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Dyscalculia

A Day in the Life of a Teenager With Dyscalculia

By The Understood Team

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Forget algebra and geometry. For teenagers with dyscalculia, even basic arithmetic can be a struggle. Use this visual guide to see how trouble with number concepts and quantities can affect a high-schooler’s daily life.

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A Day in the Life of a Teen With Dyscalculia

Meet Ava, a ninth grader who has dyscalculia.
She’s a bright kid, but her issues with math are often
misunderstood by teachers and family members.
To see how dyscalculia can affect teens outside of
math class, take a look at a typical day in Ava’s life.

6am
Ava knows she needs to take a quick
shower and get ready for school. She thinks
she’s only been in the bathroom for a few
minutes when her little brother bangs on
the door. “Come on, you’ve been in there for
20 minutes already!” he yells.
Math-Related Skills:
Keeping track of time, estimating

9am
Ava loves history and studied hard for
today’s test. But after answering a few
questions, she isn’t sure how much time
she has left. She glances at the clock
but knows it would take her a long time
to read it. And she thinks she’d probably
read the time wrong anyway.
Math-Related Skills:
Visual-spatial processing, keeping track
of time

12pm
After lunch, Ava wants to buy a $2 muffin
for herself and a $5 box of cookies for her
mom. She’s not sure she has enough money
to buy both. But she doesn’t want her
friends to see her using her fingers to count,
so she hands over all the dollar bills she has
and hopes it’s enough.
Math-Related Skills:
Recalling basic math facts, budgeting

2pm
Ava looks at tonight’s math homework and
starts to panic. Even though she knows how
to do some of the steps, her heart starts
racing. “I’m never going to be good at this,
so why bother?” she thinks. Ava tucks the
worksheet into her locker before she leaves
school—she doesn’t want her mom to find
the incomplete assignment.
Related Issues:
Math anxiety, avoiding tasks

4pm
At track practice, Ava runs the first lap so
quickly that she has trouble finishing the
second lap. The coach seems frustrated
that Ava can’t remember the pacing they
practiced yesterday. Why is it so hard
for her to remember one minute and 25
seconds?

Math-Related Skills:
Gauging speed and distance, remembering
number sequences

6pm
Ava needs to feed the pets before her
family eats dinner. She knows the dog
gets five scoops and the cat gets three.
Did Ava measure the amounts correctly?
Which of the bowls has more? If Ava gives
the cat too much food, he’ll throw up. But
how much is too much?
Math-Related Skills:
Using number sense, measuring

8pm
Ava’s family is excited about the big game on
TV, but Ava is having trouble telling which
team is winning. If the point guard gets the
next two free throws, will that be enough to
go into overtime? Asking too many questions
about the game embarrasses Ava, so she
retreats to her bedroom.
Math-Related Skills:
Using number sense, solving word problems

10pm
The new bookcase Ava really wanted
for her room was finally delivered
today. Ava unpacks the box and takes
out the directions. She gets through
the first step, but then she gets
confused because the pieces aren’t
fitting together the right way. By the
time her mom is free to help her with
this project, Ava is so frustrated that
she shoves the parts away and tells her
mom she doesn’t want it.

Math-Related Skills:
Visual-spatial processing

About Dyscalculia
Dyscalculia is a brain-based condition that makes it hard to understand
numbers and math concepts. The most common problem is with “number
sense.” This is an intuitive understanding of how numbers work and how to
compare and estimate quantities.
Kids can be very smart but struggle with the part
of the brain that helps us know that a group of five
apples is bigger than a group of three apples. If kids
don’t understand the basics about how numbers work,
they may find it frustrating to work on higher-level
math and to use math skills in everyday life.
But there are ways to help in school and at home.
Classroom accommodations and informal supports can help kids like Ava
understand what to do with numbers—and when and why.

Ways to Help
• Use online tutorials and physical objects such
as base ten blocks to strengthen your teen’s
number sense and understanding of other key
math concepts.
• Search Understood’s Tech Finder for expert reviewed
apps that can help with math issues.
• Show your teen how you use math in everyday life. Say out loud how you
estimate things like the total cost of the items in your shopping cart or the
time it will take to cook dinner. Model these skills for your teen and help
her develop strategies to use these skills on her own.
• Help your teen get into the habit of highlighting or circling key words and
numbers in word problems. Crossing out unnecessary information in word
problems may also be helpful.
• Encourage your teen to break math problems down into steps and to talk
about how she’s approaching each step.
• Show your teen how to use graph paper to keep numbers lined up. Turning
lined paper sideways is another way to help with this.
• Talk with the teacher about when it’s OK to use a
calculator. This is especially true if your teen understands
how to use formulas and other concepts but has trouble
remembering basic math facts.
• Work with the school to assign manageable amounts of
work so your teen won’t feel overloaded.
• Find out when your teen can use class notes as a reference during tests.
• Explore accommodations such as extra time on tests or a separate room
for tests to reduce anxiety and help your teen focus.
• Practice self-advocacy. The more comfortable your teen is talking about
her math issues, the more likely she is to ask for help when she needs it.

What’s Next

About the Author

Understood Team Graphic

The Understood Team is composed of writers, editors and community moderators, many of whom have children with learning and attention issues.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Brendan Hodnett

Brendan R. Hodnett, M.A., is a special education teacher in Middletown, New Jersey.

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