Understanding Dyscalculia: Important Signs to Look for in Your Child

Young boy with dyscalculia standing at the chalkboard with his teacher in an elementary classroom struggling with a math problem.

Emma’s parents were beginning to grow concerned when they noticed her consistent struggles with math homework. Despite performing well in other subjects, math remained an uphill battle, even as she transitioned into 4th grade. In addition, they felt her losing confidence as the mathematical concepts become more complex.

Her teacher suggested that it might not be just a simple struggle with math – it could be Dyscalculia. Emma’s parents had heard about the term but weren’t entirely sure what it meant or how to support their daughter.

What is Dyscalculia? 

Based on the Cleveland Clinic, Dyscalculia is a learning disorder that affects a person’s ability to understand number-based information and math. 

Often under-recognized, it presents unique challenges for children and can affect their performance and self-esteem. Recognizing the signs of this math disorder and understanding how to help can make a significant difference in your child’s life.

For many children like Emma, understanding math is more than just a tough subject; it’s a challenge that affects their ability to process numbers and perform calculations. As her parents dove deeper into understanding Dyscalculia, they became more equipped to provide her with the necessary tools to overcome her math difficulties.

Signs of Dyscalculia

Symptoms of this learning disability usually appear in childhood when math skills develop. However, adults can also have undiagnosed Dyscalculia. 

It is not related to intelligence. It is common for people with Dyscalculia to score above average on IQ tests. People with Dyscalculia can also be gifted in other skill areas, such as the arts.

This form of “Math Dyslexia” can coexist with other learning disorders, such as autism, but it is not the cause of them.

How can you recognize Dyscalculia in your child? 

There are a series of skills a child acquires as their brains develop. Children with dyscalculia experience a deficit in one or more of these skill areas when learning mathematical concepts.

  • Identifying numbers
  • Counting upward
  • Connecting a number to a corresponding number of objects 
  • Recognizing math symbols
  • Organizing numbers, such as largest to smallest or first to last
  • Using number lines
  • Money concepts (such as identifying coins and bills)

Neurodiversity describes the uniqueness of each person’s brain development and strengths and weaknesses. For example, a child with Dyscalculia can still have strengths in some areas of mathematics. It is the discrepancies that interfere with their ability to understand math concepts. 



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An Example of Dyscalculia in an Addition Problem

Calculating a simple math problem like “2+2=?” when you have Dyscalculia is challenging because it requires cooperation between the parts of the brain that manage each to solve it.

  • Visual processing: Most of us could look at this problem and solve it quickly. A child struggling with this disorder could have difficulty sending the information they see to their brain for processing.
  • Short-term memory: Dyscalculia can cause a child to have difficulty retaining information like numbers or the mathematical symbols in a problem while working on it.
  • Language: A child with Dyscalculia may be unable to translate the symbols +, -, x, and ÷ into addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division concepts.
  • Long-term memory: When you see a math problem, your brain recalls the steps to solve it because the process is in your long-term memory. For children with Dyscalculia, their long-term memory has not saved this information. Thus, they cannot readily recall how to solve the problem.
  • Understanding one-to-one correspondence: A child with Dyscalculia can have difficulty counting objects one at a time and matching numbers to corresponding sets of things.

A child with Dyscalculia may exhibit any number of these symptoms. These skills need to work together to solve even the easiest math problem.

Getting Treatment for Dyscalculia

Seeking professional help is not always easy; however, the sooner a diagnosis of Dyscalculia, the sooner treatment can begin, mainly because there is no known cure.

The most effective treatment is early intervention while the brain is still developing. However, since each child is unique, it is sometimes difficult to pinpoint where their deficits are, especially if they are under two years of age. 

You may notice that your toddler is not meeting certain math milestones, such as: 

  • Recognizing numbers
  • Reciting numbers in order
  • Touching objects one at a time to count them

The best source of information regarding diagnosing and treating Dyscalculia for children in this age range is their pediatrician. 

There are two criteria for diagnosing Dyscalculia in school-age children (beginning at approximately age 6). At least one of these criteria must exist for six months regardless of attempted proven therapies to treat it.

  • Difficulties mastering number sense, number facts, or calculation.
  • Difficulties with mathematical reasoning.

Parents and educational professionals should work together to address Dyscalculia and search for resources to fit each child’s needs. This is because therapies to treat Dyscalculia are symptom-specific. Therefore, no two children have the same obstacles to overcome. 

The sooner treatment begins, the better chances a child has to acquire skills and develop abilities needed to adapt to this condition.

What Really Matters With Dyscalculia

Dyscalculia is a treatable, albeit lifelong, condition. Young children with this disorder can get help when diagnosed early, and therapies are applied to meet the child’s specific needs. 

Parents and teachers may notice discrepancies in a child’s math reasoning and number sense, which makes communication especially important. 

Patience and support are paramount. Children with Dyscalculia can develop anxiety and depression due to low self-esteem. However, with specialized and consistent treatment, children can learn to manage Dyscalculia and limit its impact on their daily lives. 

Other Special Education Resources to Check Out Next

Special Education Resource has a ton of articles, quotes, videos, resources, and one-on-one special education tutoring. We are here to help you every step of the way.

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Young boy with dyscalculia standing at the chalkboard with his teacher in an elementary classroom struggling with a math problem.
Unlock the mystery of your child’s math struggles. Spot dyscalculia signs early to provide effective support. Your child’s success starts here!
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