Understanding Dyscalculia for Teaching

Article excerpt

Dyscalculia is a learning problem affecting many individuals. However, less is known about this disability than about the reading disability because the American society accepts learning problems in mathematics as quite normal. This article provides a summary of the research on Dyscalculia and teaching approaches for teachers.

Relative to research on reading disability, research on math learning disability is very much in its infancy. Reading disability researchers have described deficits and possible genetic mechanisms that underlie dyslexia. Also, interventions have been proposed and studied for effectiveness. In contrast, math disability researchers are still working to define math learning disability and to identify underlying cognitive or genetic attributes.

What is Dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia is characterized by a poor understanding of the number concept and the number system. Difficulties are presented in counting, giving and receiving change; tipping, learning abstract concepts of time and direction, telling and keeping track of time and the sequence of past and future events. Children with dyscalculia are unable to function with these mathematical milestones characteristic of their age group.

Dyscalculic children find learning and recalling number facts difficult. They often lack confidence even when they produce the correct answer. They also fail to use rules and procedures to build on known facts. For example, they may know that 5+3=8, but not infer that, therefore, 3+5=8.

In word problems, Dyscalculic children often don't understand which type of arithmetical operation is asked for.

There may be exaggerated difficulties with intensive numbers-i.e. those involving x per y, either explicitly or implicitly -such as speed (miles per hour), temperature (energy per unit of mass), averages and proportional measures. Some have spatial problems, which affects understanding of position and direction.

Dyscalculic children can usually learn the sequence of counting words, but may have difficulty navigating back and forth, especially in twos, threes or more. Their difficulty in estimating number is impaired in comparison to that of their peers. The lack of an intuitive grasp of number magnitudes typical of children in the age group of 7 to 11, is absent in the child with dyscalculia.

According to Mahesh Sharma (2001), The seven prerequisite math skills are:

(1) The ability to follow sequential directions;

(2) A keen sense of directionality, of one's position in space, and of spatial orientation and organization;

(3) Pattern recognition and extension;

(4) Visualization- key for qualitative students- is the ability to conjure up and manipulate mental images;

(5) Estimation- the ability to form a reasonable educated guess about size, amount, number, and magnitude;

(6) Deductive reasoning- the ability to reason from the general principle to a particular instance; and

(7) Inductive reasoning- natural understanding that is not the result of conscious attention or reason. Without these prerequisite skills, any math learning that takes place is essentially temporary.


(1.) Quantitative dyscalculia is a deficit in the skills of counting and calculating and refers to prerequisite skills 1 & 2 above.

(2.) Qualitiative dyscalculia is the result of difficulties in comprehension of instructions or the failure to master the skills required for an operation. It refers to prerequisite skills 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

MEASURES used to test for Dyscalculia

1. Piagetian test of conservation of number, classification and seriation.

If a child has not mastered the concept of number preservation (the idea that 5 represents a set of 5 things), then they are incapable of making the generalizations necessary for performing addition or subtraction. …