Dyscalculia, often described as dyslexia with numbers, is a learning disability associated with maths. Children who suffer from dyscalculia struggle to differentiate between different numbers and face difficulty while applying various maths formulae to solve arithmetic problems.
Dyscalculia is often confused with dyslexia, a learning disability that affects children’s phonemic and phonological awareness.
Definition of dyscalculia
Dyscalculia or dyslexia with numbers is a developmental disorder that impairs a child’s ability to acquire mathematical skills. Children with dyscalculia often perform well in other subjects but consistently achieve poor scores in maths. They cannot understand the meaning of numbers or perform simple mathematical operations, such as division, multiplication, addition, and subtraction.
Therefore, this is the correct dyscalculia definition. It is a brain disorder associated with the dysfunction of neural connections that process arithmetic awareness and numeric language.
Prevalence of dyslexia with numbers
Dyscalculia is not as well recognized as dyslexia, but it is as common as the latter. Research suggests that dyscalculia has the same prevalence as dyslexia, from 3% to 6% among elementary school students. The distribution is similar among boys and girls.
Confusion between dyscalculia and dyslexia
Most of the time, parents and teachers use terms like ‘number dyslexia’ and ‘maths dyslexia’ for dyscalculia. However, dyslexia and dyscalculia are entirely different learning disorders.
Dyslexia is a learning disability that makes it hard to read and spell words for children. The term is overused a lot and is wrongly used for other learning disorders such as dyscalculia and dysgraphia.
The more appropriate term for dyscalculia would be ‘math disorder’ or ‘mathematics learning disability.’
Association with other disorders
Dyscalculia can be associated with other disorders.
Research shows that half of the children with dyslexia also have dyscalculia.
A 2015 research established that around 11% of children with dyscalculia also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Such learning disabilities can co-occur together. It is advised to get your child examined for others if they are already diagnosed with one of them.
Types of dyscalculia
According to an Ireland website dyslexia, dyscalculia can be divided into three sub-categories.
- Quantitative – When a kid finds it hard to count numbers or do a simple calculation
- Qualitative – When a child could not gain or master the arithmetic skills for doing an operation or cannot comprehend the instructions for doing the same
- Intermediate – When a child cannot perform basic mathematical operations with symbols or numbers
Dr. Ladislav Kosc, one of the pioneers in this field, divided dyscalculia into six types based on signs and symptoms.
- Verbal – Children with verbal dyscalculia face difficulty with understanding and naming the mathematical concepts presented verbally. Such children can write and read numbers. However, they have a rough time recognizing them if presented verbally.
- Lexical – Lexical dyscalculia indicates trouble with reading mathematical numbers and symbols (operation signs such as + -), mathematical expressions, and equations. A kid with this learning disability can understand numbers and arithmetic concepts when spoken but have difficulty writing or understanding them.
- Graphical – A child with graphical dyscalculia faces difficulty while writing numbers or mathematical symbols. Such a child can understand a mathematical concept but lacks the ability to write, read, or use the appropriate symbols or operation signs.
- Operational – Operational dyscalculia impairs a child’s ability to perform written or verbal mathematical operations or simple calculations. Such a child can understand numbers and their relationships but cannot manipulate numbers and symbols in a calculation.
- Ideognostical – A child with idognostical dyscalculia finds it hard to understand and remember mathematical concepts after learning them.
- Practognostic – Practognostic dyscalculia is a condition in which a kid can understand mathematical concepts but have trouble applying them in the real world. They face difficulty while listing or comparing objects, such as determining which stick is long out of the two.
Dyscalculia symptoms appear in the form of a number of maths-related troubles.
- Confusion with mathematical symbols(+ – x ÷) or poor understanding of them
- Difficulty telling time with an analog clock
- The trouble with doing basic mathematical operations such as addition, subtraction, division, or multiplication or understanding the words ‘plus,’ ‘add,’ ‘add-together.’
- Mental arithmetic skills are poor
- Difficulty figuring out which of the two numbers is larger
- Having trouble with times table
- Sequencing issues
- Visualize numbers as nonsensical or meaningless symbols instead of recognizing them as characters representing a numerical value (hence the term ‘maths dyslexia’)
- May find it hard to differentiate between directions such as left or right
- Poor calculation strategy, for instance, instead of adding numbers 100 and 25, the child would draw a hundred dots and twenty-five dots and count them all in a sequence
- Cannot ‘subitize’ like promptly identifying the number of objects in a set by just looking at them instead of counting, a normal person can subitize up to six or seven object, but a child with dyscalculia symptoms, when presented with two object, may count them one by one instead of identifying them instantly
- May not able to use a calculator properly as cannot decide what variables to feed and symbols to use
- Fails to generalize simple concepts, such as if 2+6=8; then 20+60=80 or 2 meter+6 meter= 8 meter
- May not be able to notice, predict, or continue patterns in a mathematical sequence, take 10 x table for reference: 10, 20, 30, 40, etc.; the pattern is clear here, but a child with dyscalculia may not figure it out promptly.
