Lots of kids struggle with math, but for some the difficulties go beyond a little bit of frustration. If your child’s math troubles are serious — and persistent — they may be a sign of a learning disorder called dyscalculia.
What is dyscalculia?
Dyscalculia is a term used to describe specific learning disabilities that affect a child’s ability to understand, learn, and perform math and number-based operations.
How common is it?
Though research on prevalence is limited, it’s estimated that between 5 and 7% of elementary school aged children may have dyscalculia. It’s also currently thought that dyscalculia occurs equally in both genders.
Are all math difficulties caused by dyscalculia?
No. Not all difficulties in math class — even serious ones — are caused by dyscalculia. Disorders like dyslexia, visual or auditory processing, ADHD, and others can also impact a child’s ability to meet expectations in completing math problems. It’s also possible for kids who do have dyscalculia to have other learning disabilities as well. Many do.
What to look for
A young child with dyscalculia may:
The impact of dyscalculia doesn’t stop when math class ends. The disorder can also affect kids outside of school. Children with dyscalculia also:
Have trouble remembering numbers such as phone numbers, or game scores
Struggle with money matters such as making change, counting bills, calculating a tip, splitting a check or estimating how much something will cost.
Have difficulty judging the length of distances and how long it will take to get from one location to another
Struggle to remember directions
Have a hard time telling left from right
Get easily frustrated by games that require consistent score keeping, number strategies or counting
Have difficulty reading clocks and telling time
A noticeable gap
The biggest sign of a specific learning disorder is a notable discrepancy between ability and aptitude. A kid with dyscalculia may preform well in other subjects — such as English or history — but have very low grades in math and math-based classes.
What’s the proper name for dyscalculia?
In the DSM-5, dyscalculia is called “specific learning disability with impairment in mathematics,” but “dyscalculia” is still an accepted term and is used by schools and learning specialists.
How is dyscalculia diagnosed?
There is no specific test for dyscalculia. Taking the following steps can help you get your child the help and accommodations he needs.
Visit your doctor: Rule out any medical issues such as hearing or vision impairment that could be impacting your child’s learning process.
Consult with your teacher: Ask your child’s math teacher to note the areas where he has the most trouble, and any and all strategies that help.
Ask about other areas: It’s estimated that as many as half of kids with dyscalculia also have another learning issue. Understanding your child’s complete learning profile will help you advocate for his needs
Consult a specialist: Once you’ve done the groundwork, talk to a learning professional who can evaluate your child and give you specific feedback on how to help.