What is number dyslexia?

Q. My son is falling behind in math and can’t seem to wrap his head around basic math concepts. A parent I know said he might have “number dyslexia.” What is dyslexia with numbers?

A. You’re not the only one who’s confused by the term number dyslexia. Many families ask me about it. Number dyslexia is a term sometimes used to describe trouble with math. You may also hear terms like math dyslexia, numerical dyslexia, or number reversal dyslexia. But using the word dyslexia in this case probably isn’t correct.

The term dyslexia refers to trouble with language that makes it hard to read and spell. But sometimes it’s wrongly used as a generic term to describe other difficulties, like trouble with math.

It’s true that dyslexia can lead to specific math challenges. For instance, kids with dyslexia might have trouble with math word problems and with reading names of numbers.

But when kids have a pattern of trouble with numbers and math, dyslexia typically isn’t the cause. It can be caused by another learning difference many people haven’t heard of: dyscalculia. This is usually what people are thinking of when they say number dyslexia or math dyslexia.

Dyscalculia involves trouble with something called number sense. Kids might struggle with math concepts like biggest vs. smallest. They might not understand that the numeral 5 is the same as the word five, and that both represent five separate items or groups of items. They can also struggle to remember math facts.

There can be a lot of overlap between dyslexia and dyscalculia, though. Many kids have both at the same time. But terms like number dyslexia create confusion around these two learning differences.

Keep an eye out for signs of dyscalculia and signs of dyslexia, and take notes on what you see. You can also talk with your child’s teacher about what’s happening in the classroom. The more information you have, the better equipped you’ll be to get your child the right kind of support.

Find out what to do if you think your child has dyscalculia. And get tips on how to help your child with math at home.


Explore related topics

Read next