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Maths Disorder (dyscalculia)
Dyscalculia is the name given to having a specific learning disorder in maths. There isn’t a single maths disorder, which means that children with a maths disorder can present in a number of ways. The primary symptom for children with dyscalculia is having persistent difficulties in maths. As a result, children with dyscalculia share some common characteristics, including having difficulties with the numbers/symbols associated with maths, the concepts associated with maths and the language associated with maths.
Dyscalculia occurs in approximately 3 to 6% of the population and is equally common in girls and boys. Dyscalculia is neurobiological in origin; this means that their brains are 'wired' differently. Research suggests that children with dyscalculia have impairments in the area of the brain responsible for visuo-spatial memory processes (e.g., memory for objects, spatial location and temporal sequence) and for working memory in numerical information. Dyscalculia may also be the consequence of having been born prematurely, with a low birth weight, with Turner’s syndrome or with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome.
Dyscalculia is a lifelong and persistent learning disorder. Very little is known about the long-term impacts of dyscalculia and effectiveness of available interventions for dyscalculia. However, some research suggests that educational interventions can assist children with dyscalculia to improve their daily functioning.
Characteristics of children with dyscalculia
Your preschool aged child might have dyscalculia, if s/he:
- Finds it difficult to separate objects into logical groups
- Doesn’t remember numbers
- Has trouble counting
- Doesn’t recognize written numbers
- Can’t connect the idea of a number (e.g., 2) to how the number exists in the world (e.g., 2 apples, 2 cups, etc.)
- Has difficulty following sequential directions
Your school aged child might have dyscalculia, if s/he:
- Doesn’t have a maths vocabulary
- Is confused about symbols and signs
- Doesn’t have a maths mental number line (e.g., Can’t understand where 1 is in relation to 5)
- Has difficulty understanding and predicting patterns (e.g., counting by twos or fives)
- Finds it difficult to understand sets and groups of numbers (e.g., tens vs. hundreds vs. thousands, positive from negative numbers, etc.)
- Finds it difficult to measure things (time, money, temperature, length, weight, etc.)
- Finds it difficult to estimate number quantities
- Has difficulty learning basic maths skills such as: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division
- Has difficulty developing more complex math problem-solving skills (such as formulas, scoring games and using strategies)
- Has difficulty with spatial relationships (e.g., reading maps, knowing left from right, etc.)
Concerns for children with dyscalculia
Children with dyscalculia have different learning needs from those of their peers. In order to meet their needs, they must be identified as having dyscalculia and provided with appropriate maths intervention. Schools should use individualised learning plans(ILPs) to ensure that the specific learning needs of children with dyscalculia are met and provide accommodations and modifications to help children with dyscalculia to succeed in the classroom (e.g., using calculators when appropriate).
Children with dyscalculia whose needs are not being met can experience a range of school-based concerns, including: low self-esteem (from feeling discouraged, frustrated and helpless, that they are ‘stupid’, that they are unable to meet expectations and embarrassed because they can’t do maths like their peers), social isolation (feeling isolated from their peers because they feel different), disengaging with school (displaying as passive learners who are waiting for someone to help them to problem solve, avoiding maths tasks or subjects involving mathematical concepts (eg. science) at school and refusing to attend school) and underachieving in school (exhibiting a gap between their potential and produced school work and being unwilling to engage in tasks associated with maths).
Children may experience the following emotional concerns in relation to their dyscalculia that require help from a psychologist: low self-esteem, anger (often as a result of experiencing chronic frustration about their environment that they turn on others), stress/anxiety (experience excessive worry and anticipate failure) and depression (have negative thoughts about themselves and the world and find it difficult to imagine anything possible in the future).
We can help your child if s/he has dyscalculia and is experiencing negative outcomes at school by providing your child’s school with practical recommendations or by visiting your child’s school and meeting their school professionals. While we do not offer interventions for dyscalculia, we can to direct you to appropriate resources and services.
Please contact us if you would like to schedule an appointment for an assessment of behavioural, educational, emotional, and/or social concerns for your child.