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:

  1. Have difficulty recognizing numbers
  2. Be delayed in learning to count
  3. Struggle to connect numerical symbols (5) with their corresponding words (five)
  4. Have difficulty recognizing patterns and placing things in order
  5. Lose track when counting
  6. Need to use visual aids — like fingers — to help count
  7. And as math becomes a major part of the school day, kids with dyscalculia are likely to:

  8. Have significant difficulty learning basic math functions like addition and subtraction, times tables and more
  9. Be unable to grasp the concepts behind word problems and other non-numerical math calculations
  10. Have difficulty estimating how long it will take to complete a task
  11. Struggle with math homework assignments and tests
  12. Have difficulty keeping at grade-level in math
  13. Struggle to process visual-spatial ideas like graphs and charts

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.