Math’s & Anxiety
It is hard not to overemphasize the importance of mathematical literacy in our society - in everyday life situations we need to be on time, pay bills, follow directions or use maps, look at bus or train timetables, or comprehend instruction leaflets and expiry dates. A lack of mathematical literacy can affect children’s ability to gain full-time employment and often-restricted employment options to manual and often low-paying jobs. Differences in mathematics skills and abilities between and within individuals are normal. Parents and Educators are expected to cope with learning differences and to adjust their teaching style to the needs of all students. However, in some cases, these differences appear to be so severe or resistant that they can be considered as characteristics of “problems” or even “disabilities”

Parents must be proactive and have the child screened with enough sensitivity and specificity to differentiate children with mathematical learning disabilities from children not at risk for learning disabilities. Moreover, a comprehensive assessment is needed to offer a solid remediation based on the strengths and weaknesses of every child.

Current research reports’ a prevalence of mathematical disabilities between 3% and 14% of children although the actual number is significantly higher. Thus if a school has about 2000 children then almost about 250-300 children will be faced with mind blocks where mathematical abilities are concerned. This is the realized figure, imagine the unrealized figure which can be mush higher.

In fact the problems of students with mathematics difficulties have been underestimated, although the number of mathematical low-achieving pupils has increased substantially during the last 10-20 years. In addition, a certain consensus has been reached that problems with learning disabilities are life affecting and that the impact of poor mathematical skills on employment prospects is even bigger than the influence of poor reading skills.

The assessment of mathematical disabilities is becoming a priority as the co morbidity with reading disabilities is becoming better known along with the risk of underestimating potentials because of math anxiety and potential markers for mathematical learning disabilities.

Mathematical and reading disabilities co-occur more frequently as co morbidities than would be expected by artifactual causes (chance, sampling bias, population stratification, definitional overlap, and rater biases). The co morbidity rate varies from 20% to 53%. In addition, the severity of the mathematical disability is found to be associated with a lower IQ, inattention, and also with spelling problems. There can be little dispute that the presence of a co morbidity poses a serious challenge to existing comprehension of mathematical disabilities.

Mathematical learning disabilities are often associated with math anxiety. Moreover, math anxiety might lead to an underestimation of true ability. Additionally the relationship between calculation ability, teacher and parent evaluation of mathematics as a subject for a child, and math anxiety in primary school children is on the rise.

For guardians what is crucial is to know that is an early prediction can be done and core deficits can be assessed and addressed as key components in remediation programs, children might not fall farther behind. The earlier parents recognize how vulnerable young children are, the more likely they will be to support their subsequent efforts.

When parents focus specifically on learning disabilities, the emotional aspects often associated with these primarily cognitive problems are often neglected. However, particularly in the field of mathematical learning disabilities, math anxiety may exert considerable negative effects on the academic and social life of affected children. Math anxiety —like any other phobia—influences children on three different levels. All three differential effects of math anxiety have been confirmed to actually exist. (a) Physiological reactions (i.e., sweating or high pulse rate) as frequent accompanying symptoms of math anxiety, (b) cognitive effects of math anxiety (worrisome thoughts), and (c) avoiding behavior concerning number processing and calculation.

According to behavioristic models, anxiety emerges as an obligatory response to an aversive stimulus. Thus, it is plausible to speculate that frequent poor math performance or failure to understand math concepts (despite investing high efforts) leads to negative emotions such as math anxiety, which in turn is likely to provoke avoidance behavior in your child. There is also evidence that the negative evaluation of failure in mathematics might be mediated by cultural influences and educational factors (i.e., parents’ expectations of performance or attribution of success).

However, the association between math ability and math anxiety may not be unidirectional. Rather, it has been suggested previously that emotional factors might generally influence cognitive abilities. Concerning the possible impact of math anxiety on calculation ability, it is stated that the avoidance behavior caused by math anxiety will most probably lead to a vicious cycle being characterized by less calculation practice, which will cause a lag in learning and therefore even more disappointment and emotional problems. The assumption that math anxiety influences math ability is strongly supported by a meta-analysis showing that successful treatment of math anxiety in individuals leads to significant improvement of their calculation performance, even though math ability may not have been trained. For children decreasing math anxiety also positively influenced math performance in children with a Math Learning Disability and who are attending classes 4 to 7.

Beyond the long-term effects of avoidance behavior, worrisome thoughts are also known to have a direct negative impact on calculation performance. Worrisome thoughts are very hard to inhibit and therefore will absorb working memory and attentional resources (deficient inhibition mechanism). The assumptions of the deficient inhibition mechanism are based on two theories). The first theory postulates general decreases in cognitive performance during the presence of distractions when a child sits down to study. The second theory states that experiencing anxiety will draw on working memory capacities and therefore will compromise cognitive performance. It may also be that poorer calculation abilities of a child with high math anxiety are not a direct consequence of their worrisome thoughts but rather are due to an inability to withdraw attention from these thoughts.

