How do I know if a young person has dyscalculia?

Pupils and students who have dyscalculia and who have not received regular specialist support are going to be poor at maths, slipping ever further behind their classmates. 

They might also shown signs of maths anxiety, becoming unusually concerned when asked to learn multiplication tables, undertake simple calculations (such as looking at the distance various children live from school and seeing who lives the nearest), or even play board games where numbers thrown on a dice are translated into moves.

Indeed such young people can appear not to understand the basic idea of counting and may also find it difficult or impossible to pick out patterns in the way other children do. 

It is also possible that the link between spoken and written numbers is not secure in the individual’s mind, so that “eight” is neither related to “8” nor to eight counters on the table.

Because of these basic problems, pupils and students with this disability will find it difficulty to understand what others may see as obvious, such as the fact that while 3 + 6 is the same as 6 + 3, and 2 x 6 is the same as 6 x 2, when we face 6 - 3, that cannot be reversed: it is not the same as 3 - 6.  Likewise 6 ÷ 3 is not the same as 3 ÷ 6.

When watching pupils or students who struggle over such concepts we may note that some may continue to count on their fingers long after other children and readily become confused by the symbols used for the four basic functions.

As the pupils and students get older their difficulties then translate into real life scenarios.  They may not know the score in a game, or indeed may not know what the score in a game such as cricket actually means.  When asked to undertake a task (for example in a gym) a set number of times that might prove problematic, and they can have great difficulty with money.

The further they proceed in their school lives the further they slip behind with all mathematical tasks, and they may also have difficulty with anything that relates to distance, reading a map, finding the way, remembering left and right, understanding the rules concerning shapes, being able to give directions, following the concept of miles or kilometers per hour, following a cookery recipe, or using the right levels of chemicals in an experiment.

As they get older, inevitably, students will start to hide their lack of ability in areas that their fellows can do without thinking, and thus will start to avoid circumstances where they are challenged to undertake “common sense” tasks which seemingly everyone else of their age group can perform without difficulty.

These problems are, of course, not just confined to maths.  They can relate also to geography, science, history (whenever time spans and dates are discussed), the cost of items in a shop, and so on.

There is, however, a problem, because not everyone who has some of the issues noted above may be dyscalculic.  Because of the logical and sequential nature of maths a child who has missed a period of schooling early on may then find it impossible to understand what is happen once the child returns to school.

Children who are perhaps struggling a little in maths may find that at home there is a parent who takes the view that, “I was never any good at maths, and its never done me any harm,” or “what do you need maths for anyway - you’ve got a calculator on your phone” and so the child begins to learn that not being good at maths is perfectly acceptable.

Such young people can of course slip behind, but they can be rescued through intensive remedial teaching using conventional methods.  The difference between these pupils and students and those who are dyscalculic is that a remedial maths system based around normal approaches to maths is unlikely to work, and the young person will fail all over again.

This is why testing for dyscalculia is so important, and why those pupils and students who are thought to be dyscalculic are then taught in a way that takes account of their lack of an automatic grasp of number.

You can find out more about dyscalculia on this website or by phoning 01604 880 927.  You can also email the Dyscalculia Centre at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



Contact details

The Dyscalculia Information Centre
1 Oathill Close

Phone: 01604 880 927

Email enquiries

Head of Centre

Tony Attwood C.Ed., B.A., M.Phil (Lond), F.Inst.A.M


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