyses of fMRI studies. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, Volume 30, April 2018, Pages 239-250, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2017.08.002

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