Dyscalculia is a brain based condition that causes an impairment of mathematical ability, making it difficult to make sense of numbers and mathematical concepts. It is sometimes referred to as "mathematics learning disability" and "math dyslexia" and is believed to be affecting up to 7 percent of all students. It is considered a learning difference and can occur in people of intelligence scores within the normal range.  

Possible Causes

It is unknown what exactly causes dyscalculia. However, researchers have identified certain factors that are common among people with dyscalculia. Some of the causes might be:

  • Genes and heredity: Studies show that it is more common in some families. Children with dyscalculia often have a parent or sibling with similar math issues
  • Brain development: Neuroscience researchers believe that dyscalculia is caused by the dysfunction of mathematical processes and areas in the brain
  • Environmental: Dyscalculia has been linked to fetal alcohol exposure
  • Brain injury: Injury to certain parts of the brain can result in acalculia, which is acquired dyscalculia


Dyscalculia includes a variety of math difficulties. The symptoms can look different from one child to another and can also look different depending on the child's age. The symptoms for the different age groups can be the following:

Preschool and Kindergarten

  • Difficulty in learning to count
  • Having problems recognizing number symbols, such as making the connection between the symbol "5" and the word five
  • Having problems connecting numbers to real-life situations, such as knowing that the number "3" can be applied to any group of three items, e.g. 3 cookies, 3 dolls etc.
  • Difficulty in recognizing patterns and sort items by size, shape or color

Elementary and Middle school

  • Trouble recognizing numbers and symbols
  • Difficulty learning and recalling basic math facts, e.g. 3+2=5
  • Trouble writing numerals clearly
  • Difficulty coming up with plans to solve math problems
  • Difficulty understanding words related to math, such as greater than and less than
  • Trouble telling left from right and a poor sense of direction
  • Trouble telling time

High school

  • Struggling to apply mathematical concepts to everyday life
  • Difficulty with measurements
  • Difficulty with directions and getting lost
  • Having a hard time understanding graphs and charts
  • Having trouble finding different approaches to the same math problem
  • Lacking confidence in activities that require estimating speed and distance, such as playing sports and learning to drive


There is much less research done on dyscalculia than on other learning differences. Parents and teachers might not be as familiar with the condition, which can lead to it being difficult to identify and unfortunately sometimes remaining undiagnosed. However, a diagnosis can be done by an expert, such as a school psychologist or a special education worker with the help of a variety of tests.


There is no cure or prevention for dyscalculia. However, the effects can be treated and with the help and support from parents and teachers the student can learn to use various strategies that will make learning more effective.

Teaching Strategies

  • Use concrete materials to help link mathematical symbols to quantity
  • Start at a level which the child is comfortable at, so that they experience some success, and slowly move to more difficult areas
  • Provide a lot of practice for new skills/concepts
  • Reduce the need for memorization, especially initially
  • Ask a lot of questions to get the child engaged and thinking
  • Make learning as active and fun as possible - a positive experience

Assistive Technology

High-Tech Assistive Technology: Virtual math manipulatives, math simulators, math software with voice recognition, virtual flashcards, and electronic math worksheets

Mid-Tech Assistive Technology: Calculator, talking calculator, and math toolbar

Low Tech Assistive Technology: manipulative blocks, 2D and 3D geometric shapes, picture boards, abacus, math template paper (Panther), math fact cards, tactile rulers, and  jumbo rulers


Successful People with Learning Differences

Do not let an LD hold you back! Dyscalculia sure did not stop Bill Gates from achieving his huge success!

Melissa R. Coleman's Personal Story


Learning Abled Kids. Assistive Technology for Dyscalculia and Math Disabilities. Retrieved from http:/.info/assistive-technology...

Morin, Amanda. (2014) Understanding Dyscalculia. Retrieved from: https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/dyscalculia/understanding-dyscalculia

Vaidya, Rao Sheila. (2004) Understanding Dyscalculia For Teaching. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.aacc.edu/education/docview/196431236/EB323CD6CB7F4A89PQ/6?accountid=40680

Wadlington, Elizabeth; Wadlington, Patrick L. (2008) Helping Students With Mathematical Disabilities to Succeed. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.aacc.edu/education/docview/228448109/9772AEFA47D84FDFPQ/5?accountid=40680

Wilson, Anna J. Dyscalculia Primer and Resource Guide. Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/edu/ceri/dyscalculiaprimerandresourceguide.htm

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