Nicole is struggling with math. She has difficulties learning and using math concepts, and she struggles with basic computation. As a result, she has been labeled with dyscalculia, which is a math-specific learning disorder. Despite seeing a few math tutors for help, and trying a few math programs specifically designed for kids with learning disorders, Nicole is still struggling to process math concepts, remember math facts, and solve word problems. She is frustrated, and is beginning to believe that she really has a learning disability.
Nicole's math difficulties are very common. Many kids and adults experience problems when learning and using math facts and concepts. These kinds of math difficulties are not disabilities – they are symptoms. And, the root cause of these symptoms is often a weakness in either symbol imagery, concept imagery, or both.
Symbol imagery or, Numeral Imagery, is the ability to visualize the identity and sequence of numerals and other symbols in math problems. Many kids and adults who are thought to have math-specific learning disabilities are able to perform functions, such as addition and subtraction. However, like Nicole, these individuals struggle with difficulties in recognizing the written symbols. For example, Nicole knows, “two minus one is one," but when she sees the math problem written-out as "2-1=__," she may not recognize what the '2' means, or that the '-' is a minus sign; and, if she does recognize the meaning of the symbols, she may still struggle with their order (i.e., which number is being subtracted from which).
Concept imagery is the ability to visualize the gestalt, or the whole, of a math concept. It is the underlying skill needed for critical thinking, which is necessary for applying known concepts to new situations. Many kids and adults who are thought to have math-specific learning disabilities are able to process the parts, but struggle to see the big picture. In other words, they experience difficulties connecting the overall concept - the gestalt - to individual math problems. For example, they might be able to solve for "1+1," but they cannot solve for "1+2," because they do not comprehend the gestalt of addition - they simply memorized the math fact "1+1=2."
Math-related weaknesses in symbol/numeral imagery, concept imagery, or both, often manifest through the following symptoms:
- Difficulty learning math facts, such as multiplication tables
- Difficulty grasping mathematical relationships
- Difficulty with general computations
- Difficulty solving word problems
- Difficulty with higher math
The On Cloud Nine® (OCN™) Math program, created by Kimberly Tuley and Nanci Bell, helps kids and adults develop the underlying sensory-cognitive functions needed for math processing. Unlike most math programs, OCN instruction directly applies concept and symbol imagery to learning and retaining math facts, solving word problems, and increasing the speed and stability of math computation. Students in the On Cloud Nine Math program move through a series of steps - from imaging numerals to solving word problems and working with fractions/decimals - to develop the imagery-language connection for competency in math.
It is common for children and adults to gain years of math proficiency in just weeks of intensive instruction. Developing concept and symbol imagery is necessary to becoming independently successful with math, which is an essential aspect of everyday life. And, the process-based instruction provided by the On Cloud Nine Math program has proven successful for individuals exhibiting symptoms of dyslexia, ADHD, ASD, CAPD, and other learning difficulties.