- Trouble working backward in time, such as what time to leave if needs to be present at a place at time x
- May transpose or reverse numbers, for instance, 49 for 94 or 248 for 428
- Difficulty with keeping scores during a match
- Difficulty with day to day tasks such as checking change after a billing
- Cannot grasp or remember mathematical concepts, formulae, rules, and sequences
- Extreme cases lead to a phobia of numbers, mathematics, and even mathematical devices
Symptoms of dyscalculia and its characteristics also vary depending on the age of every child.
40+ Dyscalculia symptoms in preschoolers
- Having a hard time while learning to count
- Having trouble sorting
- Write numbers upside down
- Difficulty recognizing symbols of the numbers, for instance, cannot associate “4” to the concept “four.”
- Cannot associate numbers with real-life situations or objects, such as inability to connect number “2” to two candles, two books, etc.
- Difficulty with the comprehension of numbers
- Incorrect or reverse symbols, such as writing 6 instead of 9 or 3 instead of 8
- Difficulty classifying objects by size and shape
- Trouble with auditory memories of various numbers
- Confusing numbers that sound similar
- Problems with the number sequence like omitting a number or repeat a number twice, such as 1, 2, 3, 3, 5, 6, 8
- May not able to start counting from the middle, such as start counting from five or six; instead, they start counting by writing the numbers from first to four or recalling the sequence starting from one in their mind
- Symptoms of dyscalculia in kindergarten to middle school-aged children
- Inability to remember or even learn basic arithmetic structures such as 2+2=4
- Cannot recognize words such as ‘less than’ or ‘greater than.’
- Relying on their fingers to count
- Difficulty using mathematical symbols and confuse one with another such as confusing – with +
- Cannot recognize numbers properly
- Cannot remember or understand the rules or procedures for solving fundamental maths problems
- Start solving problems in the wrong order; for instance, start dividing the number from the right instead of left or adding or subtracting numbers from the left instead of right
- Have trouble with reasoning, such as answer after subtraction is larger than the original numbers
- Difficulty carrying when adding or subtracting numbers children with dyscalculia don’t understand the decimals or numeric series
- Difficulty performing basic maths operations in their head
- Cannot remember the previously encountered patterns
- Trouble with lining up the problems, for instance, children with maths dyslexia may not know how to make a horizontal addition problem (3+6=?) vertical; similar errors occur while multiplication and division where the numbers get transposed or interchanged
- Cannot understand dictated or spoken problems (For instance, Mike has 7 oranges, and he gave 4 to Jennet. How many oranges are with Mike now?) Kids with dyscalculia cannot understand the main idea of the problem and have trouble visualizing the information they heard.
- Face anxiety while performing maths tasks
- May face more general difficulties like telling time or figuring out directions
- Dyscalculia symptoms in high school children
- Difficulty applying mathematical concepts in real life, for instance, creating a budget, how much to pay after purchasing few things from one place, making change, etc
- Difficulty measuring variables, for instance, how much 500ml milk, 250g of flour, or ½ kg of sugar corresponds to
- Trouble understanding information from charts, maps, and graphs
- Disorientation or poor orientation; often gets lost due to poor sense of direction
- Poor driving skills as cannot accurately calculate speed or distance
- Inability to use multiple approaches for a single problem or to use multiple formulae to solve one equation
- Face anxiety while performing mathematical tasks
- Symptoms of dyscalculia in adults
- May find it hard counting backward
- Have trouble remembering simple or basic facts
- Weak understanding of numbers and estimations
- Struggling to understand the place value of a digit
- Slow with calculations as compared to other people of the same age
- Poor mental arithmetic skills
- Suffering from extreme math anxiety
Dyscalculia affects children in one, two, or all of these areas:
- Core number
What are the causes of dyscalculia?
Researchers have conducted numerous investigations to find a cause of dyscalculia. Their findings suggest that dyscalculia is caused by:
Issues in brain development
Neuroimaging technique provides a live visual of the central nervous system and brain activity. The data collected from this technique showed that neural connection deficit in case of dyscalculia occurs in the brain areas responsible for numeric and arithmetic processing.
This type of dyscalculia is called developmental dyscalculia.
