Other Learning Disabilities
What is Dyscalculia
Dyscalculia is a learning disability that affects the ability to learn arithmetic and mathematics in someone of ordinary intelligence, compared with those of the same age who receive identical instruction. This condition may cause difficulty with many core mathematical concepts. The concepts may include:
- Identifying quantity
- The memory of numbers
- Sequential memory
- The ability to recognize patterns
- The general perception of time & telling time
- A lack of sense of direction
- Inability to remember mathematical facts and procedures.
Like other learning disabilities, dyscalculia is a lifelong condition. Early intervention is key to a child’s academic and future success. Dyscalculia likely will hinder educational progress and, in turn, self-esteem if left untreated.
Dyscalculia is also often referred to as “math learning disability,” “developmental dyscalculia,” “acalculia” (if it is acquired later in life), “math anxiety,” “math dyslexia,” or “numerical impairment.” In the DSM-5, it is typically classified as a “specific learning disorder with impairment in mathematics.”
Signs and Symptoms of Dyscalculia
Signs and symptoms of dyscalculia can vary significantly based on the individual. Typically, a general lack of ability to understand math concepts is an indicator. However, it is essential to note that this may be inconsistent. For example, an individual with dyscalculia may seem able to perform calculations one day but then forget how to do so on a test the following day. In addition, other subtler symptoms may exist, such as the inability to remember names or associate names with faces.
There are other broad signs someone with dyscalculia may have that seem unrelated to mathematics. For example, an individual may appear absent-minded and tend to get lost, lose items, or lose track of time. In addition, they may quickly become disoriented, even in an area that should be familiar, such as the hallways in school. Because these symptoms are very broad, it is common for someone to be diagnosed with ADHD rather than dyscalculia.
Other signs and symptoms include:
- Difficulty adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing numbers, or getting inconsistent results when doing so
- Understanding the rules of math or memorizing mathematical facts and formulas
- Trouble identifying which quantity is largest or smallest
difficulty reading analog clocks
- Challenges performing mental math
a persistent need to count on one’s fingers after peers have ceased to do so
- Trouble with money-related tasks such as making change, calculating tips, or estimating sale prices
difficulty estimating values like speed, time, or distance
- Difficulty telling right from left or orienting oneself in space
- Frequent lateness and poor time management
How Dyscalculia is Diagnosed & Treated
There is no single test for dyscalculia. Instead, an individual is diagnosed using a comprehensive combination of evaluations from a licensed professional. These evaluations include tests that evaluate math skills and general cognitive abilities. Additionally, family and medical history will be reviewed to rule out other possible disorders that may present similarly, such as ADHD.
Dyscalculia may be present in both children and adults. For children, early intervention is critical. Once diagnosed, a child may be provided with specialized tutors to help them learn at their own pace. In-classroom accommodations that allow children to better keep up with their peers may also be an option based on the outcome of the evaluations. The specific therapies and accommodations used may vary with the nature and degree of dyscalculia.
Adults with dyscalculia likely have struggled with mathematics their whole life. Although there is not as much research regarding therapy and interventions for adults with dyscalculia, there still are benefits to diagnosis and treatment. For example, it may be possible for an adult diagnosed to receive special accommodations at their workplace to allow them to perform better.
Additionally, the diagnosis may start a road to recovery for many adults with low self-esteem caused by their lifelong struggle academically and socially. In addition to treatment and coaching for dyscalculia, individual therapy is helpful to confront and overcome these feelings of inadequateness caused by the condition.