1. It is not dyslexia for math.
A common misconception is that dyscalculia is just dyslexia in the area of mathematics. It is not that simple. A person with dyslexia might struggle in math because the language used in math to explain ideas is difficult to understand, but such students are fully capable of understanding math concepts like forming a mental number line and identifying patterns in numbers.
2. Dyscalculics struggle with number concepts.
A person with dyscalculia has great difficulty understanding the concept of numbers and math concepts. Language might be part of the problem, but not the main problem. He or she might be able to count to five, memorize the series of counting aloud “one, two, three, four, five,” but will struggle, or may be unable to understand the concept of ‘fiveness’. If you give a student a pile of pennies, a dyscalculic may be able to count out five pennies, but will greatly struggle to understand or even show that two pennies and three pennies is also five pennies. Visualizing information, identifying patterns and their relationships is extremely challenging.
3. Not every case of dyscalculia is the same.
If you placed 100 people with dyscalculia in the same room, they would have a lot in common, but they would not share every single struggle or difficulty. Most experts on dyscalculia believe that it does not present itself the same way in everyone and even changes as one gets older. Like other specific learning disabilities, dyscalculia can vary in severity. One thing that remains consistent is having a normal to above normal intelligence. This means that dyscalculics struggle due to a cognitive impairment (where in the brain exactly is open to debate), not due to a lack of effort, smarts, or desire to learn.
4. Money, maps, and time are the hardest things to keep track of.
A dyscalculic will often find reading an analog clock challenging. He or she may struggle to understand how long an hour is. Many people can develop a sense of what an hour feels like and have a relationship with time. To a dyscalculic, the concept is an odd one that might never be fully comprehended. Maps, directions, and telling left from right are other difficulties a dyscalculic may struggle with because visualizing information is much more than understanding numbers—it’s understanding our relationship with space too. Shopping is another difficulty because understanding the monetary value of a product is just as hard to understand as the ‘fiveness’ of five pennies. In addition, estimating a grocery-shopping bill may be hard since it requires a level of mental math that some dyscalculics may not have.
5. Sometimes bad math skills are caused by bad teaching.
Not all teachers are equal. Unfortunately, especially in the United States, students may be learning about math concepts from teachers that are not trained to teach the subject, or may not even be fully qualified. Even some elementary teachers may have a negative impact. Studies are showing that students are entering into the secondary grade levels with learned anxiety about mathematics due to their elementary teacher unintentionally teaching math anxiety. All of this may cause a student’s ability in mathematics to be below grade level, but it is important to understand that this kind of situation is very different from a child with a specific learning disability.
6. Multiple learning disabilities are a real thing.
It is possible for a student to have both dyslexia and dyscalculia. Both dyslexia and dyscalculia each affect about 7% of the population. However, researchers are now finding there is a little bit of overlap where a student may have both. That may seem like a lot of bad news, but the good news is that regardless of the severity or exact type, every student with the right intervention will show improvements.