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What is dyscalculia and why does my child struggle with basic math?

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

"Why can't my child get simple math problems right?"


"Is she just not trying hard enough?"


"How come she understands a lesson today but forgets it tomorrow?"


If these questions sound familiar, you may be grappling with the complexities of dyscalculia—a learning disability that impacts the ability to understand and manipulate numbers.


Often overshadowed by dyslexia and ADHD, dyscalculia presents its own set of unique challenges. In this article, we'll delve into the signs of dyscalculia, its relationship with other learning disabilities, and strategies to support affected students.


Do you have a child or student with dyscalculia?

  • Yes

  • No

  • Not sure



What is Dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia is a specific learning disability that impairs an individual's capacity to comprehend and manipulate numbers and mathematical concepts.


Often likened to dyslexia, another well-known learning disability, it is sometimes even referred to as "math dyslexia."


The severity of dyscalculia can vary, with some individuals experiencing mild difficulties while others face more substantial challenges that can significantly affect their academic performance and daily functioning.


Additionally, dyscalculia frequently coexists with dyslexia and ADHD, resulting in some students being diagnosed with these conditions simultaneously.


What are the signs of dyscalculia?


Incorrect sequencing of numbers

Students may reverse operations or steps that they need to follow. For example, a student may say “5 divided by 10” when it is actually 10 divided by 5. This may also show in a student's ability to subtract as it requires students to count backwards.



Struggles with retention

While this can be common to students with ADHD who have working memory deficits, it can also occur often in students with dyscalculia as the students may not process the information properly to accurately recall it later.


Struggles with retention can look like:

  • They understand the lesson one day and forget it the next

  • Trouble memorizing multiplication tables

  • Remembering the steps to multi-step problems


Visual Processing

Students may struggle with visualizing numbers on a page for example deciphering between a 6 and 9 or a 2 and z. As the students progress in math, they may also struggle to visualize situations that involve numbers and completing word problems.


Strong Negative Emotions Towards Math

Since students with dyscalculia struggle with math, they are likely to develop negative feelings towards math or school in general. In some cases, students can develop anxiety, depression, or other difficult feelings.


How to Help Students with Dyscalculia


Dyscalculia is an area with limited research, making a symptom-specific approach essential. Customized math practice problems tailored to individual needs are crucial for effective intervention.


For parents suspecting their child may have dyscalculia, the first step is to request a formal assessment. Usually, this starts with a discussion with your child's teacher or school psychologist. You can request an evaluation in writing, detailing your concerns and observations. Based on the results, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan may be developed to address your child's specific needs.


For more information on how to navigate the assessment process, please visit our Special Education Section.


By taking action early, you can help set your child on a path to overcoming their challenges with dyscalculia.


What is the connection between dyscalculia and executive function challenges?

Dyscalculia and executive function challenges often overlap, as both can affect planning, working memory, and attention.


Students with dyscalculia may struggle with organizing steps to solve math problems, retaining numerical information, or shifting focus between different math concepts. These issues are also typical of executive function challenges, making it important to address both when seeking interventions.


Conclusion

Understanding dyscalculia's impact and its potential comorbidities is essential for providing appropriate support and intervention to help individuals with this learning disability overcome their mathematical difficulties and thrive in their educational pursuits and everyday lives.


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About the author

Morgan is a math and Executive Function Specialist at EFS. She earned her Bachelor's in Mathematics Education from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Her personal pedagogy is that learning should be fun and stress-free! It is okay to make mistakes as they are a natural part of learning. Plus, she enjoys a good math joke!


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2 Comments


Guest
Sep 15, 2023

Do you have any recommendations for strategies to help a child who is displaying symptoms of Dyscalcula?

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Sean McCormick
Sean McCormick
Nov 01, 2023
Replying to

Yes, we recommend requesting they are assessed by their school. You can use this guide to start that process:


https://www.efspecialists.com/post/securing-an-iep-a-straightforward-guide-in-3-easy-steps

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