Dyscalculia is a not-so-common learning disability that affects how people learn and process numbers, thus potentially affecting their ability to do math. Only around three to seven percent of people have dyscalculia.
While we know that many children will experience difficulty learning math, children with dyscalculia may have more difficulty in three areas: number sense, arithmetic skills, and calculation speed.
At The Learning Lab, we understand that math is cumulative, and we have to start at the beginning with appropriate instructions and support to build upon those skills.
In short, dyscalculia is a learning disorder that affects someone’s ability to understand number-based information, including math. It’s often referred to as number dyslexia or math dyslexia.
While dyscalculia is present in around seven percent of the population, it’s present in at least 11% of children with ADHD. People with dyscalculia don’t process math-related concepts like others. Mostly, they experience difficulties understanding how numbers work and completing basic math operations.
However, their struggles don’t mean they’re less intelligent or less capable than people without dyscalculia.
Dyscalculia vs. Dyslexia
While both are learning disorders, they have fundamental differences. Dyscalculia mainly affects a person’s ability to do math and process number-related information. Dyslexia affects a person’s ability to read and spell. It’s also possible for someone to have both dyscalculia and dyslexia.
How to Recognize Dyscalculia
One of the most challenging parts of dyscalculia is recognizing it. Symptoms depend on which parts of the process people struggle with most, and they can widely vary depending on the person’s age. Overall, these are the most common signs of dyscalculia:
- Difficulty with math facts. Struggling to memorize addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts. They may also have trouble remembering number sequences (such as counting by threes or tens).
- Difficulty solving problems. Difficulty following step-by-step instructions for solving a problem involving addition or subtraction or following a recipe for baking cookies that requires adding ingredients together in a specific order (for example, first add sugar, then eggs).
- Difficulties understanding basic math concepts. For example, children with dyscalculia often don’t know how numbers relate to each other (for example, how “fewer” relates to “less”). This makes it hard for them to grasp concepts like multiplication tables.
Furthermore, signs of dyscalculia can be easier recognized according to the person’s age.
Pre-K and Kindergarten Ages
- Counting upward
- Recognizing numbers and math symbols
- Organizing numbers
- Learning how to use money
- Using number lines
Primary and Elementary School Ages
- Counting small numbers using their fingers
- Identifying small quantities of items
- Doing simple calculations from memory
- Memorizing multiplication tables
- Recognizing the same math problem in a different order
- Understanding more advanced math symbols
- Organizing numbers by scale
Secondary and High School Ages & Adults
- Counting backward
- Solving word problems
- Breaking down problems into multiple steps
- Measuring items
- Using money to pay for items
- Understanding fractions
Likewise, people with dyscalculia might experience emotional symptoms such as anxiety or even panic when tested about math, agitation, fear, including a phobia of going to school, and more.
What Can You Do?
Parents and teachers are usually the first ones to notice the symptoms of dyscalculia. To be diagnosed with this dyscalculia, one of these two criteria must be present for at least six months, even with expert help to overcome it:
- Difficulties mastering number sense
- Difficulties with math reasoning
Dyscalculia can be treated in children since their brains are still developing. It’s essential to focus on learning skills and abilities to adapt to this condition and to remediate skills. Dyscalculia treatment usually involves one-on-one multisensory instruction that has a skill-specific focus.
If you are concerned your child might have dyscalculia, talking to a psychologist, specific learning disability specialist, or school ESE department director is an excellent first step. At The Learning Lab, we use a personalized approach to learning. The sooner treatment starts, the better the chances for children to adapt to this condition and minimize the impact.