Dyscalculia – Definition, Symptoms, Test and Treatment

What is Dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia in children and adults is a learning disability that results in problems with arithmetic. Dyscalculia definition means that a person with dyscalculia learning disability has poor mathematical skills. Dyscalculia is genetic in cause or could be acquired. It may also be developmental as the child learns how to deal with numbers.


Dyscalculia learning disability involves difficulty in manipulating numbers, understanding them and learning arithmetic such as simple addition or subtraction.

The learning disability is not confined to people with low intellectual abilities. In fact, cases occur in a wide range of IQ levels. Problems encountered by people with dyscalculia also include measurement, time, and spatial skills. Dyscalculia also involves both problems on abstract reasoning, calculation and memory with numbers.

Dyscalculia Symptoms in children


Source – Buzzle.com

Dyscalculia Signs and Symptoms

Dyscalculia presents early as a problem in subtizing. Subtizing is the capacity to identify how many objects are there in a small group, without even counting them. This aptitude in knowing how many objects are there at a glance is already developed at birth. Infants can already subtize up to three objects. People with dyscalculia find it hard to subtize or takes time to subtize as compared to normal people of same age.

Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Problems in identifying time using analogue clocks
  • Problems in arithmetic including difficulties in addition, subtraction, division or multiplication tables
  • Adults find it hard to understand budgeting and financial planning
  • Difficulty in identifying left and right
  • Exceptional in writing. Most people with dyscalculia has excellent writing skills.
  • Difficulty in understanding maps
  • Problems in estimating distance
  • Over sensitivity to external stimuli
  • Difficulty in handling money and identifying change
  • Problems on sequencing and understanding value
  • Inability to decipher concepts of weeks, days, months, quarters and seasons
  • Children may find it difficult to line numbers

Causes of Dyscalculia

Several factors are being considered causative factors of dyscalculia learning disability. These include:

  • Problems on working memory – Faults in the working memory contribute to the occurrence of arithmetic problems.
  • Neurological problems – Injury to the junction of the parietal and temporal lobe also may lead to dyscalculia. Injury includes presence of lesions in the area or through mechanical blows.
  • Heredity – Genetics have also played a role in the occurrence of dyscalculia.
  • Disturbance in short-term memory – This makes the person unable to remember arithmetic calculations or formulas.

Types of Dyscalculia

Dyscalculia learning disability presents in various types such as:

Lexical Dyscalculia

Lexical dyscalculia learning disability involves the ability to understand mathematical and arithmetic ideas during articulation, but unable to understand them when they present in equations or problems. Individuals with dyscalculia can read numbers, but unable to remember them in a larger picture.

Verbal Dyscalculia

Verbal dyscalculia involves the inability to articulate mathematical ideas or concepts. The person has no problems with writing and reading numbers and equations.


Graphical Dyscalculia

Graphical dyscalculia involves the inability to write numbers, equations or symbols. The person understands arithmetic, but unable to write them to express understanding.

Practognostic Dyscalculia

Practognostic dyscalculia involves the inability to use mathematical concepts in practical applications such as in day to day living. The person can read, write and articulate the concept, but cannot apply it.

Ideognostic Dyscalculia

Ideognostic dyscalculia is the general inability to understand math in a holistic manner.

Operational Dyscalculia

Operational dyscalculia is the inability to perform mathematical calculations such as addition, subtraction, division or multiplication. The person understands the numbers, but cannot manipulate them in operations or calculations.

Diagnosis and Assessment for Dyscalculia

Diagnosis of dyscalculia involves several tests to determine the presence of the learning disability. Dyscalculia test often require a paper and pencil test. Further tests are required to reveal how a person practically applies mathematical concepts. Results are compared with the expected skill based on educational level and age.

Areas that are assessed during dyscalculia tests include:

  • Skills in adding, subtracting, dividing, multiplying and counting
  • Skills in identifying when to use mathematical operations
  • Skills in organizing objects
  • Skills in measuring time, money, volume, and other quantities
  • Skills in re-checking own work and using alternatives to come up with a correct solution

Dyscalculia screener devised for teachers is also available to let teachers identify dyscalculia among children. This screening tool identifies dyscalculia outside other areas of learning such as language, reading and writing.

A dyscalculia online test is also available to initially assess presence of dyscalculia learning disability. However, it is only a screening tool for children who might have the condition. Further assessments should still be done my professionals.

Dyscalculia Treatment

Treatments for dyscalculia learning disability include the following measures:

1. Educational Therapy

Conventional management for dyscalculia aims at improving the skills of the child in terms of arithmetic and math. Trained teachers or special education teachers usually conduct this type of therapy.

Educational therapy involves modification of teaching approaches to children. One of these is the use of graphing paper to help children present concepts in an organized manner. Simple memorization of the multiplication table may also be modified by explaining the meaning of the numbers.

2. Software

Calculators and other devices may be used to help people with dyscalculia.

3. Stimulation of the parietal lobe

Stimulating the parietal lobe has shown improvements in the numerical abilities of a person with dyscalculia. Stimulation involves the use of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation.

4. Support groups

Help by caregivers and parents are needed to emphasize math skills at home during active play or study period. Parents have a vital role in emphasizing concepts that are learned at school.

Dyscalculia Complications

Difficulties with basic math concepts may lead children and adults to have difficulties in everyday life involving numbers. Social stigma may also be experienced especially during childhood when the person feels inferior to his or her peers.

Dyscalculia Prognosis

Dyscalculia seems to be short-term in some of the individuals suffering from it. Long-term effect is unknown, but an environment, which is conducive to learning and appropriate management helps in improving the skills of children and adults.


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