Dyscalculia, also known as “number dyslexia” or “math dyslexia”, is a learning disability that makes math challenging to process and understand. People with dyscalculia have trouble with math at many levels – they have a hard time doing basic math problems and more abstract math concepts.
Dyscalculia is present in about 11% of children with ADHD, and 3% to 6% of a school population. Unfortunately, children who have a hard time with math may continue to struggle with it as adults. The learning disorder complicates aspects of everyday life that involve number sense, such as telling time, grocery shopping, cooking, and more.
Dyscalculia Signs and Symptoms
People experiencing dyscalculia can have trouble with math in different ways. Problems with number sense may show up as early as preschool. For others, the challenges become clear as math gets more complex in school. While the signs may vary from person to person, and can look different at different ages, some of the common signs of dyscalculia include:
- Difficulties with processing numbers and quantities
- Connecting a number to the quantity it represents (the number 2 to two apples)
- Counting (forwards and backwards)
- Comparing two amounts
- Trouble with subitizing (recognize quantities without counting)
- Trouble recalling basic math facts, such as multiplication tables
- Difficulty linking numbers and symbols to amounts
- Trouble with mental math and problem-solving
- Difficulty making sense of money and estimating quantities
- Difficulty with telling time on an analog clock
- Poor visual and spatial orientation
- Difficulty immediately sorting out direction (right from left)
- Troubles with recognizing patterns and sequencing numbers
Finger-counting is typically linked to dyscalculia, but it is not a direct indicator of the condition. Calculating errors alone are also not a sign of the learning disability. Variety, persistence, and frequency are key in determining if dyscalculia is present.
Researchers are unsure of the exact causes of dyscalculia, but the two possible explanations are genes (as the disability tends to run in families), and brain development. When studying the differences between people with and without dyscalculia, the answer lies within how the brain is structured and functions in areas that are linked to learning skills. In addition, people with disturbances like brain injury and other cognitive impairments may also experience acquired dyscalculia, or acalculia. People with acalculia have difficulty performing simple math problems such as basic math operations (adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing), and even identifying the greater of two numbers.
Dyscalculia Treatment and Accommodations
Unfortunately, like other learning disabilities, dyscalculia has no cure and cannot be treated with medication. By the time most individuals are diagnosed, they have a shaky math foundation. To “treat” the disability, it is recommended to fill in as many learning gaps and to develop life skills. This is typically done through special instruction, accommodations, and other interventions.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), students with dyscalculia are eligible for special services in the classroom. The classroom accommodations may include:
- allowing more time on assignments and tests
- allowing the use of calculators
- adjusting the difficulty of the task
- separating complicated problems into smaller steps
- using posters to remind students to basic math concepts
- tutoring to target core, foundational skills
- providing supplemental information via
- computer-based interactive lessons
- hands-on projects
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), adults with dyscalculia may be entitled to reasonable accommodations in their workplace. They can also revisit math techniques with the help of a trained educational psychologist.
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