- How common is dyscalculia?
- What causes it?
- How is testing done for dyscalculia?
- Where do we go to get testing?
- What can I do to help my child with dyscalculia?
- What treatments are effective?
- What will life be like in the long term for a person with dyscalculia?
Table of Contents
What are the Signs of Dyscalculia?
You’re most likely here because you suspect your child is struggling with math much more than they are showing. Hover over the top of these images to reveal the common signs of dyscalculia:
🔙 Difficulty Counting Backward
✌️ Counting is Main Solving Strategy
🐢 Slow Calculations
🧠 Weak Mental Math Skills
🎲 Poor Number Sense
💯 Place Value Misunderstanding
⏭️ Forgets Steps When Solving
🗺️ Directional Confusion
🔁 Can’t recall basic facts even with hours of practice
😔 No sense if answers are correct
🗓️ Struggles with Time, Calendars, and Money
😟 High Levels of Math Anxiety (MA)
How do you say dyscalculia?
Let’s start off with this question…how in the world do you even say dyscalculia? Click the video below to hear.
The kyoo is often a Q sound. Many people omit the “lee-uh” and shorten it to just “uh” (even our CEO struggles to keep the pronunciation of dyscalculia accurate). It’s totally okay to struggle with this, we can work on getting it right together as we continue to bring awareness to this learning difference.
You’ll be surprised to learn that the dyslexia definition at one time did include difficulties with mathematics (Chinn, 2017, p.4). This makes sense as more than 50% of students with math struggles also had difficulty learning to read (Geary, LD Online). We’ve provided several different definitions to help you from simple (easy to share with a friend) to complex.
Simplified Definition of Dyscalculia
Our favorite simplified definition comes from Laura Jackson, a parent raising a child with dyscalculia. She defines it as, “a learning disability that affects a person’s ability to access and apply mathematical skills (Jackson, 2022).
Dyscalculia is not a result of low intelligence, poor educational experience, or math anxiety. A person is born with this disability. It is a beautiful part of human variation.
The American Psychiatric Association defines dyscalculia as, “A specific learning disorder that is characterized by impairments in learning basic arithmetic facts, processing numerical magnitude, and performing accurate and fluent calculations. These difficulties must be quantifiably below what is expected for an individual’s chronological age, and must not be caused by poor educational or daily activities or by intellectual impairments.”
The DSM 5 is a diagnostic manual for mental disorders. Learning differences such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, ADHD, and autism are listed. However, dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia are specified under a category called Specific Learning Disorder which is defined as, “A neurodevelopmental disorder of biological origin manifested in learning difficulties and problems acquiring academic skills markedly below age level and manifested in early school years, lasting for at least 6 months; not attributed to intellectual disabilities, developmental disorders, or neurological or motor disorders”.
The neuropsychologist or psychologist makes a diagnosis with this label along with the specific academic area impacted. Dyscalculia is called Specific Learning Disorder with Impairment in Mathematics along with a severity rating of mild, moderate, and severe.
You can also watch our previously recorded webinar all about dyscalculia below.
How common is dyscalculia?
Research on dyscalculia is far behind what we know about reading disabilities like dyslexia. Most studies are focused on studying how many students struggled with basic number and arithmetic skills. As of right now, we know that about 6-7% of school-age children show struggles with mathematics that are not related to their IQ and are below same-age peers.
In a class of 30 students, one to two students would be considered to have a math learning disability or dyscalculia.
What is the cause of dyscalculia?
There are two possible causes of dyscalculia:
- Genetics and Hereditary
- Brain Development
Genetics and Hereditary
Now hold up, you might be thinking…how are genetics and hereditary different?! Often the word genetic and hereditary are used interchangeably but they don’t necessarily mean the same thing. For example, cancer is a genetic disease that can be caused by exposure to the sun or tobacco but might not be a trait inherited from parents.
