Dyscalculia, also known as math dyslexia, is a learning disability that’s estimated to affect three to six percent of the population.
People with dyscalculia generally have normal intelligence, with average or above-average language skills.
While dyslexia is more common in males, dyscalculia is equally prevalent in males and females.
Dyscalculia and dyslexia can occur either together or independently of each other.
Math dyslexia frequently goes undiagnosed and untreated, in part because being “bad at math” is often not considered to be as serious as difficulty with reading or writing.
“Most people have heard of dyslexia but dyscalculia has gotten little attention,” says Renee Newman, a learning-disorders specialist who is president of dyscalculia.org.
The non-profit organization provides information and resources for identifying and coping with dyscalculia.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say things like, ‘My daughter’s teacher said that if dyscalculia was a real condition, she would have learned about it in school,'” says Newman.
Dyscalculia has a range of symptoms, which can vary from person to person. These include:
- Difficulty memorizing math facts such as multiplication tables
- Difficulty with math concepts and operations
- Transposing of numbers and poor recognition of operational signs
- Deficiency in attention skills such as copying and “carrying” numbers
- Poor sense of clock and calendar time
- Trouble telling left from right and poor sense of direction
- Difficulty with financial planning, including balancing a checkbook and budgeting.
The diagnosis process for dyscalculia begins with identifying the area or areas of math deficit through a battery of fact-based, operational and conceptual tests.
Testing may encompass pen-and-pencil exercises, the use of calculators and work with manipulatives like blocks and counters. The Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement-II is frequently used as an assessment tool, along with a family history and an assessment of cognitive functions.
Parents of a K-12 student in a public school system can generally submit a written request to the school that their child be tested for “math difficulty.” A positive diagnosis generally results in the development and implementation of an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for the youngster.
Colleges and universities often offer a dedicated office or other resources for students with learning disorders—again often using a term like “math difficulty” to refer to dyscalculia.
Adults can request a referral from a family physician for testing by an educational psychologist or a learning disability specialist.
They can also search for specialists and receive assessment through Internet resources like dyscalculia.org. The website dyscalculiaforum.org offers additional information and support for people with dyscalculia and their loved ones.
“Online forums give people a safe gathering place, a place to share their trails and tribulations, free from embarrassment,” says Newman.
“They come for solace and inspiration, and to figure out how to pass that math class so they can get a degree.”
In many cases, adults can request evaluation, counseling and job placement services through state agencies for vocational rehabilitation. In states like Texas, assistance may only be available to those with limited financial resources.
“Adults always express an urgent need to identify and resolve their underlying problem,” says Newman. “They need validation that others can have the same problem yet are intelligent and talented and have achieved success in spite of it.”