Dyscalculia Symptoms: How does this impact your life

When you were in school did math equations looked like Klingon to you? Do you feel it takes you or maybe your child longer than everyone else to do the same math problem? Or perhaps you often feel like your speaking a foreign language to your kid when helping them with their math homework? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re probably interested in learning more about dyscalculia. In this article we give a brief description of what is dyscalculia, however, we will focus what are dyscalculia symptoms by age and what dyscalculia symptoms to look out for.

Dyscalculia is a learning disability, dealing with numbers.
Dyscalculia is a learning disability, dealing with numbers.

What is Dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia comes from two Latin words. “Dys” which means faulty or abnormal, and “calcul (ate)” meaning to estimate, or to count. So in a sense, dyscalculia means incorrect counting. But dyscalculia symptoms aren’t as simple as counting badly. In fact, dyscalculia is an extremely complex learning disorder.

Similar to dyslexia, dyscalculia is a specific learning disorder, its symptoms stem from a difficulty surrounding numbers, mathematical reasoning and arithmetic. Dyscalculia is sometimes referred to as “math dyslexia,” despite not being as well known as or diagnosed as much as Dyslexia. In the DSM-5 Dyscalculia is under the special learning disorder category along with dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADD, and other learning disabilities. At times these disorders can appear together. There is no cure for specific learning disorders. But early intervention is vital for alleviating dyscalculia symptoms.

Dyscalculia symptoms usually appear a year before preschool and is a lifelong disorder. Dyscalculia symptoms in children can be detected in math class. But for adults, symptoms may be recognizable when making a change at the store or calculating tip percentages at restaurants.

Technically speaking, there are two different kinds of dyscalculia. The first is Developmental Dyscalculia, which you are born with. The other is acquired dyscalculia, which is usually the result of a stroke or brain injury.

Dyscalculia Symptoms: Sub-Types

Symptoms of Dyscalculia
Dyscalculia symptoms can often be spotted in the classroom.

Dyscalculia is a complex disease because most numerical concepts and math problems require the brain for multiple uses. For example, working memory is used to hold and manipulate numbers. But long-term memory is used to recall number facts like timetables or someone’s phone number. Because of the complexity of math itself, psychologists such as Dr. Bweyhunle Khing have broken dyscalculia symptoms it into sub-types. These sub-types depend on the kind of symptoms shown.

1) Lexical Dyscalculia Symptoms: Someone showing lexical dyscalculia symptoms struggle with reading numerical symbols, and understanding numerical equations. But they are able to verbally explain math concepts. Those with lexical dyscalculia can read digits when they appear individually. But they cannot recall the order of larger numbers.

2) Graphical Dyscalculia Symptoms: If a child is showing symptoms of graphical dyscalculia they may be able to speak about math concepts, and read math equations, and large numbers. But the difficulty arises when they are asked to write down symbols and numbers to convey a concept.

3) Verbal Dyscalculia Symptoms: Verbal dyscalculia symptoms consist of having difficulty verbally explaining mathematical concepts. If you have verbal dyscalculia, you may find that you have no trouble writing or reading numbers, and equations. But you might be unable to explain them out loud. It might also be hard to identify when someone is talking about a specific equation or concept.

4) Ideognostic Dyscalculia Symptoms: Ideognostic dyscalculia symptoms include difficulty grasping mathematical concepts and relationships. For example, understanding that one-half is larger than one-eighth. Other symptoms include difficulty using mental math. Also, counting on fingers or scratch paper may be used for simple math problems. This goes for all aspects of math, including reading, writing, and verbal explanation.

5) Practognostic Dyscalculia Symptoms: Someone with practognostic dyscalculia is able to understand math concepts. However, they cannot work with mathematical equations. Understanding a math concept may not be a problem. The issues begin when they have to put that knowledge to action in a real situation.

6) Operational Dyscalculia Symptoms: Symptoms of operational dyscalculia include difficulty when it comes to manipulating numbers and mathematical symbols despite understanding numbers and their connection to one another.

