Dyscalculia

Pronounced DIS-KAL-KOOL-EE-AH, ‘dyscalculia’ comes from Greek and Latin and means ‘counting badly’.


Developmental Dyscalculia is a specific learning disorder that affects 5-6% of the school population. This small group of pupils work significantly below their peers in maths and are therefore not making age-appropriate progress. They process numbers differently from their typically developing peers and use a wide range of approaches: inefficient and laborious methods, rely on using their fingers whilst counting, unable to tell which of two numbers is larger, have difficulty estimating and use uneconomical methods to solve problems. No two children with developmental dyscalculia present the same profile of strengths and needs. Students with developmental dyscalculia show difficulties in the acquisition of core foundational number skills. It is therefore important to identify their Specific areas of Learning Difficulties (SpLD) so that a targeted and intentional intervention can be offered.


The developmental building blocks of acquiring, recalling and applying numbers in their symbolic and non-symbolic forms requires the efficient coordination of numerous cognitive and sensory pathways involved in supporting number development: working memory, auditory and visual processing, attention and visuospatial perception. Furthermore, pupils who present deficits or lesions within their cognitive and sensory systems find that this interferes with processing numbers.


Developmental Dyscalculia is often encountered in a variety of neurological and co-occurring disorders such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), developmental language disorders, dyslexia, epilepsy, and Fragile X syndrome. It is also prevalent with other biological conditions including Williams Syndrome, Autism, Turners Syndrome, Duchenne Muscular dystrophy, DiGeorge syndrome and foetal alcohol syndrome.


The process of supporting pupils with this condition requires great effort, patience and time, since their difficulties are developmentally mediated and are reliant on the their developmental history rather than a topic.

A pupil with pure dyscalculia presents their difficulties exclusively in processing numbers whilst in other subject areas they work like typically developing students.


It is important to differentiate dyscalculia from developmental dyscalculia and maths developmental delays. Environmental deprivation, poor teaching or a curriculum that is moving too rapidly may lead to maths developmental delays.


Developmental Dyscalculia Symptoms


This list is by no means exhaustive and indicates that there is an underlying cause to the disturbance in the pupil’s number sense development:

  1. High levels of maths anxiety
  2. Cannot subitise (the ability to recognise groups of 3/4 without formal mathematical processing
  3. Cannot count reliably
  4. Does not associate number words with their symbols. For example, they do not associate the word ‘eight’ with the symbol ‘8’
  5. Reliance on ‘counting-on’ strategies: using fingers rather than mental arithmetic methods
  6. Writing number digits the wrong way round consistently
  7. Difficulty with estimating
  8. Difficulty placing numbers on a number line. For example, cannot identify that the number 8 should go between 5 and 10 on a number line
  9. Inability to tell which of two numbers is larger
  10. Cant apply applying + and – signs
  11. Difficulty working with a pattern
  12. Confusing signs +, -, x, ÷
  13. Confusing or not understanding mathematical vocabulary
  14. Difficulty with times tables and mental arithmetic
  15. Difficulty with everyday tasks such as checking change
  16. Difficulty with reading clocks

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