DYSCALCULIA: A math learning disorder

Math has become an integral part of our lives and whether we work at home or in an office we use it every day. “ I hate math” is a term that many of used to throw around almost every other day back in our school days but did we ever think that there could be such a thing as a “Math learning disorder”  or “ Mathematics learning disability” ? Well, there is !

Dyscalculia is a learning disability in math. It’s a neurological condition. People with dyscalculia have a hard time doing math and tasks that involve mathematical concepts.

Sometimes people  call it math dyslexia or number dyslexia which can be misleading. Dyslexia is a reading disorder while Dyscalculia is a learning disorder. However, these two can co- occur together can also often occur with conditions such as ADHD ( Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder). An estimated of 60% of people who have ADHD also have a learning disorder, like dyscalculia.



At pre school : 

  • Trouble in learning counting.
  • Struggles to recognize patters like greatest to smallest or smallest to greatest.
  • Struggles to connect numbers to objects, such as 4 applies to groups of things like 4 friends or 4 cars.

At primary school: 

  • Difficulty recalling basic number facts, e.g. 4+4 = 8
  • Finger counting
  • Struggles  to recognize that 7+3 is the same as 3+7
  • Difficulty in understanding phrases like greater than and less than.
  • They will start problems in the wrong order. For example, while subtracting or adding they start on the right instead of the left.

Secondary school :

  • Trouble applying mathematical concepts to money, such as calculating the exact change.
  • Trouble measuring ingredients in a simple recipe.
  • Trouble in understanding information on charts and graphs.

Adults :

The typical symptoms include the following :

  • Slow in performing calculations
  • Difficulty counting backwards
  • Doesn’t remember ‘basic facts’
  • Mental arithmetic skills are weak
  • Poor sense of numbers and estimation


Dyscalculia is a neurological disorder. However, the neurological causes of dyscalculia is still in its infancy and more research is needed to identify the causes. Some researchers believe that the disorder occurs due to a congenital condition, it means it has a genetic component. So the mathematical aptitude runs in families and so do learning disabilities. But it’s hard to tell how much of aptitude is hereditary and how much is just the result of your family culture.

Researches also show that both genetic and environmental factors, and the interaction of the two can be possible root causes. The cause for one individual may not be the same as others and it may not be obvious in many cases. Dyscalculia is not associated with low intelligence. An individual who is otherwise intelligent and competent in other subjects may still have dyscalculia.


Large overlap with other learning disabilities makes dyscalculia difficult to diagnose. Dyscalculia is diagnosed in several steps. First, your doctor  will take information about the family and medical history. For the next steps, adults may be referred to a psychologist and children may be referred to a special education expert.

Children and adults are more likely to receive a diagnosis of dyscalculia if they have:

  • Dyslexia
  • ADHD ( Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
  • Anxiety
  • Depression


A diagnosis will help the child to get support in school. For example, they might get special instruction in math and they will be under the care of a special child educator. Testing is the only way to know for sure if a child has dyscalculia. The testing is called educational or psychosocial testing.


The most effective treatment of dyscalculia is an early diagnosis. The earlier the problem is identified, the better. Children with this disorder can learn necessary tools to help them to adapt to new learning processes. There are no medications to treat dyscalculia If left untreated, dyscalculia can result in difficulties at work and managing finances.

For children: 

There are no medications to treat dyscalculia but there are a lot of ways to help a child with this condition. A special education specialist can help in suggesting treatment options for children in school and at home. The treatment options include :

  • Revision of basic math concepts in hands on, tangible demonstrations
  • Repeated practice and revision of basic math concepts such aa counting, addition and subtraction.
  • Dividing subject material into smaller units for easy understanding.

The best treatment plan will always take into account a child’s invidual talents, interests and  needs.

For adults :

The treatment of dyscalculia can be more challenging for adults. A healthcare professional may help with exercises and education material. Private tuitions or training can hep treat adult dyscalculia.


  • Play math games 

Lots of common board games involve simple arithmetic, couting and motor skills. One can play these games with their child  to help him/her learn to use numbers in a fun and relaxing way.

  • Use planning technology 

Dyscalculia makes it difficult to manage and keep track of time. Time management tools like alarms, reminders, can help keep track of time.

  • Break tasks into subsets

Breaking tasks down  into subsets can help understand complex problems and concepts. Working through them one at a time can help people focus and avoid overload.

 “The essence of mathematics is not to make simple things complicated, but to make complicated things simple.” 

– S. Gudder


  • Use real life cues 

Relating maths to what happens in our day to day lives, can help students make sense of concepts and see the relationships between numbers.

  • Write out a problem

For students with dyscalculia, writing down a problem in sentence form can help see relationships between elements. Even paraphrasing word problems can help organize information and see solutions.


Dyscalculia is just as common as dyslexia. And estimated  5 to 10% of people have dyscalculia. Though there is no specific cause of dyscalculia, it can still be treated with the right interventions and strategies. Unlike other disorders, people don’t grow out of dyscalculia but it can still be treated.



What do you think?

505 Points

Written by Trisha Baunthiyal

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments