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Dyscalculia is a specific learning difficulty affecting a person's ability to understand and/or manipulate numbers. Like dyslexia, dyscalculia can be caused by a visual perceptual deficit. Dyscalculia is often used to refer specifically to the inability to perform operations in math or arithmetic, but is defined by some educational professionals as a more fundamental inability to conceptualize numbers themselves as an abstract concept of comparative quantities. It is a lesser known disability, much like Dyslexia and Dyspraxia. In fact, it is considered by some to be a variation of Dyslexia. Dyscalculia occurs in people across the whole IQ range, but means they often have specific problems with mathematics, time, measurement, etc. Dyscalculia (in its more general definition) is not rare. Many of those with dyslexia or dyspraxia have dyscalculia as well. There is also some evidence to suggest that this type of SpLD is partially hereditary.

Potential symptoms

  • Frequent difficulties with numbers, confusing the signs: +, -, / and x, reversing or transposing numbers etc.
  • Inability to say which of two numbers is the larger.
  • Reliance on 'counting-on' strategies, often using fingers, rather than any more efficient mental arithmetic strategies.
  • Difficulty with times-tables, mental arithmetic, measurements, etc.
  • Good in subjects like science and geometry until a higher level requiring calculations is needed.
  • Difficulty with conceptualising time and judging the passing of time.
  • Difficulty with everyday tasks like checking change and reading analogue clocks.
  • Inability to comprehend financial planning or budgeting, sometimes even at a basic level, for example estimating the cost of the items in a shopping basket.
  • Inability to grasp and remember maths concepts, rules, formulae, sequences.
  • Difficulty keeping score during games.
  • The condition may lead in extreme cases to a phobia of mathematics and mathematical devices (ie Numbers).

Potential Causes

Deficits in Working Memory - Adams & Hitch (1997), argue that working memory is a major factor in mental addition. From this base, Geary (1993) conducted a study that suggested there was a working memory deficit for those who suffered with dyscalculia. As compelling as the evidence may be, however, it may be the case that the working memory problems are merely confounded with general learning difficulties, thus it may not be the actual cause.

Dealing with students having dyscalculia

  • Give them extra time for numerical problems.
  • Make sure that the student has actually understood the problem.
  • Attempt to determine whether the learning style of the student is primarily visual, auditory or kinaesthetic.
  • Encourage students to "visualize" the quantities involved in mathematics problems.
  • Be aware that students may use non-standard methods to solve problems. If their method is helpful, encourage it.
  • Where appropriate have the student read problems out loud and listen carefully.
  • Provide plenty of examples and try to relate problems to real-life situations.
  • Provide uncluttered worksheets.
  • Dyscalculic students will probably need to spend considerable extra time memorizing mathematical facts. Repetition is greatly important. Rhythm or music may help the process.
  • Severely dyscalculic students, particularly if they are also dyslexic, may in fact have too poor a memory to memorise by rote at all. In this case, they should first concentrate on strengthening the basic numerical bonds and then use of calculation strategies.
  • Do not scold or pity the student.
  • Where appropriate, seek the advice of the SENCO or Ed. Psych.

External links

Further reading

  • Butterworth, Brian. "Dyscalculia Guidance: Helping Pupils With Specific Learning Difficulties in Maths." (David Fulton Pub, 2004, ISBN: 0708711529)
  • Chinn, Steve. "The Trouble with Maths: A Practical Guide to Helping Learners with Numeracy Difficulties." (RoutledgeFalmer, 2004, ISBN: 041532498X)
  • Attwood, Tony. "Dyscalculia in Schools: What It Is and What You Can Do." (First and Best in Education Ltd, 2002, ISBN: 1860836143)
  • Abeel, Samantha. "My Thirteenth Winter." (Orchard Books, 2003, ISBN: 0439339049)


  • Adams & Hitch (1997). Working memory and children's mental addition. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 67, 21-38.
  • Geary (1993). Mathematical disabilities: cognition, neuropsychological and genetic components. Psychological Bulletin, 114, 345-362.

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