Dyscalculia

What Does Dyscalculia Look Like in Children?

Study these age-specific symptoms of dyscalculia to better understand how this little-known condition may be affecting your child.

One way to improve math skills is to consider using a calculator to avoid basic calculations and focus on mastering concepts.
One way to improve math skills is to consider using a calculator to avoid basic calculations and focus on mastering concepts.

Identifying the symptoms of a learning disability and differentiating those from related conditions like ADHD is challenging even for professionals. This is especially true for dyscalculia — the not-widely-known learning disability dealing with math. Many children (not just those with dyscalculia) find math difficult and boring, and when ADHD is involved, focusing on formulas or completing long worksheets can feel downright impossible to many students.

But dyscalculia is much more than a dislike for math. It’s a difference in your child’s brain — most likely originating in the parietal lobe — that makes the logical and formulaic patterns necessary to learn math confusing and painful. By identifying the signs early — and getting your child the assistance he needs — you can help him compensate for his brain-based challenges and develop the skills necessary to be successful at math.

Symptoms at Home

Your child’s math problems affect her life profoundly — even outside of school. Math is all around us every day, and math-related challenges will make it difficult for your child to play games, use money, or even plan her day. If you suspect a problem, begin looking for these subtle age-specific indicators of dyscalculia:

Preschool

  • Struggles to learn to count
  • Has difficulty connecting numbers to concrete objects (brings you two blocks when you ask for five, for example)
  • Has trouble sorting objects by color, shape, or type
  • Doesn’t seem to understand the passage of time (complains that her sister has “been in the bathroom for hours” when it’s only been a few minutes)
  • Can’t remember your phone number or address

Elementary and Middle School

  • Resists playing math- or number-based games, like Crazy Eights or Candyland
  • Has difficulty linking numbers and symbols to amounts and directions
  • Has difficulty making sense of money (handing a cashier a fistful of bills rather than counting it out, for example)
  • Unable to tell time on an analog clock
  • May struggle with handwriting
  • Has difficulty immediately sorting out right from left
  • Hesitant to go new places without you; doesn’t seem interested in exploring unfamiliar locations

High School

  • Has trouble estimating how much something will cost or how long a trip will take
  • Can’t stick to a budget
  • Can’t remember friends’ phone numbers or addresses
  • Avoids answering math-related questions during day-to-day conversation
  • Drives too fast or too slow
  • Often misses important events or shows up late

[Treating the Symptoms of Dyscalculia]

Symptoms at School

Dyscalculia is not as well known as other learning disabilities like dyslexia, so even some school officials may not know its warning signs. If your child’s teacher reports that she isn’t “math-minded” or is struggling much more than her peers, ask him to look for these possible symptoms of dyscalculia at school:

Preschool

  • Can’t memorize simple numbers, like 911
  • Frequently asks when lunchtime or recess is — even first thing in the morning — and seems confused by the answer
  • Has no concept of when the school day starts or ends
  • Has trouble forming equal teams or separating into groups

Elementary and Middle School

  • Far behind his peers in math: still trying to learn addition when everyone else has progressed to multiplication, for instance
  • Has trouble recalling simple math facts
  • Uses fingers to count out math solutions, long after peers have stopped using this method
  • Doesn’t understand the “vocabulary” of math; often can’t make sense of word problems
  • Has trouble recognizing patterns and sequencing numbers
  • Can’t make sense of bar graphs or pie charts
  • Doesn’t line up numbers correctly when adding or subtracting by hand

High School

  • Still relies on calculators for simple math functions like adding and subtracting
  • Remains significantly behind peers in math skills; still struggles to master basic concepts as other students move on to advanced courses
  • Seems anxious about changing classrooms multiple times during the day, or mixes up which classroom she’s supposed to be in
  • Frequently late for class

If you think your child is showing symptoms of dyscalculia, don’t hesitate — ask the school for a formal evaluation right away. No matter your child’s age, accommodations can be put in place that will help him make sense of math and be on a more level playing field with his peers.

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