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How to Help Kids With Dyscalculia

Tips for supporting your child

Writer: Rae Jacobson

Clinical Expert: Meredyth D. Kravitz, PsyD

en Español

There are a number of ways you can support a child with dyscalculia – both in school and out.

Provide academic supports

Kids with dyscalculia need extra support to help them stay on track in math class, handle homework and deal with tests. Trying different types of support can help you and your child find the right tools for his needs.

Experts: Educational specialists or a math tutor, especially one who has experience working with students who learn differently, can help your child learn to approach math problems in a more effective way. Tutoring will also allow your child to practice his math skills in a slower, less stressful setting.

The right tools: Supportive tools and tech can help your child navigate difficult problems.

  • A calculator he knows how to use
  • Pencils (for erasing!)
  • Graph paper to help him keep columns and numbers straight.
  • Pre-set phone reminders and alarms to help him keep track of time.
  • Math apps and games that allow him to practice essential skills in a fun way

Accommodations: Work with your child’s teacher to ensure he’s able to access appropriate supports including:

  • Access to a calculator during class and tests
  • Extra time on tests
  • A quiet space to work
  • The option to record lectures
  • Access to the teacher’s notes
  • Time in the math resource room (if his school offers one)
  • In-school tutoring or homework assistance

Address anxiety

Many children — with and without dyscalculia — struggle with what’s commonly called math anxiety. “Kids who have a hard time with math often feel serious anxiety when it comes to doing any math-related task, especially homework or tests,” explains Meredyth Kravitz, PhD, a clinical neuropsychologist.

Oftentimes, this anxiety becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, says Dr. Kravitz. “Kids who struggle with math often become so anxious that the anxiety takes over. They’re unable to concentrate on learning the problem or passing the test because they’re worried about doing badly.”

Math anxiety isn’t exclusive to kids with dyscalculia, but it is common among children with the disorder. “One of the keys to helping kids with dyscalculia is teaching them anxiety management strategies,” says Dr. Kravitz. As kids learn to manage the anxiety provoked by math challenges, they become more able to absorb information and techniques that can help.

Support self-esteem

Like most learning disabilities, dyscalculia often has hidden costs. If your child has dyscalculia he may feel frustrated or embarrassed when asked to do things — like reciting multiplication tables — that are difficult for him, especially during class or when other students are present.

But the problems can often go beyond school. Dyscalculia’s impact on day-to-day activities — playing board games, making correct change or even reading clocks accurately — can cause kids to feel self-conscious and avoidant.

Helping your child understand his learning disorder can give him the tools he needs to manage his dyscalculia — both academically and emotionally.

  • Don’t keep him in the dark. Talk to him about the difficulties dyscalculia can cause and be specific: “You know how you have a hard time remembering your times tables, or knowing how much change to give the lunch lady? That’s dyscalculia.”
  • Acknowledge his struggles and praise hard work — even if the results aren’t perfect: “I understand how hard that math assignment was. I was so proud of how hard you worked on it.” “Praising efforts instead of outcomes will help your child feel proud of his work, even if it’s not reflected in his final grade,” says Dr. Kravitz.
  • Help him identify his specific strengths, and offer positive reinforcement: “Your essay about Dad was so well written and moving. You’re a great writer.”
  • Combat negative self-talk: If your child starts saying things like “I’m just stupid,” don’t ignore it. Instead, check out these ideas for helping kids who are too hard on themselves.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia is a word used to describe specific learning disabilities that affect a child’s ability to understand, learn and perform math and number-based operations.

What kinds of help do kids with dyscalculia need?

Kids with dyscalculia need extra support to help them stay on track in math class, handle homework, and deal with tests. Kids with dyscalculia may also be entitled to accommodations at school — like access to a calculator, extra time on tests, and a quiet space to work.

What are some concrete tools to help kids with dyscalculia?

Tools that will help kids with dyscalculia include a calculator they know how to use, pencils, graph paper to help them keep columns and numbers straight, and math apps for practicing essential skills.

What is the treatment for math anxiety caused by dyscalculia?

Math anxiety is common among children with dyscalculia. Treatment involves learning anxiety management strategies. When kids can manage the anxiety provoked by math challenges, they are better able to absorb information and learn.

This article was last reviewed or updated on March 8, 2024.