What is Dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia is a term referring to a wide range of life-long learning disabilities involving maths.

It includes all types of maths problems ranging from an inability to understand the meaning of numbers, to an inability to apply mathematical principles to solve problems.

Some Signs of Dyscalculia in Various Age Groups

Early childhood

Dyscalculia is rarely identified early. studies have been done to try to identify predictors of potential mathematical disability. The main predictors include:

  • Not knowing which of two digits is larger, i.e. understanding the meaning of numbers
  • Lacking effective counting strategies
  • Poor fluency in identification of numbers
  • Inability to add simple single-digit numbers mentally and
  • Limitations in working memory capacity.

School-age children

  • Poor mathematical concept development
  • Lack of understanding of mathematical terms
  • Confusion over printed symbols and signs
  • Difficulty solving basic maths problems using addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
  • Poor memory of number facts (i.e. times tables)
  • Trouble in applying their knowledge and skills to solve maths problems.
  • Weakness in visual-spatial skills, where a person may understand the required maths facts, but has difficulty putting them down on paper in an organized way.
  • Frequent reversal of single figures and reversal of tens and units (e.g. 34 written as 43)
  • Difficulty in reading text compound the student’s problem in maths.

Teenagers & Adults

If basic maths facts are not mastered, many teenagers and adults with dyscalculia may have difficulty moving on to more advanced maths applications. Language processing disabilities can make it difficult for a person to grasp the vocabulary of maths. Without a clear understanding of the vocabulary, it is difficult to build on maths knowledge.

Success in more advanced maths procedures requires the ability to follow multi-step procedures. For individuals with learning disabilities, it may be difficult to visualize patterns, different parts of a maths problem or identify critical information needed to solve equations and more complex problems.

How is Dyscalculia Identified?

Dyscalculia is estimated to occur in up to 3% of the population (Westwood, P. 2008). Simply performing poorly in maths does not necessarily mean that a student has dyscalculia.

Educational psychologists use a series of tests to determine if a person has dyscalculia. An evaluation reveals how a person understands and uses numbers and maths concepts to solve advanced-level, as well as everyday, problems. The evaluation compares a person’s expected and actual levels of skill and understanding while noting specific strengths and weaknesses.

(Reference: Westwood, P. What teachers need to know about Numeracy. Copyright Acer Press 2008)

Supporting People with Dyscalculia

Recognising a student’s strengths and weaknesses is the first step to getting help. Following identification, parents, teachers and other educators can work together to establish strategies that will help the student learn maths more effectively. Help outside the classroom lets a student to achieve mastery in areas of weakness before moving on to new topics. Repeated reinforcement and specific practice can make understanding easier.