Ep. 59: What is Dyscalculia (AKA Math Disorder)? with Monica Grillo

Dec 14, 2021 | 0 comments

In the next two episodes, we are focusing on math. We often hear the phrase “I’m just not a math person,” but you never hear that with reading or other subjects. While math may not be a strength of every student, there are some students who have a learning disorder called Dyscalculia. 

Today’s guest is Monica Grillo. She has extensive experience in research-based math interventions and instructional practices. She is an educator, researcher, and mother with an extreme bias toward inclusive practices and a need for better teacher preparation in special education and mathematics pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). Her experiences have opened her eyes to inequities and she is eager to share her expertise and insights in order to make this world a better place.

In this episode, Monica explains the science of math and effectively describes the way a child’s brain develops with and without Dyscalculia. She compares Dyscalculia with Dyslexia and gives parents and educators some actionable tips on determining if there could be something more going on than a weakness in math.


Show Notes:

[2:08] – Welcome to the show, Monica! Monica shares how she found herself working in the area of math education.

[3:50] – After the birth of her son, Monica became even more interested in Special Education and is pursuing a Phd.

[5:02] – With Math, people tend to say “I’m not a Math person.” We don’t do that with reading. Math is just as important.

[6:00] – Monica defines Dyscalculia and the research of rates in school aged children. It commonly coexists with other issues.

[7:29] – There is no exclusive assessment to detect Dyscalculia.

[9:14] – There is substantial evidence that Dyscalculia is a brain based disorder. Monica describes how this is determined in neuroscience.

[11:23] – Studies have shown that children with Dyscalculia have persistently reduced gray and white brain matter.

[12:06] – Monica explains a study on what the brain looks like and compares those with and without Dyscalculia.

[14:36] – There is some overlap and similarities in the brain between Dyscalculia and Dyslexia. But they manifest differently.

[16:01] – Monica advises having students talk through what they are thinking during a math word problem to help determine where their struggle is.

[18:02] – There are a wide variety of skills that can fall under the umbrella of Dyscalculia.

[20:31] – When early skills are not developed, later math concepts become seemingly impossible and error prone.

[21:49] – Explicit instruction in math is important. This sets the stage with context.

[22:47] – There is modeling, guided practice, and then independent practice.

[24:50] – For those with Dyscalculia, explicit instruction is crucial rather than inquiry based instruction.

[27:03] – This is a highly relevant concept. Math is a significant component of knowledge in our technological age.

[27:56] – Monica is an advocate for improved teacher preparation especially in the field of Special Education.

[30:50] – Don’t wait to support a child who is struggling even as early as preschool.

[31:40] – Advocate for specific research based interventions for Dyscalculia.

[32:30] – Don’t pass on negativity around math skills and math phobia.


About Our Guest:

Starting her career with the goal of becoming an elementary teacher, Monica Grillo found herself securing a position teaching middle school math and then pursuing a masters degree to become a K-8 Math Specialist. She then became a math interventionist and math coach for 5 years and fell in love with coaching teachers. During her 5th year in this position, she found out that her first child would need special care and she left full time employment to raise him to the best of her abilities. That is when she embarked on a journey into the world of Down Syndrome and special education. Monica is currently working towards a doctorate in Special Education and is a staunch proponent of inclusion and adequate teacher preparation.


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The Diverse Thinking Different Learning podcast is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or legal advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Additionally, the views and opinions expressed by the host and guests are not considered treatment and do not necessarily reflect those of ChildNEXUS, Inc or the host, Dr. Karen Wilson.