Parents should know that there is enough empirical evidence for the negative impact of math anxiety and its accompanying worrisome thoughts on cognitive performance: students with low anxiety are better able to inhibit distracters while reading texts compared to the other students who have high anxiety and children with higher math anxiety display lower.

working memory spans for numerical tasks and moreover exhibit longer reaction times and higher error rates in addition and number transcoding tasks when they are asked to simultaneously solve tasks drawing on working memory capacities.

Children exhibiting high math anxiety solve calculation problems faster and less accurately compared to children without math anxiety. This speed–accuracy tradeoff is interpreted as being caused by the wish to terminate anxiety-eliciting situations as soon as possible. So if your child is speeding up, he may be wanting to “get over” the task rather than enjoying the task.

A sad part of ignoring a Math’s Learning Disability is the negative correlations between math ability and math anxiety in children. It is hypothesized that the link between math ability and math anxiety is age dependent (i.e., may become stronger with age and/or schooling). That is there is a developmental increase.

Overall, there is accumulating evidence for a link between math ability and math anxiety in children as they progress in class.

It is now more or less accepted that math anxiety predicts future calculation ability, calculation ability predicts future math anxiety, and such associations are mediated by the child’s evaluation of mathematics as a subject.

As children grow up there is a stable developmental trajectory for calculation ability and moderate developmental stability for the two emotional latent variables - evaluation of mathematics and math anxiety. It is a well-known finding that individual differences in simple arithmetic such as fact retrieval are already present at the beginning of primary school and persist until much later in a child’s development.

In fact calculation ability and evaluation of mathematics as a subject by the child are correlated at the end of class I and influence each other mutually until the middle of second class. From the middle of class II onward, only calculation ability matters for children. This may mean that only for very young children, who have not received a lot of external feedback concerning their calculation ability, their self-perceived performance and attitudes might influence their calculation performance via motivational factors. Furthermore, results suggest that later during formal education, when children have received more feedback and thus have become more experienced in comparing their own abilities to those of their peers, results suggest that only actual calculation ability is a predictor for future evaluation of mathematics but not the other way around.

The evaluation of mathematics as a subject is also influenced by math anxiety in young children. Yet this impact is found not from one time point to the next but between both emotional factors at the same time point. This may be interpreted as reflecting a simultaneous and direct impact of unhappiness and worrisome thoughts on children’s evaluation of mathematics and how they will manage the subject.

For parents who agonize over the math’s anxiety that their children may be facing it may be speculated that both math anxiety and poor calculation ability exhibit negative effects on each other much as we may want them not to do so.

It has been known for a long time that in children math anxiety is highly relevant for affected individuals and related to math ability. Previous findings support a possible causal role both of math ability on math anxiety as well as for math anxiety on math ability.

Math anxiety and related problems such as depression or psychosomatic disorders exert negative effects on children who may be afflicted with a Math’s Learning Disability.

The causal relations between math anxiety and math ability during development, particularly at the beginning of primary school, when children are introduced to formal calculation, receive feedback on their performance, and start to compare their skills with those of their peers, can be better understood if you realize that your child’s evaluation of mathematics as a subject is influenced both by past calculation performance as well as by concomitant math anxiety level. There is a possibility that if he did not get it right the last time; he fears that he will not get it correct this time over.

Another issue to be borne in mind is that, it might be that for primary school children the math anxiety may be more related to personality aspects such as general anxiety or it might be very strongly mediated by teachers or parents’ attitudes. This may in turn lead to children when they reach second and third grade having math anxiety and related psychosomatic or even psychiatric problems such as depression.

For parents who are seeing the frequent occurrence of math anxiety in their children – this aspect underlines the possibility that math anxiety and math ability are closely interlinked in elementary school children with severe math problems or high math anxiety.

Concerning math anxiety, parents or teachers asking children about their experienced unhappiness and worry caused by problems in calculation might not be the best thing to do, if one is interested in mitigating the possible mutual influences between math anxiety and math ability in early primary school for the child. It could be that the cognitive level of anxiety may not be the most suitable aspect of math anxiety to be stressed in children as young as 7 to 9 years old.

Instead, physiological reactions such as high pulse or avoiding behavior concerning calculations might be more reliable and valid measures for math anxiety at that age. Asking directly for anxiety in math-related situations (and not for unhappiness and worry in situations where you have problems in calculation) might be a more direct way to investigate worrisome thoughts about your child.