This means that it could be your child has dyscalculia in their genetic code even if there isn’t a closer relative with dyscalculia. But it could be that a parent or grandparent struggled with math and did pass on this human variation to your child.
Thanks to imaging research, we’re learning that people with dyscalculia do have marked differences in brain wiring compared to people without dyscalculia.
Testing for dyscalculia
After skimming through the common signs of dyscalculia above, all the alarms in your head might be going off! Do not be distressed, we’ll walk you through the next steps.
1️⃣ Dyscalculia Screener
A dyscalculia screener is a set of questions aimed at helping you quickly assess if dyscalculia could be the source of your child’s struggles with math. There are a few readily available in the market. Dr. Schreuder created one that is online-based and easy to administer. You can learn more about this screener here. Dr. Steve Chinn also has a screener that is more like a checklist of issues that can be accessed here.
After you receive your results, print them out to use to help you advocate during various meetings.
2️⃣ Schedule a Meeting with the Pediatrician
If you suspect your child has a learning difficulty, head to the pediatrician to rule out physical issues that could be causing problems such as vision, hearing, fine motor skills, or even possibly attentional issues. In preparation for this meeting with your pediatrician, use the screeners listed above and print the results to bring with you to the office visit.
Share with your pediatrician that you suspect a math learning disability and advocate for a referral to a psychologist or neuropsychologist. Don’t be surprised if your pediatrician is not familiar with the learning disability but don’t be afraid to speak up and get help. Ask the doctor to write a letter recommending a comprehensive educational evaluation be performed.
3️⃣ School Evaluation for Dyscalculia
With a screener in hand and clearance from your pediatrician, it’s time to reach out to the school to request that comprehensive educational evaluation. Begin by emailing the principal, current teacher, and the special education lead teacher. In this email, make sure to attach your dyscalculia screener and recommendation from the pediatrician.
If this is towards the end of a school year, don’t be surprised if you don’t hear anything back. Follow up at the beginning of a school year. The key is to continue to follow up.
At a minimum, the special education team can put a 504 in place to provide support such as extra time on tests, math facts chart, copy of notes, etc as you wait for the evaluation.
The process of school evaluations is slow in nature and requires a lot of follow-up on your part. The goal of this evaluation is not to provide a diagnosis. The school evaluation is used to identify if your child is eligible to receive special education services through an Individualized Education Plan or IEP.
If you were hoping to receive a diagnosis, we highly recommend that you do the step below, and seek a private assessment for dyscalculia. There is no need to wait for the school evaluation to be complete before scheduling a private evaluation. Both of these processes can take a while, so you may want to get them started simultaneously.
4️⃣ Private/Independent Assessment for Dyscalculia
A private/independent assessment for dyscalculia is formal in nature and conducted by a certified diagnostician, psychologist, or neuropsychologist. They look at the whole child and run a battery of tests to look at not only academics but how your child thinks. If you’d like to hear more about what this process is like, make sure to check out our interview with Dr. Karen Wilson here.
Search for a neuropsychologist in your area. Here are a few we know of as well:
How do you treat dyscalculia?
We subscribe to the same opinion as Dr. Katherine Lewis that dyscalculia is a cognitive difference, not a deficit (2014). All of this is to say that we don’t see dyscalculia as something to fix but rather adjust how we are teaching the student. Traditional methods of teaching math have made it inaccessible.
So what makes math more accessible to students with dyscalculia? Multisensory Math.
Multisensory Math: A Different Approach
We believe that students with dyscalculia need a totally different approach that is customized to their individualized brain-wiring. Multisensory means that we are using various senses simultaneously to increase the likelihood that we find a path to learning the math topic at hand.
To be clear, these are not learning styles (those have been debunked). All learners use multiple senses to access information. Our goal is to use many senses at the same time to enhance memory and recall of information.
Our approach uses what is called the Concrete-Representational-Abstract.
