What’s the Difference Between Dyscalculia and Math Anxiety?

By Sheldon Horowitz

What’s the difference between dyscalculia and math anxiety?

Sheldon Horowitz

Senior Director, Learning Resources & Research, National Center for Learning Disabilities

Is there a real answer to the question “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Well, the same logic can apply to this question.

People who struggle with math find it difficult to understand what makes one number “bigger” than another or how any number can go “into” another (think division). They don’t know how it’s possible to find a number value when it’s “unknown.” They may not know whether they received the right amount of change after making a simple purchase.

Those who struggle in this way are going to experience frustration and yes, anxiety, when it comes to doing math. Consider how common it is for adults to say “I’m terrible at math.” It’s no surprise that a child’s level of anxiety will rise when faced with math activities.

That said, lots of people who live with dyscalculia are free from the grips of math-related anxiety. They’ve accepted that this math disability is here to stay. They’re open to asking for assistance when needed.

Perhaps they’ve learned estimation strategies. These strategies get them close enough to solutions to math problems without stress. They use calculators that give answers with great speed and accuracy.

Dyscalculia and math anxiety often go hand in hand but are not necessarily co-occurring.

About the Author

Portrait of Sheldon Horowitz

Sheldon Horowitz

Sheldon H. Horowitz, Ed.D., is senior director of learning resources and research at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

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