When you child begins to exhibit math’s learning difficulties, bear in mind that math disabilities are as common as reading disabilities and that a similar deficit may contribute to the co-occurrence of Math’s Difficulties and reading disabilities in some children.

Remember that children with math’s disabilities are a heterogeneous group and show one or more of three types of cognitive disorders. One of these disorders is deficient semantic memory. These children show weak fact retrieval and high error rates in recall. Disruptions in ability to retrieve basic facts from long-term memory, due to inhibition, may be a defining feature of the math disabilities your child is exhibiting. Furthermore, the characteristics of these retrieval deficits, such as slow solution times, suggest that children with math’s difficulties do not experience a simple developmental delay but rather have a more persistent cognitive disorder across a broad age span. However, other studies have suggested that some children with math’s problems have a developmental delay related to immature counting knowledge (e.g., use of fingers to count).

The second type of math disorder your child may show is procedural. Children in this category generally use developmentally immature procedures in numerical calculations and therefore have difficulties in sequencing multiple steps in complex procedures. For example, children with math’s learning problems have a basic understanding of numbers and small quantities. However, these children have difficulties in keeping information in working memory and monitoring the counting process, with resulting errors in their counting. Other studies indicate that children with math’s difficulties have difficulties in solving simple and complex arithmetic problems. These differences are assumed to involve both procedural and memory-based deficits. Procedural deficits relate to miscounting or losing track of the counting process.

The third type of math disorder that the child may be troubling the child is a visual/spatial one. Children with this disorder have difficulties representing numerical information spatially. For example, they may have difficulties representing the alignment of numerals in multi-column arithmetic problems and rotation of numbers. Further, they have difficulties in areas that require spatial ability, such as geometry and place values. These deficits are not due to poor spatial abilities but rather to poor monitoring of the sequence of steps of an algorithm and poor skills in detecting and then self-correcting errors.

The cognitive, as well as neural, mechanisms underlying these types of math disorders are still under investigation. There is some consensus, however, that arithmetic facts in children with math’s learning disabilities are not retrieved accurately, and various deficits may reflect various forms of deficits related to neural structures, specifically the left basal ganglia, the thalamus, and the left parieto-occipito-temporal areas. Damage to these regions may be associated with difficulties in accessing number facts.

There is some neurological evidence that the ability to understand numbers is dissociable from language semantic memory, and working memory.
Regardless of the type of disorder and the theoretical explanation for your child’s mathematical difficulties in school, how- ever, the majority of current studies suggest that children with math’s difficulties have memory deficits. Theories of the representation of arithmetic facts in long-term memory indicate that performance on simple arithmetic depends on retrieval from long-term memory. The strength to which associations are stored and, hence, the probability of retrieving them correctly depend in part on experience, with associations being formed each time an arithmetic problem is encountered, regardless of whether the association is correct. Thus the ability to use working memory resources to temporarily store numbers when attempting to reach an answer is of significant importance in learning arithmetic. Poor recall of arithmetic facts, of course, leads to difficulties executing calculation procedures and immature problem-solving strategies.

Literature suggests that children with a math’s learning disability do not show the shift from direct counting procedures to a memory-based production of the solution. That is, they do not remember that certain combinations of new numbers yield a certain result and they have difficulty accessing facts from long- term memory - as a result, they have difficulty engaging in labor-intensive calculations.

It is thought that memory representations for arithmetic facts are supported in part by the same phonological and semantic memory systems that support decoding and reading comprehension. If this is the case, then perhaps phonological processes that contribute to reading disorders might also be a source of math retrieval difficulties in children with mathematical disorders.

Some implications that parents may want to keep in mind for educational practice are - Ensure accurate identification of your children with if you suspect they have a math’s disability. Remember there are difficulties in math and reading acquisition which are thought to be related to the same cognitive processes (i.e., phonological processes), and though this is being increasing researched these confounds have lead to an inability to isolate the cognitive variables that underlie math’s disabilities accurately.

Bear in mind that children with math’s problems are quite a bit in the domains of short-term memory for words and visual-spatial problem solving. Also math’s disability children are mostly substantially better than the co-morbid group on measures of literacy. Third, in children with math difficulties it may reflect a poor coordination of information in the executive system, which in turn fails to retrieve numerical information in storage. This difficulty in processing may reflect a working memory system that is either not accessing enough numerical information from the phonological system or failing to provide an adequate capacity for processing information.

Please remember - the construct of math’s difficulties varies tremendously across children. But if you see a problem and you feel a problem, then there is a problem and it is better to be safe now rather than sorry latter.