Dyscalculia is a type of specific learning disorder that is exclusive to math. It is a life-long neurodevelopmental disorder that restricts a child or teen’s ability to learn mathematical concepts and procedures regardless of intellectual ability and effective classroom instruction. Specifically, Dyscalculia affects regions of the brain responsible for number relationships, calculations, mathematical reasoning, conceptualizing numbers, and/or processing numerical magnitude. One hallmark skill that children with Dyscalculia struggle with is called subitization. Subitization refers to the ability to easily associate a digit with a quantity or, more clearly put, as the ability to recognize the number of objects in a set simply by looking. Many of the skills impacted by Dyscalculia are foundational to higher-level math skills, which may present in older children and teens as difficulty solving word problems or performing complex calculations.

Like Dyslexia, Dyscalculia differs from other specific learning disorders in math because of its presentation across foundational math skills. Children with other specific learning disorders in math often maintain intact foundational skills, like number sense or subitization, but show difficulty localized to other aspects of math. For example, children diagnosed with specific learning disorder with impairment in math fluency demonstrate weakness in math fluency skills (i.e., the ability to perform math calculation with automaticity). Although they have well developed foundational skills, these children may have difficulties with processing speed or working memory that impact their ability to perform math calculations fluently. Challenges with math fluency may also cause difficulties with solving word problems or complex calculations because children spend so much time doing each step of the problem that their brain is preoccupied and unable to zoom out to the larger goal of the problem.

Children and teens with Dyscalculia also often develop low academic self-confidence and math anxiety, especially as they begin to recognize their learning differences. Diagnostic evaluations not only help the parents and teachers of a child with Dyscalculia better characterize that child’s academic difficulties, but they also can help the child more clearly and accurately understand their own personal strengths. Diagnosis of Dyscalculia requires a qualified professional to gather information about the child, their behavior, and environment. No single test can diagnose a child as having Dyscalculia, and many other disorders, like anxiety, depression, other specific learning disorders, and ADHD, can have similar symptoms. Dyscalculia evaluations include a combination of in-office testing procedures; questionnaires completed by parents, teachers, and children; and clinical observations.

The type, duration, and frequency of supports will vary depending on each child and the severity of their Dyscalculia. Evidence-based supports can include school-based evaluations for Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) or 504 Plans. Outside tutoring and/or academic summer camps may be beneficial. Regardless of delivery in or outside of the school, explicit instruction that uses multiple modalities (e.g., visual representations, verbal explanations) and a variety of strategies in basic math skills are important. Other general accommodations, such as extra time on tests, use of a calculator, and manipulatives can also be beneficial. When children simultaneously demonstrate low academic self-esteem or anxiety around math, therapy with a trained mental health professional may help children better understand, express, and cope with their feelings.

Other posts about Dyscalculia and other specific learning disorders can be found on the WCP blog.

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