What is dyscalculia? What are the causes and effects of dyscalculia? It is a sibling condition to dyslexia. It affects a person’s ability to do math, work with numbers, and perform tasks that require doing things in sequential steps.
Dyscalculia is also known as “math dyslexia” or “number dyslexia.” It is estimated to affect between 5 and 7 percent of the population, with higher rates among children with ADHD and autism. A common misconception is that dyscalculia is just a milder form of dyslexia. However, the two conditions are different and have different causes.
Dyscalculia is believed to have genetic origins and is comorbid with dyslexia in about 50 percent of cases. It can also be caused by brain injury, stroke, or other neurological disorders. There is no cure for dyscalculia. Treatment focuses on improving math skills through visual training and cognitive remediation.
There are two types of dyscalculia: acquired dyscalculia and developmental dyscalculia. Acquired dyscalculia occurs later in life. It is caused by damage through accident or injury to the areas of the brain that control math skills. Developmental dyscalculia shows up during childhood. It usually runs in families but can also occur randomly.
Individuals who have always struggled with math may have developmental dyslexia. Symptoms may include difficulty performing basic arithmetic operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. They may also include problems understanding fractions, decimals, percentages, money, and place value. Adults with this condition often have difficulty balancing a checkbook, keeping track of monthly bills, or calculating sales tax or a tip at a restaurant.
In addition to math-based learning challenges, another one of the effects of dyscalculia can include poor spatial awareness. This can make it difficult for people with dyscalculia to perform everyday tasks like measuring food or cooking meals.
Dyscalculia also impacts a person’s ability to find their way while driving. Remembering which turns to make in which direction and in what order can be extremely difficult. In my own case, I get lost easily, struggle to navigate, and will usually turn the wrong way (literally every time) unless someone tells me otherwise or I have the GPS going to follow its prompts.
Often, a young child’s first manifestations of dyscalculia can be trouble learning to tie shoes because tying shoes involves performing a sequence of actions, and it can be hard to remember which steps to do in what order. Another early symptom of dyscalculia can be difficulty following through on things that they’ve been asked to do when more than one item is on the list. In my childhood, I could usually remember the first item on the list, but I lost track of the other things on the list after that.
Therein lies one of the most psychologically impactful effects of dyscalculia—the child is often accused of being inattentive, lazy, or not caring enough about what they’re being asked to do. Nothing could be farther from the truth!
When a child starts school and is asked to do something with numbers, the teacher will often offer to “help” the child by saying things like, “Just tell me how many steps there are,” or, “Just tell me which number comes after three.” This can be confusing for children with dyscalculia because they rely so heavily on physical counting in order to make sense of the world around them. When they are asked to recall a sequence of steps/numbers without the use of a physical counter, this causes tremendous anxiety for them. It can also cause them to feel as if they are the only ones who are having problems with a certain subject.
Dyscalculia is a neurological difference, which means that it is not technically a learning disability, but a learning disorder. Dyscalculia can be diagnosed by testing a child’s ability to acquire mathematics and to retain and recall number sequences. There are other, more subtle clues that can point to the possibility of dyscalculia. For example, some children have difficulty processing visual information quickly and may have difficulty interpreting visual symbols such as graphs and charts. Other children have trouble recalling number sequences, even when it is written out for them on a piece of paper.
A dyscalculia diagnosis involves analyzing mathematical performance by using standardized testing and clinical examination. In addition to these diagnostic procedures, children with dyscalculia are usually evaluated by a team of professionals who assess their cognitive skills and determine their overall level of functioning.
Thank you for reading about the effects of dyscalculia. For a thorough discussion of dyslexia, you may enjoy the second edition of my award-winning book Raising a Child with Dyslexia: What Every Parent Needs to Know, available in softcover, hardcover, eBook, and audio. In addition to facts on testing and accommodation, my book gives you the tools to provide the social and emotional support children with dyslexia require.
And to learn more about how every student best learns to read, you may also enjoy Failing Students or Failing Schools? A Parent’s Guide to Reading Instruction and Intervention, by reading specialist and shortlisted World Literacy Award nominee Faith Borkowsky.
Cardboard Box Adventures picture books are great for shared reading and can help parents establish a strong preliteracy foundation for their children. Check out the CBA Catalog for a full list of award-winning picture books, chapter books, and resources for parents and educators. Visit my Amazon author page for more information.
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