Need to know

Do numbers make your child’s head spin? Do they struggle to grasp basic math concepts despite their best efforts? If so, your child might be facing a common but often misunderstood learning difficulty called dyscalculia. 

Dyscalculia is a learning disability that affects a child’s ability to comprehend and work with numbers and mathematical concepts. It is not a result of laziness or lack of effort; rather, it is a neurologically based condition that affects how the brain processes and understands numerical information.

Why it’s important

Dyscalculia can present unique challenges for children to do well in an academic setting. Recognising the signs of dyscalculia is crucial for early intervention and support as children move through school. Here are some common signs to look out for:

  1. Avoiding homework or classroom activities that require number manipulation or mathematical problem solving by being disruptive, oppositional or non-compliant
  2. Difficulty understanding basic number concepts, such as quantity, counting, and sequencing.
  3. Struggling with basic arithmetic operations, like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
  4. Inconsistent understanding of mathematical symbols, such as +, -, x, ÷.
  5. Challenges with telling time, understanding money, or reading graphs and charts.
  6. Difficulty remembering mathematical facts and formulas.
  7. Trouble understanding mathematical word problems and applying concepts to real-life situations.

Dyscalculia is rarely identified early, but researchers have conducted studies to find out what things can indicate if a child might have trouble with math in the future. They have found some important signs that you can look out for, such as your child:

  • Not knowing which number is bigger when given two options. This means they may struggle with understanding the size and relationship of numbers.
  • Having difficulty using effective strategies for counting. They may struggle with counting in the right order or skipping numbers.
  • Having trouble quickly recognising numbers. They may struggle to identify numbers correctly and quickly.
  • Not being able to add simple numbers in their head. They may need to use their fingers or other aids to add small numbers.
  • Having a hard time remembering and keeping track of information while doing math. This is called working memory capacity, and if it’s limited – a possible sign of ADHD, it can make math more challenging.
  • Having difficulty understanding and using words, word structures, and sentence structures. This is specifically linked to weaker performance in mathematics tasks that require expressing or understanding of language (e.g. verbal number sequences, counting of objects, arithmetic)

Not all difficulties with mathematics are caused by dyscalculia. In many cases, dyslexia, visual or auditory processing, ADHD, and others can also affect your child’s ability to meet expectations.

It’s important for you to know that the comorbidity of learning disabilities is common. Research shows that comorbid reading, mathematics, and spelling difficulties were four to five times greater for children who were already experiencing significant difficulty in one academic domain than for children in the broader population.

Tips & strategies

  • Investigate and assess: There is no standard test for dyscalculia, but you can start to get answers by first ruling out medical conditions related to vision or hearing impairments, talking to your child’s teacher about areas of weakness, and getting a WISC and WIAT assessments done by a professional with experience identifying learning disabilities.
  • Seek professional help: Educational psychologists or specialised teachers can provide specific strategies tailored to your child’s learning needs, which can be used at home and implemented in the classroom. Remediation strategies you can enquire about include Math Flash and Pirate Math.
  • Encourage a positive mindset: Help your child understand that dyscalculia does not reflect their intelligence or worth. Foster a positive attitude towards math and emphasize that everyone learns at their own pace.
  • Utilise multisensory learning techniques: Engage your child’s senses by incorporating hands-on activities, manipulatives, and visual aids to reinforce mathematical concepts. For example, using blocks or beads to represent numbers or creating number lines.
  • Break down concepts into smaller steps: Math can be overwhelming for children with dyscalculia. Break down complex problems into smaller, more manageable steps. Provide clear explanations, offer examples, and provide ample practice opportunities.
  • Make math relevant and practical: Help your child understand the real-world applications of math. Relate mathematical concepts to everyday situations, such as cooking, shopping, or measuring. This helps make abstract ideas more tangible and relatable.
  • Provide extra support and practice: Offer additional practice at home through maths games, online resources, or worksheets. Practice and repetition can help reinforce mathematical concepts and build confidence.
  • Collaborate with teachers: Maintain open communication with your child’s mathematics teacher. Share information about dyscalculia and work together to create a supportive learning environment. Discuss accommodations, such as extra time for tests or modified assignments, if necessary.
  • Celebrate progress: Acknowledge and celebrate your child’s achievements, no matter how small. Positive reinforcement and encouragement can boost their confidence and motivation to continue learning.