Understanding Dyscalculia: Signs & Symptoms of Math Learning Disorder
Dyscalculia is a specific learning disorder in mathematics, colloquially known as “math dyslexia,” math learning disability or math learning disorder. Learners with dyscalculia can defy identification because they may seem to excel in all other avenues, like speaking, reading, and writing. Other students with dyscalculia might also have dyslexia, ADHD or other learning disabilities.
Understanding the biological nature and symptoms of dyscalculia is essential if we are to improve rates of diagnosis and treatment.
What Is Dyscalculia?
In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), Dyscalculia is classified as a “specific learning disorder,” along with Dyslexia and Dysgraphia. These are genetic and hereditary disorders which cause “learning difficulty and problems in acquiring academic skills markedly below age level and manifested in the early school years, lasting for at least six months, not attributed to intellectual disabilities, developmental disorders, or neurological or motor disorders. Where dyslexia causes difficulty learning to read and dysgraphia causes difficulty putting thoughts to paper, dyscalculia is specific to math learning, memory and skills. According to the American Psychiatric Assocation, dyscalculia is a term to describe “difficulties learning number related concepts or using the symbols and functions to perform math calculations.”
Signs of Dyscalculia
Dyscalculia occurs in about 3-6% of students, which means there’s likely a child with math specific learning disorder in nearly every public school class. About half of children with dyscalculia continue to be affected by it throughout their school journeys.
Dyscalculia can look different from student to student, but generally is marked by a poor ability to learn math that is often accompanied by math anxiety. More specific signs of dyscalculia include:
- losing track of counting
- difficulty with concepts like bigger, smaller
- trouble memorizing basic arithmetic, multiplication facts and math rules
- difficulty estimating space, speed or distance
- making unconscious math mistakes when speaking or writing
- forgetting steps and struggling with procedures
- resisting or having difficulty with scheduling, organization and time
Are Math Anxiety and Dyscalculia the Same Thing?
Math anxiety is a very real experience that many of us know anecdotally, and which is just beginning to be studied. Math anxiety seems to be multi causal. Some researchers believe that kids with math anxiety may have inherited psycho-social attitudes about math from cultural sources, from family and even teachers. Generally agreed upon is that math anxiety is symptomatic of math learning challenges.
Difficulty with early math concepts, like spatial reasoning and number sense, predicts and causes further difficulty when arithmetic and higher level math tasks are introduced in grade school. Math anxiety is likely to become apparent at this stage.
According to dyslexia.org, a student with dyscalculia faces a kind of “mental static” when confronted with challenging math tasks. They become unable to process or retrieve information and have an understandable emotional response to this confusion and pressure.
While “calming down” is a common refrain of a frustrated teacher or parent, it’s important to understand that math anxiety can be a symptom of dyscalculia and warrants diagnosis and academic support, not punishment or shaming.
👉 Learn more about math anxiety and how to help your child remain calm in the face of math tasks here.
Do You Think Your Child Has Dyscalculia?
Wondering if your child has the signs of dyscalculia?
The Numerical Cognition Laboratory at Western University offers an online screening tool which, when taken, can help explain individual differences in children’s arithmetic skills.
If you believe your child has dyscalculia, speak with their teacher and the school administration. If your child has exceptional learning needs, they are entitled to an Independent Education Plan and individualized support.
For 1:1 support and math instruction for learners of all ages, reach out for a virtual academic assessment and the language and math literacy tools your child needs to succeed with dyscalculia, dyslexia and other learning disorders.
Are you currently seeking or have you recently received a diagnosis of dyscalculia for your child? Share your experience below!
Hi! Love your website. I do the same work in Lafontaine.
Little error to correct: dyslexia is a term to describe “difficulties learning number related concepts or using the symbols and functions to perform math calculations
Dyslexia should read dyscalculia
Great catch, Denise. Thank you very much! We’ve had our web person fix the transcription error. Lovely to meet a fellow educator!