What is Dyscalculia?
Dyscalculia is a childhood disorder that affects the ability to learn arithmetic and mathematics in someone of normal intelligence, as compared with those of the same age who are receiving identical instruction. It is not a mental health disorder, but rather a nonverbal learning disability that causes difficulty with counting, measuring quantity, working memory for numbers, sequential memory, ability to recognize patterns, time perception, telling time, sense of direction, and mental retrieval of mathematical facts and procedures. To someone with this kind of disorder, learning and performing math is like trying to understand a foreign language. Dyscalculia may also be referred to as math learning disability, developmental dyscalculia, math anxiety, math dyslexia, or numerical impairment.

A child with dyscalculia has difficulty adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing numbers, is slow at performing mental math, and is likely to have trouble with money-related tasks. It is difficult for a child with dyscalculia to understand and remember basic mathematical facts and formulas. The child’s math ability is often inconsistent; they may be able to perform calculations one day but then forget how to do so on a test the following day. Overall, a child with dyscalculia may appear absent-minded, with a tendency to get lost, lose things, lose track of time, or easily become disoriented. It can also be difficult for a child with dyscalculia to remember names or to associate faces with names.

Researchers do not know for sure what causes dyscalculia, but continue to try to work out the differences between those whose problems with math stem from deficits in brain processing and those whose problems are related to factors such as poor instruction, poverty, or coexisting conditions.

Research has also found that, for people with math anxiety, the anticipation of having to do math activates the same centers in the brain that register visceral threats and physical pain. Since this was not observed during the actual performance of math problems, researchers suspect the mere anticipation of math is more anxiety-provoking than the math itself and can cause those affected to try to avoid math problems altogether.


Advice for parents and teachers
Access to a calculator during class and tests
– Understand his/her learning difficulty 
– Extra time on tests
– A quiet space to work
– The option to record lectures
– Access to the teacher’s notes
– In-school tutoring or homework assistance

Tips for emotional support 
– Don’t keep him in the dark. Talk to him about the difficulties dyscalculia can cause and be specific: “You know how you have a hard time remembering your times tables, or knowing how much change to give the lunch lady? That’s dyscalculia.”
– Acknowledge his struggles and praise hard work — even if the results aren’t perfect: “I understand how hard that math assignment was. I was so proud of how hard you worked on it.” “Praising efforts instead of outcomes will help your child feel proud of his work, even if it’s not reflected in his final grade,” says Dr. Kravitz.
– Help him identify his specific strengths, and offer positive reinforcement: “Your essay about Dad was so well written and moving. You’re a great writer.”
– Combat negative self-talk: If your child starts saying things like “I’m just stupid,” don’t ignore it. Instead, check out these ideas for helping kids who are too hard on themselves.