Dyscalculia: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment – All you need to know

 Dyscalculia: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment – All you need to know

Ten out of every 100 people around the world suffer from a specific learning disorder

 Dyscalculia appears with a high frequency: about 3% to 6% of cases.

Do you know dyscalculia disorder? The purpose of this article is to explain some of the aspects involved in this disorder and what are the main symptoms at each grade level.

It has been noted that having difficulty in learning mathematics is less annoying than having difficulties in reading and writing, since, in general, understanding mathematics is a ‘privilege of the few.

Understand dyscalculia

Those with dyscalculia have a hard time understanding the number of things, and therefore numbers and what they represent is difficult to understand. That is, the disorder can be characterized by a low ability to deal with numbers and mathematical concepts.

Because the disorder interferes with learning everything related to numbers, such as: performing operations, understanding concepts, and applications.

How does dyscalculia work on the brain?

According to neuroscience, the ability to manipulate numbers depends on a specific network in the brain located in the intraparietal sulcus. In particular, arithmetic is an essential skill of the human mind as numbers are part of our daily life, for example, phone numbers, bank passwords, car speed, etc.

Research indicates that the pattern of brain activation in dyscalculia is less precise, that is, there is less activation of the intraparietal sulcus (indicating ineffective neural processing) and greater activation of other areas.

For example, there is greater recruitment of support domains related to working memory, attention, executive functions and finger representation, which is probably a compensation mechanism for the less effective function of the intraparietal sulcus.

The new American Psychiatric Association manual, the DSM-V, no longer sets as a standard for diagnosing dyscalculia the need to prove by psychometric assessment of the discrepancy between cognitive ability and athletic performance.

Poor arithmetic performance can be confused with turbulence, or it can be associated with it, making it worse.

Sometimes, when a child has difficulty teaching just math but does well in reading, it is likely that parents and teachers will not understand how harmful it will be in the future.

For some reason, we may be more tolerant of math learning difficulties, but that shouldn’t be the case.

Main symptoms

Throughout school life, it is possible to notice some symptoms that may indicate the presence of disorders that make learning difficult.

Dyscalculia can be recognized mainly by the difficulty of learning the idea of ​​numbers, counting in the first numbers and doing simple arithmetic in the first accounts in elementary school. However, it is also possible to notice symptoms at other stages. understand:


During the preschool years, the main difficulty that may indicate the long-term risk of math difficulties is the delay in learning the volumes associated with numeric words and numbers (i.e. learning basic values).

Trouble organizing things logically (organizing games by category, for example).

Difficulty learning to count and ignoring numbers long after children of the same age can remember numbers in the correct order.

Little or no facilities for recognizing patterns, such as smallest to largest or highest and lowest.

Has trouble recognizing numeric codes (difficulty understanding that the number “7” means seven).

He doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of counting.

Elementary school

In the early years of elementary school, they have a low understanding of relationships between numbers (eg 17 = 10 plus 7).

Has difficulty learning and remembering basic math facts such as 2 + 4 = 6.

Suffers from specifying +, – and other signs, and using them correctly.

You can even use your fingers to count instead of using more advanced strategies like mental math.

Strive to understand math-related words such as major and minor.

He has problems with the visual and spatial representation of numbers, such as number lines.

High school

He has trouble understanding values.

Has trouble writing numbers clearly or arranging them in the correct order.

Do you have problems with fractions and measurements

Finds it difficult to keep track of results in sports.

University and adult life

Difficulties in estimating costs when shopping, in learning more complex mathematical concepts (as well as numerical facts).

Less skill in financial management, problems estimating the passage of time (which may lead to problems following schedules or estimating the duration of activities).

Difficulty doing mental calculations (without the help of a calculator or pencil and paper).

Difficulty finding more than one solution to the same problem or solving complex problems (with many concurrent operations, for example)

Difficulty accurately estimating speed or judging distances (eg when driving or playing sports).

Strive to apply math concepts to money, including estimating the total cost of a purchase, making subtle changes, and finding a tip.

Struggle to understand the information shown in graphs or spreadsheets.

Has trouble measuring things like ingredients in a simple recipe or liquids in a bottle.

He has trouble finding different approaches to the same math problem.

