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What is Dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia is a learning disorder for math that can lead to a range of difficulties in understanding mathematical concepts and performing mathematical tasks. It affects individuals of all ages, regardless of their education and experience.

Like other Specific Learning Disorders such as dyslexia and dysgraphia, dyscalculia is persistent and can not be “outgrown”. A student with dyscalculia may have excellent grades in other subjects, such as history or English, but performs poorly in math and math-based classes. 

An estimated 5 to 10 percent of people may have dyscalculia. It affects boys and girls equally.

Signs of Dyscalculia

When reviewing the lists below, remember that all children develop at different rates, acquiring skills and abilities in their own time. Do not compare your child to other children. Rather, observe if they consistently display the signs below throughout the age ranges provided.

Preschool (3-5 years)
  • has trouble learning to count, skips over numbers
  • loses track while counting
  • has trouble putting numbers in order
  • does not seem to understand the concept of counting, for example, if asked for four blocks, simply hands you a bunch
  • has trouble recognising patterns, such as tallest to shortest, or biggest to smallest
  • struggles to connect numerical symbols (6) with their corresponding words (six)
  • has trouble learning right from left
Lower Primary (5-8 years)
  • continues to rely on fingers to help with counting and simple calculations
  • has trouble counting backwards
  • has poor sense of numbers and estimating
  • possesses weak mental arithmetic skills
  • has trouble learning basic functions such as addition and subtraction
  • has trouble with place value, often putting numbers in the wrong column
  • struggles with word problems
  • has trouble learning to read clocks and tell time
  • has trouble estimating the amount of time given tasks might take
Middle and Upper Primary (8-11 years)
  • is slow to perform mathematical calculations
  • has trouble grasping or remembering more complex mathematical procedures, such as long division
  • defaults to simpler style of calculation, most often addition
  • has no sense of whether any answers that are obtained are right or nearly right
  • struggles to understand information on charts and graphs
  • has trouble measuring items like ingredients in a simple recipe or liquids in a bottle
  • avoids tasks that are perceived as difficult and likely to result in a wrong answer
  • displays high mathematics anxiety
Other signs

Dyscalculia can also affect life outside the classroom. Problems may include:

  • trouble remembering numbers such as addresses or phone numbers
  • becoming easily frustrated by games that require score keeping, number strategies or counting
  • trouble remembering directions to get from one place to another
  • difficulty judging the length of distance and how long it would take to travel that distance
  • struggles with money, including counting different denominations, making change, splitting a bill, or estimating how much a group of items would cost
Math Anxiety

While dyscalculia can lead to anxiety around maths, it is not the same thing as Math Anxiety.

Math Anxiety arises when a student lacks confidence in their math abilities. A student with math anxiety may complete all their math homework capably and without errors, but will still feel anxious about it. Their anxiety typically undermines their ability to perform successfully on quizzes and tests.

Diagnosing Dyscalculia

The best way to determine if an individual has dyscalculia is through a psychoeducational assessment. There is no single diagnostic test for dyscalculia, rather a variety of tests are given to determine which skills a student is struggling to master.

Are you worried about your child’s mathematical abilities? Call the BFDC for a free 20-minute consultation with Amber Foster, our Assessment Coordinator, to discuss your concerns.