Dyscalculia: Causes, Symptoms, Types, Categorization, Tests and Treatment

It is a learning disability that makes it difficult to process and understand mathematics.

Estimates vary, but most experts believe that 3 to 6 percent of the population has symptoms of dyscalculia.

It has a strong association with women who have Turner Syndrome , a condition in which an X chromosome is missing, either partially or completely, although the exact reason for the link is not completely known.


He does not know with certainty what the dyscalculia causes, apart from his relation with the deteriorated development in the area of ​​the brain that processes numerical information.

Researchers continue to solve the differences between someone whose problems with mathematics come from deficits in brain processing and someone whose problems are related to external factors.

These external factors may be associated with poor instruction, poverty, and conditions of coexisting behavior and attention or other cognitive deficits.

Researchers have also discovered that, for those who suffer from mathematical anxiety, the anticipation of having to do mathematics activates the same centers in the brain that record visceral threats and physical pain.

As this was not observed during the actual execution of the mathematical problems, the researchers suspect that the mere anticipation of mathematics causes more anxiety than the mathematics itself and can cause those affected to try to avoid mathematical problems altogether.


The subtle indicators include:

  • Use fingers to count mathematical solutions, long after the pairs have stopped using this method.
  • Problems remembering basic mathematical facts.
  • Difficulty linking numbers and symbols to quantities and addresses.
  • Difficulty to make sense of money (giving a cashier a bunch of bills and change instead of telling it, for example).
  • Unable to tell the time on an analog clock.
  • Difficulty to classify immediately from the left.
  • Problems with pattern recognition and number sequence.

Like other learning disabilities, dyscalculia has no cure and can not be treated with medication.

It is not a phase in which you or your child will grow: it is the way your brains process mathematics. By the time most children (or adults) are diagnosed with dyscalculia, they have an unstable mathematical basis.

The objectives of diagnosis and treatment are to fill as many gaps as possible and to develop survival mechanisms that can be used throughout life.

Types and categorization of dyscalculia

Memory recovery and semantic limitation

Students diagnosed with dyscalculia often had trouble remembering mathematical vocabulary (semantic limitation), or remembering facts quickly.

The limitations of recovery can significantly affect students as they progress through all stages of the development of mathematics. Memory recovery is essential to solve longer and more complex mathematical problems.

Procedure memory

Many students with dyscalculia struggle to follow the processes associated with problem solving. This type of dyscalculia has to do with the limitations in procedural memory.

The limitations in the memory of procedures affect the student’s ability to store memory related to tasks and movement.

Motor skills can be significantly limited for students with this subtype of dyscalculia.


Students with visuospatial dyscalculia have difficulty aligning numbers correctly for problems, performing geometry tasks, and using management skills appropriately.

Struggles to identify where an object is located in space are common with visuospatial weaknesses. The transposition of numbers can take place as a result of not being able to order things correctly.

Number made

Students who can not learn basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division operations will continue to struggle with math.

Basic mathematical facts help students achieve success when they perform mental math.

Students with this subtype of dyscalculia may have significant difficulties with more advanced problem solving.

Each child with dyscalculia has different strengths and weaknesses; A competent professional will recognize this and will try a combination of tests to identify the specific areas where your child has difficulties.

Common tests for dyscalculia

Tell : Even if it seems deceptively simple, one of the most compelling parts of a test for dyscalculia asks your child to practice counting back, counting points or completing other direct exercises designed to reveal how it relates to numbers and groups them together.

A common version of this test is called the Neuropsychological test battery for number processing and calculus in children, or NUCALC.

Drawing shapes : visual and spatial skills play a very important role in mathematics, and copying shapes or drawing them from memory is a good way to measure a child’s challenges in this area.

If your child has difficulty drawing a trapezoid of memory, or can not identify a familiar shape when shown from a different angle, visuospatial deficiencies may be affecting his or her ability to learn common mathematical skills.

Observation in the classroom : most diagnostic professionals will want to see their child interact with mathematics in a “real” environment. Talk to your child’s school about setting up an observation day.

How to treat the symptoms of dyscalculia

After a diagnosis of dyscalculia, use these proven interventions to control symptoms and develop math skills at home, school, and the workplace.

Dyscalculia is a learning disability that affects an individual’s ability to interpret and make sense of mathematics, from counting numbers to memorizing tables and much more.

It is a life-long disorder that can be diagnosed at virtually any age, but it is usually recognized for the first time in childhood.

As with other learning disabilities, dyscalculia is not treated with medication. By contrast, specialized learning strategies and strategic adaptations are used to help children and adults with the disease compensate for difficulties and approach mathematics with confidence.