Difficulty understanding volume and measuring distance or quantity of a particular substance.

In other words, we can summarize the main difficulties faced by those who deal with dyscalculia, which are basically:

Understand and memorize mathematical concepts, rules and/or formulas.

The sequence of numbers (prev and back) or say whichever is greater.

Differentiation of left/right and direction

Hat (North, South, East, and West).

Understand the units of measurement.

Tasks involving the passage of time (see time in analog clocks).

Tasks in which you have to deal with money.

How is the diagnosis made?

Rarely, this type of disorder is diagnosed before the end of the third year, when sufficient formal education in mathematics must have already taken place to identify the difficulties the child is having.

Although the teacher is the first to discover that the student is not reaching the suggested goals for his age group and level of education, he is not the one who diagnoses the child. Monitoring by a multidisciplinary team is essential.

It is important that dyscalculia is diagnosed as early as possible, because from the age of seven or eight, with the introduction of specific codes for basic mathematics and operations, the symptoms become more pronounced.

In this way, appropriate pedagogical interventions can be initiated and there will be no global weakness in the development of the school, making the student not feel insecure, afraid of new situations, and that he does not suffer from low self-esteem due to criticism and punishment from parents and colleagues.

Diagnosis requires evaluation by a multidisciplinary team, especially a psychiatrist, psychiatrist, speech therapist, and psychotherapist,

Relationship with other learning disorders

Comorbidity is the norm in learning disabilities. Thus, people with dyscalculia may also have dyslexia, ADHD, and math anxiety, among other problems.

The reason for this difficulty in learning mathematics is not fully understood, but genetic factors are certainly involved since there is a higher proportion of people of the same family than in the general population.

Concomitant genetic disorders are Turner syndrome, fragile X syndrome, Gerstmann syndrome. It is possible, then, to understand that some children are born with a greater genetic sensitivity to everyday events.

Types of dyscalculia

Depending on the symptoms, various forms of manifestation of the disorder can be detected, namely:


 Naming quantities, numbers, terms, symbols, and mathematical relationships.

Practical Training :

 Making theoretical mathematical concepts practical, for example, working with equations.

Lexicon A:

 in reading mathematical symbols. Lexical and graphic dyscalculia appears to be related to dyslexia.

Graphic: in writing mathematical symbols.

Ideognostics: Performing mental operations and understanding mathematical concepts.

Operational dyscalculia: in performing numerical operations and calculations

degrees of dyscalculia

Besides the different types, dyscalculia can also be classified by degree according to the severity that affects the dyscalculia.

Mild: when a child with dyscalculia reacts favorably to therapeutic intervention;

Intermediate: coexists with the image of most of those who have specific difficulties in mathematics;

Limit: When there is a traumatic neurological injury that causes intellectual disability

Effects of dyscalculia in different areas

This learning disorder is still the subject of studies and discoveries. In this way, each area offers an understanding of it.

Linguistics –

 He says that numbers can only be explained through the assimilation of the language. Thus, the disc represents a deficiency in the development of thought due to the difficulty of the internal language process.

psychology –

 He argues that the emotional aspect interferes with the control of certain functions, such as memory, attention, and cognition, for example.


 It refers to the identification of the gene responsible for the transmission of disorders at the level of accounts.


Come to refer to dyscalculia as a difficulty directly related to phenomena that occur in the learning process, such as inadequate teaching methods, poor adaptation to school, among others.

The importance of intervention and the search for treatment

Mathematical knowledge and skills are part of our daily life. Mathematics plays a crucial role in the formation of citizens since the good development of the skills of deductive logical thinking is incompatible with the intellectual and structural ability to think.

Mathematics in our daily life, from checking the time on the clock to shopping at the market and changing. Children who do not handle numbers well have low self-esteem, especially in a school environment where they avoid answering for fear of making mistakes, and their classmates make fun of it.

Parents and teachers play an essential role in caring for this child, both as aides in the learning process and as facilitators, helping the child find ways to deal with dyscalculia.

How can parents help?

Moments of entertainment and play are ideal for working on mathematical and logical concepts with children. Mainly because they don’t experience the stress of school or the need to do it right every time.

