Dyscalculia: Having trouble with numbers?


Dyscalculia is a learning disability in math. Dyscalculia affects a child’s ability to understand, learn, and perform math and number-based operations. It is a condition that makes it hard to do math and tasks that involve math. People with dyscalculia often struggle with key concepts of mathematics such as big vs. small and basic math problems. It is also known as ‘specific learning disability with impairment in mathematics’.

Causes and risk factors of dyscalculia

Researchers aren’t clear about what exactly causes dyscalculia. But they do know that genes and brain differences play a role. Some of the possible causes of dyscalculia are:

Genetics: Dyscalculia often runs in families. Children with family members who have dyscalculia are at a greater risk for being similarly affected or experiencing symptoms of the condition such as struggling with math.

Brain anatomy: Brain imaging studies have found that there are differences between the brains of people with and without dyscalculia. These differences are especially present in the areas of the brain that are linked to learning skills.  

Many kids with dyscalculia also have other learning and thinking differences. ADHD and dyslexia most commonly co-occur with dyscalculia. 

Signs and symptoms of Dyscalculia

Dyscalculia impacts all people in different ways. Therefore, symptoms might not look the same for each child. Signs of dyscalculia are often recognised once a child enters school since it involves trouble with math. Once your child reaches school age, your child's teacher may be the first to notice a problem. 

  • Before school the following signs can be indicative of the presence of dyscalculia 
  • Have difficulty recognising numbers
  • Delay in learning to count
  • Struggle to connect numerical symbols with their corresponding words 
  • Have difficulty recognising patterns 
  • Trouble placing things in order
  • Need to use visual aids to help count

After joining school, signs of dyscalculia may become more apparent, as math becomes a major part of the school day. Children with dyscalculia are more likely to:

  • Have significant difficulty learning basic math functions like addition and subtraction
  • Difficulty in learning times tables 
  • Inability to grasp the concepts behind word problems 
  • Struggle with math assignments and tests
  • Have difficulty keeping at grade-level in math
  • Struggle to process visual-spatial ideas (graphs and charts)


Fortunately, with the proper help and support, most kids with dyscalculia are able to learn to do math properly. The most effective treatment for dyscalculia, just like with dyslexia, is an early intervention. The earlier the problem is identified, the earlier the child can learn the necessary tools to help them adapt to a new learning process.  

Children with dyscalculia usually work with a specially trained teacher, tutor, or specialist to learn how to work with numbers and math concepts. 

Psychotherapists might help children with dyscalculia come to terms with their condition. Children with dyscalculia are often drawn into a vicious cycle of failure and negative emotions due to their difficulties, and these emotional difficulties might outweigh the learning difficulties. Hence psychotherapy in addition to academic help is also important.

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