If the child loses his mathematical and arithmetic skills due to a brain injury or other cognitive impairment, it is called acalculia. Acalculia, or acquired dyscalculia, is a condition in which a child is entirely unable to use mathematical symbols.
The primary cause of dyslexia for numbers is considered congenital. Generally, one of the child’s parents faced difficulty with maths.
Though, causes of dyscalculia also have a close similarity to several cognitive deficits.
Numeric representation deficit – It is a neuronal dysfunction that renders a false mental representation of numbers. As a result, numeric decoding becomes significantly tricky. Children fail to comprehend the correct meaning of math problems.
Cognitive deficit that makes storing information difficult – A neural connection dysfunction is found in children with dyscalculia who do not usually access the numeric data. The neural connection networks in a person with dyscalculia take different routes compared to a person without this learning disorder.
Other possible causes of dyscalculia also exist that are related to dyslexia.
Several of them are:
- Neurological brain disorders
- Psychomotor alterations
- Maternal exposure to drugs or alcohol in the womb
- Neurological maturation failures
- Premature birth
Dyscalculia is a learning disorder that impairs the natural development of a person’s arithmetic skills.
Successful intervention depends on the successful diagnosis. To diagnose dyscalculia, it must be understood how it affects the brain.
Effects of dyscalculia on brain
Dyscalculia is a neuronal dysfunction in the brain’s intraparietal sulcus. This learning disorder causes a pattern of cognitive deterioration and results in the following skills deficits.
Working memory – The working memory is the temporary storage. This cognitive skill refers to a person’s ability to manipulate information to perform complex tasks. The deficit in this cognitive skill results in difficulty following directions, incomplete memories, low concentration, inability to remember numbers, forgetting tasks and instructions, and delayed mental arithmetic.
Concentration – There is a structural deficit in neural connections related to the mind’s sharpness and inhibition, making it harder to concentrate. Losing focus makes learning maths a nightmare for the child.
Short-term memory – Short-term memory is the ability to remember small information for a very short time. A deficit in this ability makes maths problems a nightmare for kids. They could forget the numbers or symbols halfway through the calculations. They are also unable to remember multiplication tables.
Divided attention – This skill is related to the ability to multitask. A deficit in this skill means the child can get distracted easily and get tired quickly.
Planning – This cognitive skill helps with planning events and anticipates outcomes. Deterioration in this cognitive skill results in an inability to plan and finish exercises correctly.
Processing speed – The brain’s processing speed implies how much time a child’s brain takes to receive, realize, and respond to a piece of information. This information can be a mathematical equation, an exercise, or a visual representation of numbers. The processing speed of children without any learning disabilities is quicker, and they finish the process automatically. A child with a learning disorder such as dyscalculia requires more time to process and understand the information.
Naming – This cognitive skill implies the ability to memorize a number or symbol with its name and recall it easily for use later. Children with a deficit in this skill cannot remember or recall numbers while solving a maths problem.
It is essential to rule out other possibilities before you check your child for dyscalculia. For instance, visit a doctor and check if your child has any visible or hearing problems affecting your kid’s arithmetic abilities or number sense.
You must also get in touch with your child’s teachers to find out if the kid is facing any trouble in other subjects.
Once you are confident that your child may have dyscalculia, you must see a learning specialist for diagnosis. As dyscalculia falls under the category of SLD (specific learning disorder) section, a child must meet the four criteria for diagnosis:
The child started to face learning difficulties in school.
The affected academic skills of the child are below compared to other children of the same age, resulting in difficulty with everyday tasks, school, homework, or day-to-day activities.
A child with dyscalculia shows one or more of the six specified symptoms related to learning difficulties and academic skills usage.
Other factors and medical conditions must be tested for and ruled out, including neurological disorder, psychosocial adversity, intellectual disabilities, and lack of proper instruction.
Once these conditions are met, your child is ready for a dyscalculia test. The test analyzed four significant elements:
Fluency in maths: Can the child recall basic math facts without too much effort, such as 5 X 5 = 25 or adding fractions?
Computational skills: Can your child perform basic maths operations? Younger kids may have trouble with addition or subtraction, while older children may have difficulty with mathematical problems such as fractions, decimals, squares, and square roots.
Quantitative Reasoning: Can your kid understand word problems easily and solve them?
Mental Computation: Can your child perform basic math operations and problems in their head?
Once the tests are done, an expert can create a report to help you address your child’s needs.
Treatment of Dyscalculia
Just like dyslexia, the best treatment for dyscalculia is an early diagnosis. The sooner the dyscalculia is diagnosed, the sooner you can provide your kids with all the tools to adapt to a new learning process to not fall behind.
