There are a number of experiments that have been reported which suggest that people with dyscalculia have particular difficulty with spatial reasoning.

However it should be noted at once that the link is not absolute. A lack of spatial reasoning difficulties does not mean that the person does not have dyscalculia, and the appearance of spatial reasoning difficulties does not by itself mean the person has dyscalculia.  It is an indicator.

Spatial reasoning relates to the way we can think about objects in three dimensions, and the ability of an individual to deal with spatial reasoning is often measured by asking individuals what an object would look like if seen from a different perspective.

This is obviously a helpful ability in everyday life as it allows us to imagine, almost instantly, what the hidden part of an object probably looks like, and it also helpfully allows us to perceive illustrations drawn on paper as having a 3D perspective.

The fact that this difficulty link is often spotted with dyscalculic individuals shows the extent to which a problem with maths can affect many aspects of a person’s life.  In this case it restricts the ability to draw conclusions from limited information.

Thus in a test in which pupils or students  are asked what an object would look like if rotated, dyscalculic children generally do far worse than others in their class.  Similarly if a child is told that one person has five coins and is then given ten more, while another person has 25 coins, the dyscalculic child may well be unable to appreciate who has the most while the non-dyscalculic child of an appropriate age can do so.

In another test relating to this issue the child or teenager may be shown a number line. for example between 0 and 10 or 0 and 100 but with no grid marks, and be asked where certain numbers should go on the line.  After doing such a test a child without dyscalculia can then normally explain why she or he put a number in a certain place.  Dyslexic children often find it difficult if not impossible to explain why a number has been allocated a specific spot.

However it should not be thought that such tests are definitive methods of saying that an individual is dyscalculic.  Again these are indicators.

However such indicators can be helpful in suggesting the help an individual needs with spatial awareness.  For example, in the case of a person with a real problem with a number line one might ask the individual to draw a straight line and write in the numbers from 1 to 10 spaced equally along the line.  If it is helpful you might mark the 0 at the start of the line and 1 a short distance along with 10 at the far end.

Some pupils and students do find it difficult to place the numbers equally, and bunch them at one end or the other.  If that is the case, regular practice at this can help the individual see that it is helpful to space out all the numbers equally, which in itself gives a sense of the equality of “distance” in numerical terms between for example 3 and 4 on the one hand nad 9 and 10 on the other. 

If this proves very difficult one can start with a page marked with 0 at the start of the line, 1,  2,  and 3 at appropriate points and then 5 at the end, and ask where “4” will go.  The aim of course is to get the individual to “see” that when the numbers are spaced equally the resultant graph has a particular look.  The child or student then begins to see, sometimes after a lot of practice, the “look” of a series of numbers which are both spatially and in terms of mathematics equally spread out.

Once this is mastered one can undertake the same task with tens and 100s.

Spatial reasoning is itself related to an ability to read maps and plans and appreciate them as a representation of the real world.  Again the dyscalculic individual might well find the notion of drawing a plan of a room hard, let alone a map of the streets between or around the school and their home.

Asking an individual who has such a problem to jump straight into map reading can be very daunting for the individual, and therefore it can be advisable to work with very simple mazes, asking the pupil or student to plot the route from the beginning to the end of a very simple maze, and later ask the individual to draw his/her own mazes and then to show that the exit can be found only by following one unique route.  In this regard the pupil or student has to try to solve the maze by taking the wrong routes, in order to show there is only one solution.

All such activities can help the pupil or student evolve a sense of space and distance while playing a game.  As long as the tasks are kept at first within the boundaries of what the child can achieve, and then those boundaries are only slowly challenged, the individual is normally able both to enjoy the process and make progress.

For many pupils and students this approach to learning about spaces and locations can represent a significant step on the journey to being able to appreciate the relationship between numbers - something that non-dyscalculic people grasp as they learn about the numbers themselves.


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Phone: 01604 880 927

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Head of Centre

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


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