Video games or computers are recommended because they have completed the levels of the stages and some of them require logical effort to solve the situations in each stage. When playing ball with children, it is possible to encourage them to count the number of goals while analyzing the distance from a penalty kick to a penalty kick.

Similarly, it is possible to find excuses for practicing mathematical concepts, however simple, in many other types of games, such as playing at home, for example, because it is necessary to have an idea of ​​the space needed for games. Inviting the child to help prepare meals – counting ingredients, how many people will eat, etc. – is also a valid option.

school environment strategies

Like parents, teachers can also contribute significantly to the development of a student with dyscalculia. Learn about some recommended strategies:

Use graph paper for students who find it difficult to organize ideas on paper, allowing each number to be in a different square.

Encourage the student to

Read math problems aloud, even if they are not verbal problems (eg 3 + 7 =).

 Practice estimation (trying to guess) as a way to start solving math problems.

Provide new skills from concrete examples and later move on to more abstract applications.

Explain ideas and problems clearly and encourage students to ask questions about how they are doing.

Provide a place to work with few distractions, and have pencils, erasers, and other supplies on hand if needed.

Check that there is more time doing tasks involving mathematical reasoning and value than doing the math itself.

Provide reference materials whenever possible, such as tables, formulas, and calculators, especially when performing assessment tasks whose problems require you to take several steps together to arrive at the answer.

Be creative: Use different situations to teach math (games, making recipes, assembling, building, etc.).

Computer programs can help the fun aspect, an attractive tool for children.

Repetition, lots of repetition. Daily practice for 40 minutes. bit by bit Step by Step.

Resume the content to confirm if the logic is correct, or if you just saved the result.

Make sure there is a merge. The science of strategic thinking.

The work environment should be clean, clear, orderly (drawers, everything in its place) and a little stimulating. Task times should always be the same. Clock and calendar on the wall help with time management and goal setting. Breaks are important.

Emotional support, reduced anxiety, and improved self-esteem: The child needs activities related to the things he can do well. This assures you that you are smart and capable and helps you continue on this often frustrating path of math training.

Celebrities with dyscalculia

Who said a disc isn’t a capable person? Most importantly, people with dyscalculia can be talented, creative, and have high language skills.

Some examples of people with this disorder who have made remarkable contributions to humanity are:

Alexander Graham Bell:

The ability of the inventor of the telephone to perform calculations never improved and remained insignificant until the end of his life.

Benjamin Franklin:

 Inventor of the lightning rod, Franklin heater, and bifocal lenses. He also left school at the age of twelve, because he “failed” in mathematics. He’s the guy on the $100 bill.

Charles Darwin:

The father of the evolutionary theory of natural selection, he hated mathematics when he was just a high school student. His autobiography shows this when Darwin postulated: “I have tried mathematics, but I take it very slowly.”

E.O. Wilson:

 The author of numerous books on topics ranging from evolution and biology to philosophy and conservation, he is considered the world’s number one authority when it comes to ants. He stated that he only established a better relationship with numbers when he was 32, when he was already a professor at Harvard University.

Jack Horner:

If you are a fan of the “Jurassic Park” movie series, you should thank Jack Horner very much. The paleontologist who immortalized these animals had enormous difficulties at school, not only with mathematics but also with reading and writing in general.

Thomas Edison: Among his contributions: the incandescent light bulb, the gramophone, the dictaphone, the microphone, and others. He left school at the age of twelve, as he thought he was “stupid”.

Quality of life and dyscalculia

We can conclude that people with dyscalculia can be very intelligent, creative and hardworking. It is a brain that works differently from others when it comes to processing specific information of a quantitative nature, but it still has huge potential.

Family and school involvement is key to recognizing signs of difficulty; It becomes necessary for students, families, and educators to seek guidance for dealing with learning disorders, and to seek specialized professional intervention.

It is recommended to seek help from a psychologist or psychiatrist. This professional will assess the emotional state of a child, adolescent, or adult, checking the degree of anxiety, depression, fears, shame, fear of going to school, bullying, and frustration.

There is no equal treatment period for all people, this is determined by the results obtained, the severity of the disorder, and the presence of concomitant diseases.

The work is carried out jointly with the parents, and thus, the cognitive interventions for the patient and for the parents.


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