Learning disabilities cannot be cured by medication. Dyscalculia, just like dyslexia, is also incurable. However, the treatment offers special instructions, interventions, and accommodations. The primary goal of treatment is to fill the knowledge gap among kids with dyscalculia and help them develop a coping mechanism throughout their lives.
- Education psychologists and learning specialists have recommended these tools for children with dyscalculia:
- Teaching plans that are specially designed for kids with dyscalculia
- Learning games based on maths
- Keep practicing math skills more than other students
- Students with dyscalculia are eligible for certain accommodations in the classroom under the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education):
- Allowing calculators
- Adjusting assignment’s difficulty
- More time to finish tests and assignments
- Work on child’s foundational and core skills
- Quiet workspace
- Can opt to record lectures
- Using posters for teaching and reminding fundamental math facts and concepts
- Supplemental information is available via hands-on projects and computer-based interactive lessons
If dyscalculia does not get treated during childhood, it keeps up into adulthood. Dyscalculia in adults results in many hardships as they try to get higher education or aim for workplace success.
Therefore, dyscalculic adults deserve specific accommodations in their workplaces as per the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).
How to help your dyscalculic child
Dyscalculia, if not treated with care, can result in math anxiety or even arithmophobia (math phobia). Hence, a child must be treated with patience to overcome their math anxiety to boost their confidence levels and perform well in the subject.
To help your kid fight dyscalculia, you can do the following:
- Provide your kid with the right tools, such as a calculator that’s easy to operate
- Allow your child to use paper or their fingers when counting
- Hire an experienced math tutor (possibly experienced with children with learning disabilities such as dyscalculia)
- Try using music and rhythm to teach math steps and facts
- Use graph paper to keep numbers and columns straight and not ended messing up
- Always applaud and praise your kid’s hard work and not always the correct outcome
- Teach them math word problems with pictures
- Install math games on your PC or laptop and let them play (try to find some entertaining math games)
- Educate yourself and teach them about ways to deal with their anxiety
- Do not create a stigma and talk with your children about their learning disability
Games you can play to beat dyscalculia
Motivating your child and being patient with them is one of the most important parts of dyscalculia intervention. They must believe that they can overcome dyscalculia with constant practice, effort, and patience.
Keep reminding them about their other gifts and keep them cheerful.
Learning does not always have to be boring or a struggle for them. You can make the learning fun by playing several games with them. Here are a few examples:
- Supermarket Game: Ask your child to play a game where they help you shop by identifying how many things you need to buy, how many items are left to buy, and how many things on the list you were able to find.
- Pricing Game: Ask them questions about pricing and reward them. For instance, which is a better deal: an ice cream costs $1 or another cost $2?
- Cooking Game: You can let them participate in the cooking and help you out with the recipe. For instance, you need four carrots and half a bowl of rice as an ingredient. Make them in charge of picking the ingredients as required.
- The Clock Game: Ask your child to tell you when there is a particular time, such as 12:45. Reward them if they tell you the right time and also appreciate them.
- The Sharing Game: You bought a cake, and there are six family members. Ask your child how they can divide the cake into six equal parts.
- The Telephone Number Game: Suppose you are to call the kid’s father. Ask them the first three digits of their phone number. You tell the rest. If they get it right, praise them and celebrate together.
- The Roleplay: You can play a little role play game with your child. Make them a cashier of a fantasy supermarket in your house and become their customer. Bring stuff to them and ask them to tell the total amount of all the objects depending on their prices. Pay for your stuff and ask for the change. This game will teach them addition, subtraction, quantity, etc. You can try various methods to make it more fun for your kids.
Dyscalculia, like other learning disorders, does not have a cure. However, you can help your kid overcome it and lead a normal life. Early diagnosis is the best treatment for dyslexia with numbers.
The five rules of dyscalculia intervention must be followed to help your kid improve their arithmetic skills.
Stick to the fundamental principles
Do your best to minimize anxiety so they do not develop a phobia of numbers
Teach using multisensory ways (kinesthetic, auditory, and visual), so their weaker channels get support from the stronger ones
Let them not get discouraged with their mistakes and teach them that mistakes can also affect positively
Repetition is okay for them
Various applications can help accelerate the process. For instance, Speechify is a text-to-speech app that has proven to help children with dyslexia, ADHD, and other learning disorders. Generally, children with various learning disorders have poor focus and concentration. Speechify reads out the text and helps such kids improve their learning at a better pace. The ability to turn any written text into speech helps kids finish their reading faster.
However, never forget that your support and care are most important for your child to beat dyscalculia.