At a glance
Dyscalculia and math anxiety can both affect how kids do in math.
Even though they can show up in similar ways, dyscalculia and math anxiety are actually very different.
Understanding the difference can help you and your child find solutions.
You may have noticed that your child seems anxious about doing math homework or getting ready for a math test. And then your child makes math mistakes. But what’s causing it? Is it a case of math anxiety? Or is it dyscalculia, a learning disability in math? Or maybe both?
Dyscalculia and math anxiety often overlap. Both can affect how kids perform in math. But while these challenges sometimes look the same, they’re actually different.
Dyscalculia is a learning challenge that causes trouble with math. Dyscalculia can make it hard for kids to understand math concepts or do tasks that involve math.
Math anxiety is an intense feeling of worry about math. Math anxiety can make kids question their abilities in math, even if they have strong skills.
Think of it this way: Doing math with dyscalculia is like hiking with an injury and not being able to climb to the peak. Doing math with math anxiety is like hiking while constantly worrying about what might happen if you try to climb to the peak.
This chart can help you understand what you’re seeing in your child.
Signs of math anxiety
Signs of dyscalculia
Kids worry they’ll do poorly on a math test, even though they understand the material and have studied.
Kids expect to do poorly on a math test because they don’t understand the material, even after studying.
Kids do poorly on math tests, even after preparing for them, because anxiety gets in the way.
Kids do poorly on math tests, even after preparing for them, because they don’t understand the material.
Kids can get through homework fairly easily and answer most problems correctly. But they feel anxious about doing it.
They may even make mistakes because they’re so anxious. They may focus too much on some details, or have trouble focusing on others.
Kids spend a long time doing homework and get many of the answers wrong.
Kids try to avoid going to math class when there’s a quiz or test.
Kids try to avoid going to math class, especially when there’s a quiz or test, because they’re sure they’ll fail.
Kids get good grades on math homework and classwork, but not on tests.
Kids get poor grades on math homework, classwork, and tests.
Watch as an expert explains more about the difference between dyscalculia and math anxiety.
Knowing what’s behind your child’s difficulty with math helps you to respond in the best way. Find out what to do if you’re concerned that your child has dyscalculia. If you think your child has anxiety, use this anxiety log to keep track of what you’re seeing. If you have concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to your child’s health care provider.
Dyscalculia is a learning challenge that affects math skills.
Math anxiety is an emotional issue involving self-doubt and fear of failing.
Both can create test anxiety and lead kids to try to avoid going to math classes.
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About the author
About the author
Tara Drinks is an editor at Understood.
Jerome Schultz, PhD is a clinical neuropsychologist and lecturer in the Harvard Medical School Department of Child Psychiatry.