Mathematics Disorder (Dyscalculia)

Mathematics disorder is a heterogeneous condition that can range from mild to severe.

Dyscalculia typically refers to a specific learning disability in math. Specifically, problems in learning mathematics can be due to a problem understanding the complexity of the problem, or the anxiety from the math problem itself. Sheldon Horowitz, the director at the National Center for Learning Disabilities, compares the relationship between dyscalculia and math anxiety similar to the relationship of the question: “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?” However, it is not always the case that dyscalculia and math anxiety occur simultaneously. Here are a few questions (developed by Amanda Morin) to consider when assessing dyscalculia:

  • Does your child have trouble learning to count, or is he/she still using fingers to count long after the other kids have stopped?
  • Does your child avoid playing games like Trouble or Risk that use math concepts?
  • Does your child have a hard time remembering basic math facts (e.g., 3 + 3 = 6 or 2 x 3 = 6)?
  • When writing, does your child leave out or mix up numbers, or put numbers in the wrong columns?
  • Does your child have difficulty telling time or sticking to a schedule?
  • Does your child have trouble consistently knowing left from right or reading maps?
  • Can your child remember math formulas and rules?
  • Does your child have a hard time solving word problems that use phrases like “less than” or “more than”?
  • Can your child talk about past events in correct order?

As mentioned above, mathematics disorder is a heterogeneous condition. Three primary subtypes of mathematics disorder have been identified:

  • Semantic memory math disability: Marked by poor math fact retrieval and fluctuating response times when completing math problems. It may result from deficits in short-term memory, working memory and the ability to represent numbers verbally.
  • Procedural math disability: Marked by poor problem-solving strategies, difficulties sequencing steps in a math procedure, poor knowledge of math concepts and frequent errors when completing math problems. It may result from deficits in working memory, sequential visual or auditory memory, logic and reasoning, and attention skills.
  • Visual-spatial math disability: Marked by making place-value errors, not aligning problems correctly for computation, omitting numbers, transposing numbers, confusing signs and experiencing global difficulties when completing math tasks that require spatial processing. It may result from difficulty with visual-spatial application of numeric or geometric information involving difficulties in directionality, visualization, timing/rhyming and visual-spatial memory.

The text within this page reflects statements and research from Foundations of Behavioral, Social, and Clinical Assessment of Children, Sixth Edition by Jerome M. Sattler, 2014.

Note: some math difficulties are serious enough to meet criteria for diagnosis as a learning disability or specific learning disorder. In such cases, special education services may be available at school or in the community to help remediate the disability. However, some learning weaknesses may not meet state, district or individual school criteria for services, yet the student could still benefit from being provided with targeted help. Our staff help parents understand how to provide for the student’s needs in either circumstance. Our mission is to uncover each student’s unique profile of strengths, challenges, interests and goals, and to tailor recommendations to optimize learning and help achieve his/her full potential.

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