Concrete: think things you can touch
Representational: things you can draw or see
Abstract: numerals, variables, and symbols
We move from things you can touch with your hands to pictures and then onto the abstract making sure not to move too speedily away from a method that is working for the student. Our goal is to get students to the abstract so they can work with numbers efficiently.
- Having math word problems read aloud
- Use of a hundred chart while problem-solving
- Use of a near-point reference such as a math fact chart
- Color coding
- Limit homework problems given
- Increase font size for worksheets and space for writing
- Manipulatives such as dice, beads, craft sticks
What can I do to help my child with dyscalculia?Begin with getting an evaluation (see the above advice on how to get started). The easiest thing you can do to get started is to begin playing simple math games with your child no matter their age. We find that no matter the age of the student, often our starting point is at the very beginning of math which is to understand how numbers work.
Check out our online math games to help build math fact fluency here. These games go in accordance with our book Math Facts to Memory aimed at helping students add and subtract within 10. This is a teaching resource meant for parents and educators who want to take an active role in their student’s math fact learning journey. With suggestive pacing, interactive math games, and gross motor movements paired with vocabulary — this book helps to set up the foundation for future math learning.You can purchase your PDF copy of Math Facts to Memory here. ($35) Other Math Games Here is a short list of resources with games you can use to get started:
- The Dyscalculia Resource Book by Ronit Bird
- The Dyscalculia Solution by Jane Emerson and Patricia Babtie
- Made for Math Games
- Homeschool Resources
What will life be like in the long term for a person with dyscalculia?
The future is bright and full of potential for your child. Living with dyscalculia long-term requires your child to learn how to advocate for themselves, allow others to be wrong about them, and find ways to accommodate for their unique brain wiring.
One inspiring story that we love to share is the Statistician with Dyscalculia, Dylan Lynn. She is clearly bright and capable of so many things however, mathematics had been a lifelong struggle. She discovered in college that dyscalculia was at play. Listen to her share her story and how she successfully graduated with a degree in statistics.
You came to the right place to explore all there is to know about that small phrase ‘what is dyscalculia’. Your journey is just beginning! If you’re ready for more, head to our Unlocking Dyscalculia page to discover more from the researchers, diagnosticians, interventionists, and people living with dyscalculia.
You went super deep into this rabbit hole of dyscalculia information.
We’re so proud of you for sticking with this hunt for ‘what is dyscalculia. 💪
Multisensory Math Is Fundamentally Different
Check Out our Solo Lessons to See How
We are teachers who provide specialized multisensory math intervention to students with dyslexia, dyscalculia, autism, ADHD, and more. We’re tired of the “one-size-fits-all” attitude toward education and our goal is to provide a fun and safe space for children to learn at their own pace.
What are we offering?
- Customized Learning for your child
- One-to-one sessions
- 25 or 55 minute sessions
- Recordings of each session so you can see your child interacting with the method
- All multisensory math materials mailed to your home
- No contract, cancel anytime
- A FUN environment where your child can thrive
Multisensory Math is appropriate for all learners but is essential for those with dyslexia and dyscalculia.
Is multisensory math right for you and your family?
Is dyscalculia a form of autism?
No. However, some people with autism also experience struggles with mathematics.
Is dyscalculia a learning disability or a difficulty?
Dyscalculia is defined as a learning disability and has many names according to various sources such as math learning disability, and specific learning disability in mathematics.
Is dyscalculia related to ADHD?
The science is not clear on this. Many people with ADHD also struggle with mathematics due to the heavy use of executive function.
Can dyscalculia be cured?
No. We believe dyscalculia is not a deficit but rather a brain-wiring difference. It’s part of natural human variation. To cope with this difference, people need a different approach for learning mathematics such as multisensory math.
Where can I learn how to provide treatment to students?
I’m nervous to take action on getting a diagnosis for dyscalculia, help!
We understand how overwhelming this can be. You don’t have to wait for a diagnosis to receive services from Made for Math.
Consider joining a parent group to discuss your fears and get support around this journey. Visit Laura Jackson’s website to learn how to do just that.
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