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Dyscalculia in Children


What is dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia, or mathematics disorder, is a learning disability that causes problems with math. A learning disability means your child has trouble with an academic skill even though tests show he is intelligent.

What causes dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia can be genetic (passed from a parent to the child). It can also develop later because of any of the following:

  • Memory problems may prevent him from learning the steps needed to solve a math problem. Memory problems can also make him forget information he learned.
  • A brain injury may affect the part of your child's brain that processes math.
  • Dyslexia can cause problems solving math word problems. Dyslexia is a learning disability that causes problems with reading.
  • Spatial problems may prevent your child from recognizing shapes and sizes. Spatial is a word that refers to an object's location. For example, the hands on a clock are objects that move. Your child may have trouble knowing how the location of the hands show time.

What are the signs and symptoms of dyscalculia?

  • Not being able to recognize printed numbers, or trouble imagining a number line
  • Trouble learning to count, or only counting on his fingers
  • Not understanding that a number represents quantity
  • Anxiety about working on math problems or going to math class
  • Trouble adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing single digit numbers
  • Trouble telling time or using money
  • Not knowing which steps to follow to solve a math problem
  • No long-term memory of math skills, such as trouble memorizing multiplication tables
  • Problems with shapes, such as being able to put a round object into a round hole

How is dyscalculia diagnosed?

Your child's teachers may suspect your child has dyscalculia from his homework and test scores. Healthcare providers will test your child's ability to do math on paper. For example, your child may be shown 2 numbers, such as 3 and 6, and will be asked which is bigger. The number 3 may be printed in a larger font on the page, and your child may think 3 is bigger than 6. He may also be asked which number is taller on the paper. Children with dyscalculia may not be able to tell which number is taller. Your child may be shown several dots and be asked to count them as quickly as possible. Your child's answers on the tests will be compared to what is expected for children his age.

How is dyscalculia managed?

  • Learning specialists such as tutors can teach your child in a way that makes sense to him. Children with dyscalculia often need to be taught in a way that uses many senses. For example, he may need to have math problems read to him so he can hear the numbers. He may need to write the problem, or to use a different color for each part of the problem.
  • An individualized education program (IEP) may be used through high school graduation. The IEP identifies your child's learning needs and helps his teachers understand how to help him learn. The IEP may help your child build skills he will need after high school. He may be able to use other accommodations in college to help him continue to succeed. Examples include use of a calculator or tests that are not timed.

What can I do to help support my child?

  • Always encourage your child. Praise your child for trying to complete his math homework. Your child may become frustrated if he has many problems to solve. Math may be tiring for your child, and he may lose focus quickly. Encourage him to take short breaks but always come back to the homework and finish. Do not tell him math is easy or that it should not take so long to finish. These types of comments may make him feel anxious or ashamed about having trouble.
  • Go through homework problems with your child. Have your child tell you the process he used to solve the problems. Give him positive feedback on his thought process, even if the answer is wrong. Show him where he made a mistake that led to the wrong answer. Let him correct the problem. You may feel frustrated if your child gets the wrong answer a few times in a row. Stay positive and give him another chance to correct the problem. With practice, he may learn to find the mistake himself and correct it without help.
  • Focus on your child's strengths. Your child may feel his problems with math mean he is not good at anything. Help him understand that math is only one of many skills a person can have. Let your child tell you about his interests, and help him build confidence in his abilities. He may also be more willing to work on his math skills if he feels confident about other skills.
  • Do not focus on grades. Your child's anxiety may increase if he feels pressure to get a good grade. Praise improvement, such as an improved test score or more points for completed homework. It is okay to praise a good grade on an assignment or test, but do not make grades the goal.
  • Practice math skills outside of school. For example, when you see a clock, ask your child what time it is. When you pay for items in a store, show your child how to give the right amount of money and count change. Have your child count flowers you pass as you walk along the street. Ask how many animals he sees in a field.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.