Understanding Dyscalculia in Your Child

By The Understood Team

Many people know about dyslexia, but dyscalculia is another common learning difference. Dyscalculia makes it hard to do math and everyday tasks that involve math. Kids who have it may need extra help at school and at home.

You may not yet know if your child has dyscalculia. But the more you know about the challenges, the better able you’ll be to support your child. With the right help, kids who have trouble with math can improve their skills.

This overview can answer many of your basic questions, and also lead you to more in-depth information. If you think your child has dyscalculia, here are steps you can take. And if you recently were told that your child has dyscalculia, learn what to do next.

Signs to Look for

Dyscalculia can cause different types of math challenges. A common one is trouble with a set of skills called number sense. But not all kids show the same signs, and the signs can look different at different ages. Here are some examples:

Preschool

  • Has trouble learning to count and skips over numbers long after other preschoolers can remember numbers in the right order

  • Struggles to recognize patterns, like smallest to largest or tallest to shortest

  • Has trouble recognizing number symbols (knowing that “7” means seven)

  • Doesn’t seem to get the idea of counting (maybe when you ask for five blocks, your child just hands you an armful)

Grade School

  • Has a hard time learning and recalling basic math facts, like 2 + 4 = 6

  • Struggles to identify +, ‒, and other signs, and to use them correctly

  • Still uses 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

Middle School

  • Has a hard time 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

High School

  • Has trouble using math concepts with money, including estimating the total cost, making exact change, and figuring out a tip

  • Has difficulty grasping information shown on charts or graphs

  • Has difficulty measuring things like ingredients in a simple recipe or liquids in a bottle

  • Has a hard time finding different approaches to the same math problem

Dive Deeper

Finding Out If Your Child Has Dyscalculia

The only way to know if your child has dyscalculia is through an evaluation. Your child’s school can do one for free. They can also be done privately.

The evaluator will use a set of tests that are just for dyscalculia, and will also look at other areas of learning. That way you’ll know exactly where your child is struggling. You’ll also find out about your child’s strengths. The school can use those strengths to help your child improve.

You might hear different terms, depending on whether your child has a school evaluation or a private one. Schools don’t “diagnose” conditions. They “identify” learning disabilities. So you might hear that your child has a learning disability in math. You might also hear that your child has dyscalculia.

A psychologist will look for other things that might be getting in the way of your child’s learning. These include ADHD and mental health issues, which are both fairly common in kids with learning challenges.

Dive Deeper

How Professionals Can Help With Dyscalculia

There are no medical treatments for dyscalculia. There also aren’t special teaching programs like there are for dyslexia.

But special education teachers have methods they can use to help kids understand math. There’s also an approach that can help kids learn math by using different senses. It’s called multisensory instruction. 

Dive Deeper

How You Can Help Your Child With Dyscalculia

There are many ways you can help, from working with your child’s teacher to finding free online tools for teaching math.

Keep in mind that kids who struggle in school may feel “dumb” or embarrassed. It’s important to let your child know that everyone struggles with something, including you.

And get tips for talking to your child about learning and thinking differences. Being open about challenges can show your child that it’s OK to have them.

Key Takeaways

  • Dyscalculia is a common learning difference that makes it hard for kids to do math.

  • Signs of dyscalculia can look different at different ages.

  • There are lots of strategies and tools to help kids with dyscalculia thrive.

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