Dyscalculia is a specific learning disability in math. Kids with dyscalculia may have difficulty understanding number-related concepts or using symbols or functions needed for success in mathematics.
Dyscalculia is a common learning issue that impacts kids’ ability to do math. It doesn’t just affect them at school, however. The challenges can also create difficulties in daily life. The good news is there are various supports and strategies that can help kids gain the skills they need.
The more you know about your child’s challenges, the better able you’ll be to get her the help she needs. This overview can answer many of your basic questions about dyscalculia. It can also lead you to more in-depth information and tools you can use.
If you think your child might have dyscalculia, here are steps you can take. And if you recently found out your child has dyscalculia, learn what you can do next.
Snapshot: What Dyscalculia Is
Dyscalculia is a lifelong condition that makes it hard for kids to perform math-related tasks. It’s not as well known or understood as dyslexia. But some experts believe it’s just as common.
Experts don’t yet know for sure if dyscalculia is more common in girls or in boys. But most agree it’s unlikely that there’s any significant difference.
Kids with this learning issue have trouble with many aspects of math. They often don’t understand quantities or concepts like biggest vs. smallest. They may not understand that the numeral 5 is the same as the word five. (These skills are sometimes called number sense.)
Kids with dyscalculia also have trouble with the mechanics of doing math, such as being able to recall math facts. They may understand the logic behind math, but not how or when to apply what they know to solve math problems.
They also often struggle with working memory. For example, they may have a hard time holding numbers in mind while doing math problems with multiple steps.
Dyscalculia goes by many names. Some schools refer to it as a mathematics learning disability. Doctors sometimes call it a mathematics disorder. You may even hear kids and parents call it math dyslexia. (The term math dyslexia can be misleading, though. Dyscalculia and dyslexia are not the same thing.)
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Dyscalculia Signs and Symptoms
Dyscalculia can cause different types of math difficulties. So symptoms may vary from child to child. Observing your child and taking notes to share with teachers and doctors is a good way to find the best strategies and supports for your child.
Dyscalculia often looks different at different ages. It tends to become more apparent as kids get older. But symptoms can appear as early as preschool. Here’s what to look for:
- Has trouble learning to count and skips over numbers long after kids the same age can remember numbers in the right order.
- Struggles to recognize patterns, such as smallest to largest or tallest to shortest.
- Has trouble recognizing number symbols (knowing that “7” means seven).
- Doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of counting. For example, when asked for five blocks, she just hands you an armful, rather than counting them out.
See more signs of dyscalculia in preschool.
- Has difficulty learning and recalling basic math facts, such as 2 + 4 = 6.
- Struggles to identify +, ‒ and other signs, and to use them correctly.
- May still use fingers to count instead of using more advanced strategies, like mental math.
- Struggles to understand words related to math, such as greater than and less than.
- Has trouble with visual-spatial representations of numbers, such as number lines.
See more signs of dyscalculia in grade school.
- Has difficulty understanding place value.
- Has trouble writing numerals clearly or putting them in the correct column.
- Has trouble with fractions and with measuring things, like ingredients in a simple recipe.
- Struggles to keep score in sports games.
See more signs of dyscalculia in middle school.
- Struggles to apply math concepts to money, including estimating the total cost, making exact change and figuring out a tip.
- Has a hard time grasping information shown on graphs or charts.
- Has difficulty measuring things like ingredients in a simple recipe or liquids in a bottle.
- Has trouble finding different approaches to the same math problem.
See more signs of dyscalculia in high school.
Dyscalculia can create challenges in more areas than just learning. Learn how it can affect everyday skills, too. These include social interactions and time management.
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Other Issues That Can Co-Occur With Dyscalculia
Kids with learning and attention issues often have more than one issue. There are a few issues that often co-occur with dyscalculia. Plus, symptoms of other issues can sometimes look like dyscalculia symptoms.
Testing for dyscalculia should be done as part of a full evaluation. That way, any other learning and attention issues can be picked up at the same time.
Here are some issues that often appear along with dyscalculia:
- Dyslexia: Kids very often have both dyslexia and dyscalculia. In fact, researchers have found that 43–65 percent of kids with math disabilities also have reading disabilities.
Learn about the differences between dyscalculia and dyslexia.
- ADHD: Dyscalculia and ADHD often occur at the same time. Sometimes kids will make math errors because of ADHD challenges. They might have trouble paying attention to detail, for instance. So some experts recommend re-evaluating math skills after getting ADHD symptoms under control.
Learn about skills that can be affected by ADHD.
- Executive functioning issues: Executive functions are key skills that impact learning. They include working memory, flexible thinking, and planning and organizing. Weaknesses in these areas can make math difficult.
Learn how executive functioning issues can impact math.
- Math anxiety: Kids with math anxiety are so worried about the prospect of doing math that their fear and nervousness can lead to poor performance on math tests. Some kids may have both math anxiety and dyscalculia.
Learn about the difference between dyscalculia and math anxiety.
Dyscalculia is also associated with few genetic disorders. These include fragile X syndrome, Gerstmann’s syndrome and Turner’s syndrome.
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