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Mathematics: Dyslexia and Dyscalculia


Lynden Punnett Dip.SpLD (Dyslexia) 20.MAR.08

Dyslexia is a condition that affects the ability to process language. Dyslexic learners often have difficulties in the acquisition of literacy skills and, in some cases, problems may manifest themselves in mathematics. Problems often occur with the language of mathematics, sequencing, orientation and memory, rather than with mathematics itself.{{more}} Dyslexic learners find it difficult to produce mental or written answers quickly and the need to ‘learn by heart’ for pupils with poor memory systems may well result in failure. Some dyslexic learners will enjoy the flexibility of approach and methods while, for others, choice creates uncertainty, confusion and anxiety.

Dyscalculia is a condition that affects the ability to acquire arithmetical skills. Dyscalculic learners may have difficulty understanding simple number concepts, lack an intuitive grasp of numbers, and have problems learning number facts and procedures. Even if they produce a correct answer or use a correct method, they may do so mechanically and without confidence.

Very little is known about the prevalence of dyscalculia, its causes, or treatment. Purely dyscalculic learners who have difficulties only with number will have cognitive and language abilities in the normal range, and may excel in non-mathematical subjects. It is more likely that difficulties with numeracy accompany the language difficulties of dyslexia.

It is believed that 4% of children are severely dyslexic and a further 6% are affected at the mild-moderate level in literacy. It is also believed that about 40% of these will experience significant difficulty with maths.

In the U.K. the current estimates of persons with dyscalculia indicates a prevalence of between 3% and 6% of the population.

Since the St. Vincent and Grenadines population is small in comparison to the U.K. these figures should cause concern with teachers and educators.


  • There is no single form of dyscaculia – difficulties vary from person to person.
  • Two major areas of weakness that are responsible for learning difficulties in maths are:- Visual-spatial difficulties – which result in a person having trouble processing what the eye sees.

Language processing difficulty – which result in a person having trouble processing and making sense of what the ear hears.

  • Like all learning disabilities, dyscalculia is a life long challenge.
  • Using alternate learning methods, people with dyscalculia can learn to achieve success.

DYSCALCULIA: Warning signs by age.

Young Children.

  • Difficulty learning to count
  • Trouble recognizing printed numbers
  • Difficulty tying together the idea of a number (4) and how it exists in the world.

(4 sheep, 4 cars, 4 children)

  • Poor memory for numbers
  • Trouble organizing things in a logical way – putting round objects in one place and square ones in another.

School-age children

  • Trouble learning maths facts ( addition, subtraction, multiplication, division)
  • Difficulty developing maths problem- solving skills.
  • Poor long term memory for maths-functions.
  • Not familiar with vocabulary.
  • Difficulty measuring things.
  • Avoiding games that require strategy.

Teenagers & Adults

  • Difficulties estimating costs like grocery bills.
  • Difficulty learning math concepts beyond the basic math facts.
  • Poor ability to budget or balance a checkbook.
  • Trouble with concepts of time, such as sticking to a schedule or approximating time.
  • Trouble with mental math
  • Difficulty finding different approaches to one problem.

Dyscalculia Warning signs:

Since math disabilities are varied, the signs that a person may have a difficulty in this area can be just as varied. All students learn at different paces, and particularly among young people, it takes time and practice for formal math procedures to make practical sense.

  • Good at speaking, reading and writing but slow to develop counting and math-problem skills.
  • Good memory for printed words, but difficulty reading numbers, or recalling numbers in sequence.
  • Good with general math concepts, but frustrated when specific computation and organization skills need to be used.
  • Trouble with the concept of time-chronically late, difficulty remembering schedules, trouble with approximating how long something will take.
  • Poor sense of direction, easily disorientated and easily confused by changes in routine.
  • Poor mental math ability -trouble estimating grocery costs or counting days until a vacation.
  • Poor long term memory of concepts – can do math functions one day, but unable to repeat them the next day.
  • Difficulty playing strategy games like chess, bridge or role-playing video games

* Difficulty keeping score when playing board and card games.

How is dyscalculia identified?

When a teacher or trained professional evaluates a student for learning disabilities in math the evaluation needs to reveal how a person understands and uses numbers and math concepts to solve advanced – level, as well as everyday problems. The evaluation compares a person’s expected and actual levels of skill and understanding while noting the persons specific strengths and weaknesses. The following are some of the areas that may be addressed:-

  • Ability with basic math skills like counting, adding, subtracting, multiplying & dividing.
  • Ability to predict appropriate procedures based on understanding patterns – knowing when to add, subtract, multiply divide or do more advanced computations.
  • Ability to organize objects in a logical way.
  • Ability to measure – telling time, using money.
  • Ability to estimate number quantities.
  • Ability to self-check work and find alternative ways to solve problems.

Helping persons with Dyscalculia

Helping a student identify his/her strengths and weaknesses is the first step to getting help.

Parents, teachers and other educators can work together to establish strategies that will help the student learn math more effectively. Some strategies that can be used inside and outside the classroom include:-

  • Use graph paper for students who have difficulty organizing ideas on paper.
  • Work on finding different ways to approach math facts; i.e. instead of just memorizing the multiplication tables, explain that 8 x 2 = 16, if so if 16 is doubled, 8 x 4 must = 32.
  • Practice estimating as a way to begin solving math problem.
  • Introduce new skills beginning with concrete examples and later move to abstract applications.
  • For language difficulties, explain ideas and problems clearly and encourage students to ask questions as they work.
  • Provide a place to work with few distractions and have pencils, erasers and other tools on hand is needed.

Understanding how a person learns best is a big step in achieving academic success and confidence

There has been little research into Dyscalculia but further information can be found

Dyscalculic Screener by Prof. Brian Butterworth – nfer nelson publishing company.
Dyscalculia, Mahesh Sharma & Eugene Loveless, CT/LM
Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and other Mathematical Problems, Mahesh Sharma CT/LM
Mathematics for Dyslexics, A Teaching Handbook , Chinn & Ashcroft, Whurr Publishers.