Dyscalculia Symptoms by Age

Because dyscalculia can affect anyone no matter their age, and during our lifetime, the kind of math we deal with varies, it is important to have dyscalculia symptoms categorized into the age group. Our earliest experience with math and numbers most likely begins in preschool or a year leading up to preschool. So the Dyscalculia symptoms categories go from Preschool (ages 3-5), elementary school (ages 5-11), middle school (ages 11-13), high school (ages 13-18) and adulthood.

Dyscalculia Symptoms in Preschool

  1. Mistakes made when learning to count are not age appropriate.
  2. Difficulty understanding that numbers can connect to objects. To the child, a group of four crayons may seem the same as a group of six, or three crayons.
  3. Has trouble understanding the meaning of counting.
  4. Difficulty recognizing patterns such as biggest to smallest and vice-versa.

Dyscalculia Symptoms in Middle School

  1. Uses their fingers to count as opposed to using mental math.
  2. Trouble remembering basic math facts, like 5+5 or the times tables.
  3. Trouble understanding and using the addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division signs.
  4. Has a hard time with place value and placing number in their appropriate columns.
  5. Is confused when faced with math language such as divisible by, less than, greater than, or equal to.
  6. Has trouble keeping score during sports games and board games.
  7.  A difficulty with money or time management.
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Dyscalculia Symptoms in High School

  1. Unable to come up with a plan to solve a multi-step math problem.
  2. Struggles to calculate exact change or the correct tip at stores and restaurants.
  3. Difficulty measuring ingredients when cooking, or when measuring distances or lengths.
  4. Struggles to find different ways to solve identical math problems.
  5. Avoids situations where math is involved.

Dyscalculia Symptoms in adulthood

  1. Difficulty remembering simple math facts.
  2. Slow to count backward and perform calculations.
  3. Usually only performs addition.
  4. Performs mental math slowly.
  5. Does not estimate time or measurements well.

Possible Causes of Dyscalculia Symptoms

There is no one specific cause for dyscalculia. But studies show that people with dyscalculia have abnormalities in their intra-parietal lobes, a section of the brain responsible for processing some sensory information and language. Many factors from our environment to our genes contribute to dyscalculia symptoms, but they all lead back to the intra-parietal lobe.

Environmental Dyscalculia Symptoms

Gail Grodzinsky, Ph.D. believes that some environmental factors can contribute to specific learning disorders like dyscalculia. Factors from the environment may include a lack of proper nutrition, exposure to hazardous substances, and inadequate prenatal healthcare. These factors can all have lasting, negative effects on a child’s developing brain. Dyscalculia is believed to be due to abnormalities in the intra-parietal lobe, therefore it is not the result of poor schooling or lack of instruction.

Evolutionary Dyscalculia Symptoms

From the dawn of time, mankind has had to understand quantities in order to survive. Humans and animals alike have this ability, which is called either numerosity or the approximate number sense. This is a very basic skill but is the foundation for more complex number related situations such as arithmetic. Scientist Ewen Callaway has done extensive research on this topic. A study done on monkeys and Chimpanzees to test this ability found that there are two systems to signify quantities. One system allowed them to tell the difference between small and large quantities, while the other allowed them to quickly recognize smaller numbers. Both of these systems took place in a specific fold of the parietal lobe, signifying that any damage or abnormalities in the parietal lobe may affect someone’s ability to perform numerical tasks, causing, and dyscalculia. Furthermore, scans done on the brain of people with dyscalculia have shown that their parietal lobe is less active when working with numbers.

Neurological Dyscalculia Symptoms

With the help of advanced technologies like fMRI’s, which monitor changes in blood flow to detect brain activity, studies can be done on the brain activity of people with dyscalculia. A recent study found abnormalities in certain areas of the brain of children with Dyscalculia. The parietal lobes and the frontal lobe (responsible for executive decisions and attention) both had below average activity in children with dyscalculia.

