The difference between dyslexia and dyscalculia

By Peg Rosen

Expert reviewed by Guinevere Eden, PhD

Both dyslexia and dyscalculia can make it hard to learn math. It’s possible to have both, but they’re very different.

Dyslexia is better known than dyscalculia. That may be why some people call dyscalculia “math dyslexia.” This nickname isn’t accurate, though. Dyscalculia is not dyslexia in math. See this chart to learn more.

What is it?

A learning difference that mainly involves difficulty with reading. Dyslexia can affect writing and spelling, too. It can also impact math.

A learning difference that causes trouble with making sense of numbers and math concepts.

Signs you may notice
  • Struggles with reading
  • Has trouble sounding out words
  • Has difficulty memorizing sight words
  • Doesn’t remember items on a shopping list, phone numbers, or game scores (has trouble with working memory)
  • Avoids reading aloud
  • Has poor spelling and grammar
  • Doesn’t understand what’s read
  • Confuses the order of letters
  • Spells the same word differently in the same essay
  • Has trouble learning to count
  • Has trouble doing basic computation
  • Doesn’t automatically recall math facts
  • Doesn’t “get” math concepts like “greater than” and “less than”
  • Struggles to make sense of graphs and charts
  • Doesn’t remember items on a shopping list, phone numbers, or game scores (has trouble with working memory)
  • Avoids games that involve numbers and counting, like Candy Land
  • Still uses fingers to count, even after being taught other approaches
  • Struggles to apply math skills in daily life, like making change or figuring out a tip
Possible social and emotional impact

Struggling with reading can make kids feel inferior to their peers and can impact self-esteem. Kids with dyslexia may be embarrassed to read aloud.

Kids with dyslexia may have a hard time understanding jokes or sarcasm. Taking extra time to come up with words or to answer questions can make fitting in hard, too. Learn more about how dyslexia can impact kids’ social life.

Ongoing trouble with math can shake kids’ confidence. That can make them question their abilities in other subject areas.

Kids might also avoid playing games or sports that involve math and keeping score. See more ways dyscalculia can affect kids’ social life.

Specialized instruction or technology that can help
  • Specific instruction on identifying sounds, understanding how letters represent sounds in speech, and decoding words
  • Specialized instruction, either one-on-one or in a small group
  • A reading program that focuses on using all the senses to learn (multisensory approach)
  • Text-to-speech tools
  • Specific instruction on learning and retrieving math facts
  • Being taught strategies and how to apply them to different math problems
  • Specialized instruction, either one-on-one or in a small group
  • Tutoring or teaching with a multisensory approach (can help kids find different ways to grasp and use math concepts)
  • Hands-on math tools like a multiplication pegboard
Accommodations that can help
  • Extra time on tests
  • Extra time for reading and writing
  • Access to the teacher’s notes from the lesson to reduce the amount of note-taking
  • Simplified directions
  • Using audiobooks
  • Shortened assignments
  • Pictures of directions and schedules
  • Giving sentence starters so kids know how to begin a written response
  • Letting students show understanding in different ways (oral reports, video presentations, etc.)
  • Letting students respond in different ways, like answering verbally, having larger spaces for writing, or circling answers instead of filling in blanks
  • Extra time on tests
  • Access to a chart of math facts or multiplication tables
  • Using a calculator when not being tested on computation
  • Having worksheets broken down into sections
  • Using manipulatives like coins and blocks for in-class learning
  • Graph paper to line up numbers and problems
  • Access to a list of math formulas taught in class
  • Separate worksheets for word problems and number problems
  • Highlighting key words and numbers on word problems
  • Daily review of math skills; pre-teaching new and important concepts
What you can do at home
  • Read aloud often.
  • Encourage your child to listen to audiobooks.
  • Use technology to help with reading.
  • For younger kids, recite nursery rhymes and sing memory songs.

Explore more ways to help kids with dyslexia at home.

  • Use small objects, such as cereal pieces, to solve simple math problems.
  • Introduce board games, card games, and computer games that provide math practice.
  • Break down math homework into smaller, more manageable chunks. For example, have your child do five problems, take a short break, then move on to the next five.

Explore more ways to help kids with dyscalculia at home.

Find out what to do if you think your child has dyslexia or dyscalculia. No matter what’s causing your child’s difficulty, there are lots of ways to help your child thrive.

About the author

About the author

Peg Rosen writes for digital and print, including ParentCenter, WebMD, Parents, Good Housekeeping, and Martha Stewart.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Guinevere Eden, PhD is a professor at Georgetown University and director of its Center for the Study of Learning.