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What is dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia is a common learning disability. Kids with dyscalculia have an unusually hard time with math. They struggle to understand, learn and perform math and number-based operations.

It’s estimated that between five and seven percent of elementary school-aged children may have dyscalculia.

Dyscalculia is part of a diagnosis called “specific learning disorder.” That diagnosis can apply to a child who struggles with reading, writing or math.

What are the symptoms of dyscalculia?

A young child with dyscalculia may:

  • Have difficulty recognizing numbers
  • Learn to count later than other kids
  • Struggle to connect numerical symbols (5) with their corresponding words (five)
  • Have difficulty recognizing patterns and placing things in order
  • Lose track when counting
  • Need to use visual aids — like fingers — to help count

As math becomes a major part of the school day, older kids with dyscalculia are likely to:

  • Have significant difficulty learning basic math functions like addition and subtraction, times tables and more
  • Have trouble grasping the concepts behind word problems and other non-numerical math calculations
  • Have difficulty estimating how long it will take to complete a task
  • Struggle with math homework and tests
  • Struggle to process visual-spatial ideas like graphs and charts

The disorder can also affect kids outside of school. Children with dyscalculia may:

  • Have trouble remembering numbers such as zip codes, phone numbers or game scores
  • Struggle to do things like making change, counting bills or estimating how much something will cost
  • Have difficulty judging distances, for example, how long it will take to get from one place to another
  • Struggle to remember directions
  • Have a hard time telling left from right
  • Become easily frustrated by games that require score keeping, number strategies or counting
  • Have difficulty reading clocks and telling time

Not all difficulties in math class — even serious ones — are caused by dyscalculia. Disorders like dyslexia, visual or auditory processing challenges, ADHD and others can also impact a child’s performance in math. It’s also possible for kids who do have dyscalculia to have other learning disabilities as well.

How is dyscalculia diagnosed?

There is no specific test for dyscalculia. If your child has trouble with math, taking the following steps can help.

  • Visit their doctor: Rule out any medical issues such as hearing or vision trouble that could be impacting your child’s learning process.
  • Consult with their teacher: Ask your child’s math teacher to note the areas where they have the most trouble, and any and all strategies that help.
  • Consult a specialist: A learning professional can evaluate your child and give you specific feedback on how to help.

How is dyscalculia treated?

Children with dyscalculia need extra support to help them stay on track in math class, handle homework and deal with tests.

Educational specialists or math tutors can help kids learn to approach math problems in more effective ways.

Children with dyscalculia also benefit from assistive tools and technology. Some common examples include calculators, graph paper, math apps, and time management tools like phone alarms.

Children with dyscalculia are also entitled to accommodations at school. These may include:

  • 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 a math resource room
  • In-school tutoring or homework assistance