Perception problems and difficulty with learning mathematics

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What are perception problems?

Perception problems refer to difficulties of making sense of the environment: text, places, practices or objects. They complicate planning studies, reading and most of all, learning mathematics. More precisely, perception problems manifest themselves as a difficulty in assessing distances and locations, sequencing, understanding descriptions based on oral instructions, understanding symbols and the working of devices regardless of instructions. This type of learning difficulty is often associated with problems with gross and fine motor coordination which may lead to avoiding sports. The perception problems may also show as a difficulty of adjusting to social situations due to difficulty in understanding social cues. Mathematical problems manifest themselves as difficulties in understanding the different stages of arithmetic operations and proceeding from one operation to another.

Example of perception problems: What is dyscalculia?

The prevalence of difficulties with mathematics or dyscalculia is about 3--7% of the population. It is difficult to know the exact amount, because learning difficulties in mathematics manifest themselves differently in different people and are often left undiagnosed. Dyscalculia may also affect only a single area of mathematics. Dyscalculia in a pure form is very rare, and dyscalculia is often associated with perception problems or dyslexia. About 40% of students with dyslexia also have difficulty with mathematics. This is mainly due to difficulties with reading and understanding the assignment and with remembering long assignments and instructions.


Difficulty in learning mathematics also presents itself as a difficulty in applying formulae, using measurements, writing out phases of calculations, writing numbers, and spatial perception. In addition, numbers may be missing or they may change places. Apart from mathematics assignments, this difficulty presents itself as the difficulty of understanding direction and time, to remember lengthy verbal instructions and in playing strategy games such as chess. Making schedules and planning life may be difficult, and for instance writing long bank account numbers may be difficult as numbers change places.

How to support learning

Also in dyscalculia, it is important that the student first recognises his or her weaknesses and strengths. When thinking and listing things they are good at and what needs improvement, the student learns to direct his or her learning and to compensate for weaknesses. This is also good for self-esteem. Students may think about these things alone, with a friend or with a professional, such as a student counsellor. When students know their weaknesses they can think of learning methods efficient for them. Also strengthening skills through repetition and splitting things or arithmetic operations into smaller entities that are easier to grasp makes processing the information easier. The teacher may help the student by giving practical examples to support theoretical knowledge, which makes the importance and purpose of the arithmetic operation visible. Study books are often full of text but lack illustrative pictures. Illustration, for instance graphs on paper, help most people. Some people simply need to understand connections and causes before they can understand a concept.

For more methods, see the Study Skills site under 'mathematics'.