Hate maths or dyscalculia?

dyscalculiaDid you enjoy maths at school? Or did you often feel like you ‘just can’t do it’? For some children, this is completely true and is due to condition called Dyscalculia. This rare learning disorder is the numerical equivalent of dyslexia. Children with dyscalculia struggle to process numbers and arithmetic.


Dyscalculia refers to a range of learning difficulties involving maths but there are two main areas with which children with dyscalculia struggle: visual-spatial difficulties when the child struggles with processing what they see and language processing difficulties when they struggle to process and understand what they hear. Dyscalculia can come in many degrees and children with different areas of weakness and different severities will struggle with different problems.

Children with visual spatial problems may battle to see patterns in a mathematical problem while those with language processing difficulties may struggle to grasp the mathematical terminology and thus battle to understand mathematical concepts. As the maths gets more complicated as the child gets older, lack of understanding of the basics can result in increasingly complicated interventions needed for an older child.

As the disorder is fairly rare and many children struggle with maths, a diagnosis of dyscalculia can often be overlooked. Young children with undiagnosed dyscalculia will often battle with learning and remembering numbers as well as understanding the concept of quantity related to a number, for example what having four apples means as opposed to two apples and understanding the similarities of having four apples and four oranges. They will also struggle with ordering objects logically.

At school, undiagnosed dyscalculia can show itself in children struggling with understanding, remembering and solving basic maths processes such as adding or subtracting. Older children will battle to estimate costs such as at a estimating the bill at a supermarket and to understand anything more complicated than the basic maths processes. They may also struggle with time and with following a set schedule and trying to find alternative solutions to a problem.

If a parent or teacher suspects dyscalculia, it would be best to take the child to the appropriate healthcare professional for an assessment. They will ask the child to do a variety of simple mathematical tasks to evaluate their ability. Early diagnosis is crucial as dyscalculia can be detrimental to the child’s success at school and later in life as well as to their self-esteem.

At school, with the heavy focus on maths and the pressure of the curriculum, a child with undiagnosed dyscalculia may struggle to understand concepts as quickly as the other children, leaving them susceptible to feelings of failure and a lack of motivation. Extra-curricular tutoring and an individualised curriculum are useful in helping the child to cope with their difficulties academically.

As teachers and parents, it is important to emphasise the child’s strengths and help them with their weaknesses. A child with dyscalculia may need a teacher or tutor to spend time with them individually to explain concepts in a way that they can understand.

Graph paper can be also helpful for children who struggle to organise their ideas on paper. Encouraging the child to estimate as a way to start problem-solving can also be useful as can detailed explanations of simple functions such as doubling and halving. Don’t expect a child with dyscalculia to be able to memorise times tables, rather explain how the numbers are calculated to help them better understand.

With time and patience, a child with dyscalculia can learn to manage their condition and by encouraging the child to develop their talents, the difficulties of maths can be diminished.

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