What is dyscalculia?
Dyscalculia is an unexpected and persistent learning difficulty that makes it hard to understand, learn, or use basic maths, typically arithmetic.
Dyscalculia is much less well-known than dyslexia, which causes difficulties with reading, writing and spelling. This means that so far, there is less support available for people with dyscalculia.
How many people have dyscalculia?
It is thought that around one in thirty adults or children have dyscalculia. Some people with dyscalculia also have difficulties with reading, but many do not. Adults or children with dyscalculia can be confident in other areas of learning, or even with specific other areas of maths, such as geometry, but find basic arithmetic very hard.
What are the signs?
Dyscalculia results in a stubborn difficulty in mastering arithmetic. There may be difficulties in recognising numbers, connecting number symbols and words, placing things in order, learning sequences, grasping the properties of numbers (such as knowing that ‘9’ is nine ‘1’s, but also that it is three ‘3’s), counting backwards, estimating, understanding place value (such as the difference between £500 and £5.00), or doubling and halving.
How does dyscalculia affect your life?
Dyscalculia can slow down academic progress and career progression, and may cause strong anxiety about maths. Specific difficulties may include recalling PIN or telephone numbers, matching a number of objects to a number symbol or word, managing time, planning journeys, choosing the right notes or coins to pay with, following directions, reading a clockface, driving at a sensible speed, telling if one amount is greater than another, using multiplication or division, and understanding distances.
How can you find out if you have dyscalculia or just a lack of confidence with numbers?
We are all on a spectrum of confidence and ease with maths and many people who do not have a learning difficulty do find it difficult to learn maths. Many adults lack confidence with numbers, find maths hard, or have ‘maths anxiety’ which gets in the way of dealing with numbers and data in daily life, causing similar effects to dyscalculia. You can arrange to be assessed for dyscalculia by contacting the Helpline at the British Dyslexia Association.
Can you improve your maths if you have dyscalculia?
Yes. Whether you have dyscalculia, maths anxiety, lack confidence with numbers, or just know that your maths could be better, you CAN improve as an adult. Improvement may be slower for those with dyscalculia, and specialist support may be needed from tutors who understand different ways of learning, but however you currently feel about maths, you CAN improve.
With thanks to Clare Trott, Brian Butterworth, Steve Chinn & Brenda Ferrie at the British Dyslexia Association.
Get some help
The National Numeracy Challenge is place where you can check your skills and build your confidence with numbers. It's already helped thousands of people who thought they couldn't improve.
It's not designed as a way to identify dyscalculia, but it is designed for all levels and to help you identify and improve the skills you need to work on. It also focuses on the maths we all need in daily life and not on the abstract maths we were often taught at school.
Why not give it a go?