Dyscalculia (or dyscalcula)

What it is and what it isn't

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The word 'dyscalculia' means difficulty performing math calculations. In other words, it just means 'math difficulty'. And specifically, it means a learning disorder which affects math. Sometimes confusion arises when we start dealing with the term 'dyscalculia' as it relates to 'special education services'.

There are very strict criteria (which can differ quite a bit from State to State) which determine if a student has a learning disability as it is defined by special education rules. When a student's math difficulties are severe enough to meet this criteria, special education services are indicated. On the other hand, 'dyscalculia' has no clearly defined criteria. A student with any degree of math difficulty may be considered to have 'dyscalculia' by some educational specialists. This frequently occurs when a student receives an educational evaluation outside of the public school system.

So, being identified as having 'dyscalculia' may or may not indicate the need for special education services. It should be noted that some students with learning disabilities experience math difficulty and probably could be considered to have 'dyscalculia'. However, the term is seldom used within public schools because of the lack of any strict or measurable criteria.


Underlying causes of math difficulties:

Visual Processing Weakness - This appears to be the most common cause of math difficulty. To really be successful in math you need to be able to visualize numbers and math situations. When a person has a generalized visual processing weakness it is sometimes referred to as a nonverbal learning disability. When this is the cause of a student's math difficulties, spelling and handwriting are often also difficult areas (see dysgraphia). Reading and general writing skills may be relative strengths.

Sequencing Problems - Students who have difficulty sequencing or organizing detailed information often have difficulty remembering specific facts and formulas for completing math calculations. If this is the underlying cause of a student's math difficulties, there is often also difficulty in other detailed learning areas (including reading decoding, spelling, and anything which requires detailed memorization). Sequencing problems are also frequently seen in people with either dyslexia or dysgraphia.

Math 'phobia' - Some students just develop a 'fear' or 'phobia' of math either because of negative experiences in their past, inconsistent educational experiences, or lack of self-confidence. Sometimes math phobia can cause as much difficulty as a learning disability.


Strategies for students with math difficulties:

1. Work extra hard to 'visualize' math problems. Maybe even draw yourself a picture to help understand the problem.

2. Take extra time to look at any visual information that may be provided (picture, chart, graph, etc.).

3. Read the problem out loud and listen very carefully. This allows you to use your auditory skills (which may be a strength).

4. Ask to see an example.

5. Ask for or try to think of a real-life situation that would involve this type of problem.

6. Do math problems on graph paper to keep the numbers in line.

7. Ask for uncluttered worksheets so that you are not overwhelmed by too much visual information.

8. Spend extra time memorizing math facts. Use rhythm or music to help memorize.


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Return to the LDinfo Web Site to find out about any of the following topics (and more):

Learning disabilities - what is a learning disability (LD or SLD)?

Dyslexia: Dyslexia is a reading disability or reading disorder

Dysgraphia Dysgraphia is a writing disability or disorder

Dyscalculia Dyscalculia is a math disability or disorder

What is an attention deficit disorder (ADD, AD/HD, ADHD)?

Gifted LD: Can a student be gifted and LD?

Emotional/Behavioral issues and LD: Do LD students experience behavior problems or depression?

Section 504: What is a Section 504 plan?

What is special education?

What is processing?

What is a severe discrepancy?

What is a nonverbal learning disability (nonverbal LD or NLD)?

What is a central auditory processing disorder (CAPD)?

What is IDEA?


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