What is Dyscalculia?

What is the difference between just being bad at math, disliking math, and having an actual learning disability in math? For example, there were certainly math concepts that required more time and repeated practice for me to learn than others. I recall in elementary school struggling with the concept of fractions and percentages because I had such difficulties conceptualizing the problems I was being asked to solve. I do not however have a learning disability in math. Math is a cumulative subject that requires consistent, explicit instructional methods for all students to develop mastery. Students with a learning disability in math, known as dyscalculia, are unable to acquire the key concepts of math and basic arithmetic skills. They are unable to do what everyone else who received the same instruction is able to do.


Dyscalculia affects between three and six percent of the population, is inherited, congenital, and presents lifelong challenges. Research has shown that when completing simple number tasks students with dyscalculia have abnormalities in the functioning of both parietal lobes. There is less activity in the parietal lobes, especially the left side, where mathematical computations are typically performed. In fact for students with dyscalculia, their brains activate in different areas than the parietal lobes for numerical tasks. One major underlying cause that contributes to dyscalculia is a weakness in visual processing. To experience success in math, a person needs to be able to visualize numbers and mathematical problems (like I needed to for fractions). A secondary cause stems from sequencing problems which directly correlates with difficulties memorizing facts and formulas needed to efficiently complete math calculations. Some signs and symptoms of dyscalculia include difficulty remembering phone numbers, PIN numbers, counting money (i.e. shopping), and the numerical side of time (i.e. planning when to leave to arrive at a specific time).


Understanding the specific cause for a student’s dyscalculia is essential when determining a course of action for their math instruction. Here are a few strategies that can be used to help support students with Dyscalculia:


  1. Draw pictures to help with visualization of the problem and to help better understand the problem.
  2. Don’t rush! STOP and think–look at all the information before beginning a problem.
  3. Read the problem out loud (utilize auditory strengths).
  4. Reference an example to use as a guide for solving the problem.
  5. Relate the problem to a real life situation that involves this problem.
  6. Use graph paper to solve calculations and help keep numbers lined up correctly.
  7. Reduce the number of problems per page, decrease visual stimuli.
  8. Spend extra time and use multisensory methods to help memorize facts and develop automaticity.

For even more information on Dyscalculia contact Lindsay Lesch at academicascents@gmail.com or go to http://www.ldonline.org.