The long-term goal of any treatment strategy is simple: teach calculation techniques and reinforce the reasoning skills needed to solve mathematical problems.

In the short term, however, treatment should focus on removing obstacles to learning and making mathematics easier to use quickly and accurately.

Academic interventions for dyscalculia

Teachers and schools can provide the following adaptations in the classroom to support students with difficulty with dyscalculia:

Allow additional time in tests

Children with dyscalculia often feel rushed during standard-length math tests. If possible, avoid timed tests of basic facts such as multiplication tables, as this can be an obstacle.

Provide frequent checks during class work

It is frustrating for a student to finish a complete worksheet, just to be told that each answer is incorrect and that he will have to do it again. Instead, teachers should check every few problems. In this way, a child can learn from mistakes and feel reinforced by a sense of improvement.

List the steps for problems and multi-step algorithms

Post step-by-step instructions clearly numbered on the board or give your student a copy that he can keep on his desk.

Maintain math problems on the board

Students should also copy examples in a notebook for reference.

Give students individual dry erase tables to use at their desks.

With this tool, students can complete one step of a problem at a time, erasing any mistakes they may make.

Use many clear and clear reference charts and graphs

Children with dyscalculia benefit from visual representations of mathematical problems.

Whenever possible, allow the use of the calculator

When testing more complex concepts than addition or subtraction, allow students to use calculators to make basic steps faster and more accessible. Then, a student can concentrate on demonstrating what she knows, not on how well she can add in her head.

Reduce the number of problems assigned

Assigning 10 problems, instead of a full page, is sufficient to assess the student’s understanding.

Interventions at home for dyscalculia

The prospect of practicing math skills is sometimes daunting and challenging for parents, especially if you never felt like a math fan.

But you do not have to teach your child calculation; can help you develop math skills and gain confidence with simple everyday exercises, including:

Point out mathematics wherever you can

In small, everyday ways, give your child an idea of ​​how numbers and equations apply to your life.

When you go shopping, talk about how much change you will receive in the box, or how many apples you will need for the lunches of the week.

As you gain confidence, your child can help you plan recipes, create simple budgets or combine socks when washing clothes, all of which will strengthen your number sense and visuospatial skills.

Play math games

Many common board games, such as Candyland, Sorry and Mancala, involve counting, simple arithmetic and fine motor skills. Play these and other similar games with your child as often as you can to help him learn to use numbers in a fun and relaxing environment.

Work with your child on time management

Many children with dyscalculia struggle to recognize how much time has passed or when they should move on to the next activity.

Talk with your child about these challenges and establish a system to help her improve her sense of time.

Common strategies include cell phone reminders, visual timers (like the timer) or allowing your child to take frequent breaks during homework time.

Help with the homework

Multi-part math problems can seem daunting for children with dyscalculia and, without help, your child may not be sure where to start or what steps to take.

Give him a hand by dividing the math homework into pieces for your child, or by doing some problems together so that he has an idea of ​​the necessary steps.

Let your child use a calculator whenever possible to reduce the amount of math he needs to do in his head.

Be understanding

Learn as much as you can about your child’s condition and help him understand that his challenges related to math does not mean he is “stupid” or “lazy”.

Give him positive encouragement whenever you can, and try not to be frustrated if your child struggles with a basic concept: if he feels that you are upset, it will only make him more nervous and not willing to practice.

Praising him for his effort, as well as guiding him patiently through obstacles, will help him feel more secure and willing to tackle new concepts.

Interventions in the workplace for dyscalculia

If your dyscalculia was not diagnosed until adulthood, you may have gravitated towards a career that does not involve much math.

But no matter how little (or how much) you are required to do daily, simple adaptations can help you manage it and do your job to the best of your ability. Some ideas include:

Get a calculator

If you have trouble adding, subtracting or multiplying in your head, ask if you can keep a calculator on your desk to help save time. If your work requires more complex calculations, ask for a graphic or scientific calculator.

Use eraser paper

Use eraser paper during meetings so you can solve math problems as they arise.

Post tables prominently

If multiplication is necessary for your work, for example, publish a multiplication table near your work area.

If your work requires measurement conversions, have a table with common conversion formulas in the common workspace.

Use premeasure templates or guides

Some jobs require the use of machinery or equipment. In these cases, request that tools such as templates be used to help guide your work or help you measure more accurately.

Make use of planning technology

Dyscalculia can make it difficult for you to plan your day or know when to move on to the next activity.

Time management tools, such as cell phone alarms or the timer, can help you control time while you work.

Since mathematics prevails in everyday life, the diagnosis of dyscalculia is never easy.

But with the right adaptations, and a little understanding from parents, teachers, and supervisors, children and adults alike can build confidence in mathematics and find areas where they thrive.