Genetic Dyscalculia Symptoms

Similar to other specific learning disorders, dyscalculia tends to run in families. But there is not a specific gene for dyslexia or dyscalculia. Studies show that there are multiple genes that contribute to someone showing dyscalculia disabilities. In a study done on 39 children with dyscalculia, 90 siblings, 21 mothers, and 22 fathers, it was found that over half of the siblings and mothers, and 40% of the fathers all had Dyscalculia as well. For learning disorders, such as dyslexia, there is more knowledge about specific genes, but as awareness and research towards dyscalculia has increased in recent years, more information about the genetic factor may soon available.

Brain Injury Dyscalculia Symptoms

Trauma to the brain later in life can also be a cause of Dyscalculia. However, this would not be considered Developmental Dyscalculia, which refers to the kind of dyscalculia that someone is born with. Dyscalculia caused by traumatic brain injury is called Acquired Dyscalculia. Studies have found that the trauma to the intra-parietal lobe, which is responsible for number operations, results in dyscalculia.

Renowned Dyscalculics throughout History 

1) Einstein was believed to have Asperger’s as well as dyscalculia. Many scientists believed that it was his dyscalculia that helped him see math equations in a unique way.

2) Cher has dyscalculia as well as dyslexia. As a child, she struggled to keep up with her schoolwork and in her autobiography The First Time she said, “math was like trying to learn Sanskrit.”

3) Thomas Edison was also thought to have dyscalculia because although he invented the light bulb, he hired a mathematician to do all the calculations!

Here are fun games to play at home to fight Dyscalculia. Please feel free to leave a message below.

Learn more about dyscalculia

History of Dyscalculia

Although people must have been displaying dyscalculia symptoms all throughout history, it wasn’t officially recognized until a Czechoslovakian psychologist, Ladislav Kosc used it in 1974. Kosc was the first psychologist to use the term in a published psychology journal. In it, he studied 66 Czechoslovakian children who were believed to have normal IQs. He found that 6% of them displayed dyscalculia symptoms. Since then, research on Dyscalculia has increased, however, it still is not researched as much as Dyslexia.

Can Dyscalculia affect your personality or social life?

For children, dyscalculia symptoms can lead to intense frustration in math class, and other situations requiring different forms of math. For example, when playing board games that require knowledge of basic math concepts, and a general understanding of quantities. This frustration can cause children to feel anxious when placed in any of these settings. Besides feeling frustrated, anxious, and nervous, when faced with math problems, symptoms of dyscalculia can make children feel different from their peers. This can lead to low confidence, disconnection from peers, and possible resentment towards teachers or tutors who do not understand the source of their frustration and anxiety.

As awareness of Dyscalculia continues to increase, more studies have gone into understanding dyscalculia symptoms. Today, the overall estimated percentage of the population with dyscalculia is between 3% and 6%. The percentage of elementary school children with dyscalculia is 5%, which is the same as Dyslexia. Despite this seemingly small percentage, it is important that teachers and parents remain aware of dyscalculia symptoms. This will allow them to intervene and help affected students feel more at ease with math.

Treatment for Dyscalculia

Early intervention is very important for the treatment of dyscalculia symptoms. But since dyscalculia comes in many different forms, and may be comorbid with other specific learning disorders, treatment for anyone with dyscalculia may vary greatly, depending on the specific symptoms that they show.

Here are a few general intervention methods that have been proven effective: Repetition. Thorough breakdowns of each topic. Working in small groups with productive communication

A hands-on approach, known as multisensory instruction is another effective strategy for the basic understanding of the symbolic representation of numbers. This means the use of multiple senses to show them the number 3 represents 3 snaps or 3 pens. An understanding of this will allow for a smoother transition into more complex math concepts.

Examples of multisensory instruction: Using paper pie to help understand fractions. Using building Legos or building blocks to create patterns. Using base ten blocks to understand place value.

Other effective strategies include: Use of scratch paper and graph paper. Drawing pictures when working with word problems. Drawing out math concepts that bring difficulty. Use of mnemonic devices to learn and remember math concepts. Drills and worksheets with guidance when needed.

Overall, it is up to the therapist to tailor each session based on the symptoms of dyscalculia that the patient shows.


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