The Science of Dyscalculia

The Science of Dyscalculia

Dyscalculia is a medical term that describes the diagnosis of a condition characterized by difficulty in understanding math concepts.

Another name for dyscalculia is “numbers dyslexia.” The latter is somewhat misleading. A dyslexic patient has difficulty reading and writing. On the other hand, dyscalculia is concerned with mathematics.

A study has suggested that 3-7% of children and adults have dyscalculia. This is based on data collected from German children of primary school age.

This condition involves much more than not understanding mathematics. It goes beyond making mistakes when adding numbers or reversing digits when taking notes.

If you are affected by this condition, you’ll find it hard to grasp the rules that govern mathematics, like algebra. In this article, we will examine the processes of diagnosing dyscalculia, its symptoms, what causes dyscalculia, as well as the treatment.

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How can I identify dyscalculia?

The symptoms of dyscalculia might differ depending on the individual’s stage of development and age. Common symptoms that characterize this condition include:

  • Difficulty in grasping or comprehending the basic concept in math such as fractions, divisions, multiplication, borrowing, and carrying.
  • Difficulty reconciling written or verbal cues.
  • Difficulty explaining math concepts or showing work when required to complete a mathematical problem.
  • Inability to remember the steps or describe the sequence of events in a math concept.

Causes of dyscalculia

There is a need for further studies to understand the exact causes of this condition, but some theories have attempted to explain why it happens.

Researchers have hypothesized that dyscalculia is caused by a lack of concrete early mentoring in math.

Children who are trained that mathematics is just a series of rules to follow, instead of being shown in-depth reasoning behind and derivation of those rules and formulas, may fail to develop the neural paths required for a proper understanding of more complex mathematical concepts.

With this strain of logic, a child who has not been trained on counting with an abacus or has never been trained on multiplication using items that increase in tangible amounts may have a high risk of developing dyscalculia.

This condition may occur by itself, or maybe together with other neurological conditions and developmental delays.

Adults and children stand a chance of being diagnosed if they have:

This condition also seems to have a genetic undertone. Understanding mathematics is a familial characteristic, just like learning disabilities. It is hard to tell the extent to which aptitude is hereditary.

For instance, if you had a mum who admitted to never understanding mathematics and as such, could not help you to learn the subject, then chances are that you might struggle with the subject too. There is a need for more research to understand the role played by genetics in learning disabilities.


Several steps are taken in the diagnosis of this condition.

First, your doctor will get the patient’s family and medical history. The goal is to rule out other probable diagnoses and to ensure that there is no underlying physical condition that needs to be tackled.

The next step involves referral to a psychologist. Adults are usually referred to the psychologist while children may be asked to see a team of education/learning specialists (including special education and a learning expert). Further tests will be administered to ascertain whether or not there is a sense in diagnosing dyscalculia.

What is the treatment for dyscalculia?

Several treatment strategies are employed in the management of dyscalculia. If the condition is left untreated, it can result in problems at work or difficulty in managing one’s finances. But all hope is not lost as there are effective strategies for both children & adults.

Treatment strategies for children

An education specialist may identify some treatment options for the child to use both at home and in school. These include:

  • Continuous practice of basic mathematical concepts – like addition and counting.
  • Dividing subject material into smaller units to ease the digestion of information.
  • Teaching mathematics in small groups.
  • Repeated review concepts in math, with a hands-on demonstration.

A review of the literature on dyscalculia treatment done in 2012 found that there was no proper documentation of the success rates of the strategies recommended for the treatment of the condition. The best treatment for your child will involve documenting his talents, interests, and needs.

Treatment strategies for adults

Treatment for adults can be very challenging if the patient is outside an academic environment with special educational resources.

Your health expert will coach you on exercises and also give you relevant educational materials to train your neural pathways involved in the learning of mathematics. An adult may also benefit from private tutoring.

Outlook for dyscalculia

It is treatable. Early diagnosis is very important. People who have dyscalculia may find it challenging to understand math concepts, but it is not impossible.

The long-term prognosis for people with dyscalculia is limited according to data. Educators and advocacy groups believe that some patients do excel in this mathematics and even pick a career in its field.

So, what’s the conclusion?

Dyscalculia is a learning disability characterized by difficulty in understanding math concepts. People who are affected by this condition may have to learn math using a different approach, at a slow pace, with frequent reviews. People who are affected don’t grow out of it, but it can be treated. If you think that you’ve got this condition, or your child does, speak to your doctor.

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