Sunday, January 8, 2012

Dyscalculia: Nature and Definition

      After my comprehensive examinations this December, and hopefully getting a passing grade, I will be starting doing my thesis. And until now, I am still undecided as to what topic will I be doing. Actually, I am torn between two exceptionalities: dyscalculia or ADHD. I think both of these exceptionalities are anonymously pervasive in regular classrooms so I really want to tackle these conditions. Anyways, let me discuss to you dyscalculia. I am currently a Mathematics teacher and this condition really caught my interest since most if not all students are more or less poor or underachieved in Math. Perhaps knowing about this condition may possibly enlighten educators or teachers that some students are not necessarily dumb or dull with Mathematics. It just so happened that they have this certain disability and that this should be given due considerations.
    This is just one of the posts in my series of discussion dedicated to dyscalculia. I really hope that teachers and parents will find these helpful especially in understanding their child who has difficulty in math.

Definition of Dyscalculia

Dyscalculia is a term referring to a wide range of life-long learning disabilities involving math. There is no single form of math disability, and difficulties vary from person to person and affect people differently in school and throughout life (National Center for Learning Disabilities, 2006).  

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, otherwise known as DSM listed dyscalculia as mathematics disorder (DSM-IV 315.1) and defines it as:
“A. Mathematical ability, as measured by individually administered standardized tests, is substantially below that expected given the person's chronological age, measured intelligence, and age-appropriate education.
B. The disturbance in Criterion A significantly interferes with academic achievement or activities of daily living that require mathematical ability.
C. If a sensory deficit is present, the difficulties in mathematical ability are in excess of those usually associated with it.”

The ongoing development for DSM-V proposes that the word “dyscalculia” be consistently used from “mathematics disorder” and should be defined as:
“A. Difficulties in production or comprehension of quantities, numerical symbols, or basic arithmetic operations that are not consistent with the person's chronological age, educational opportunities, or intellectual abilities.
Multiple sources of information are to be used to assess numerical, arithmetic, and arithmetic-related abilities, one of which must be an individually administered, culturally appropriate, and psychometrically sound standardized measure of these skills.
B.    The disturbance in criterion A, without accommodations, significantly interferes with academic achievement or activities of daily living that require these numerical skills.”

In addition, the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems by the World Health Organization listed dyscalculia as specific disorder of arithmetical skills (ICD 10 F81.2). According to ICD, dyscalculia “involves a specific impairment in arithmetical skills that is not solely explicable on the basis of general mental retardation or of inadequate schooling. The deficit concerns mastery of basic computational skills of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division rather than of the more abstract mathematical skills involved in algebra, trigonometry, geometry, or calculus”( WHO ICD 10 F81.2).

IDEA on the other hand includes dyscalculia as a specific learning disability or a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes that includes performing or doing mathematical calculations. Just like any specific learning disability, individuals with dyscalculia may have more or less normal intelligence and may just have trouble performing specific types of skills or completing a task.


There is no universal consensus about the causes of dyscalculia. There are different investigations about the roots of dyscalculia considering various aspects such as neurology, memory, genetics and others. One popular view is that dyscalculia has been associated to dysfunction of mathematical processes and areas in the brain.

Recent research suggests dyscalculia results from brain impairment in areas of the brain known to process mathematics (specific parts of the parietal lobes, which may have been caused by genetic and developmental disorders such as Turner’s syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and low birth weight (Isaacs et al., 2001; Kopera-Frye et al., 1996; Molko et al., 2003). Hereditary influences may also play a part since parents and siblings of a child with dyscalculia are ten times more likely to have dyscalculia than members of general population. According to Shalev and Gross-Tur(2001), fifty-percent of the siblings of pupils with dyscalculia can be expected to have the condition as well. Dyscalculia appears to be heritable, but this does not mean that all cases of dyscalculia are inherited.


According to Dimalanta(2009), the following are the common symptoms of a child/individual with dyscalculia:

a.    Normal or accelerated language acquisition: verbal, reading, writing Poetic ability. Good visual memory for the printed word. Good in the areas of science (until a level requiring higher math skills is reached), geometry (figures with logic not formulas), and creative arts.

b.    Difficulty with the abstract concepts of time and direction. Inability to recall schedules, and sequences of past or future events. Unable to keep track of time. May be chronically late.

c.    Inconsistent results in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Poor mental math ability. Poor with money and credit. Cannot do financial planning or budgeting. Checkbooks not balanced. Short term, not long term financial thinking. Fails to see big financial picture. May have fear of money and cash transactions. May be unable to mentally figure change due back, the amounts to pay for tips, taxes, etc.

d.    When writing, reading and recalling numbers, these common mistakes are made: number additions, substitutions, transpositions, omissions, and reversals.

e.    Inability to grasp and remember math concepts, rules, formulas, sequence (order of operations), and basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts. Poor long term memory (retention & retrieval) of concept mastery- may be able to perform math operations one day, but draw a blank the next. May be able to do book work but fails all tests and quizzes.

f.     May be unable to comprehend or “picture” mechanical processes. Lack “big picture or whole picture” thinking. Poor ability to “visualize or picture” the location of the numbers on the face of a clock, the geographical locations of states, countries, oceans, streets and the like.

g.    Poor memory for the “layout” of things. Gets lost or disoriented easily. May have a poor sense of direction. May have difficulty grasping concepts of formal music education. Difficulty sight-reading music or learning fingering to play an instrument.

h.    May have poor athletic coordination, difficulty keeping up with rapidly changing physical directions like in aerobic, dance, and exercise classes. Difficulty remembering dance step sequences, rules for playing sports.

i.      Difficulty keeping score during games, or difficulty remembering how to keep score in games, like bowling, etc. Often looses track of whose turn it is during games, like cards and board games. Limited strategic planning ability for games like chess.

Assessment and Diagnosis

At the time of writing the main method for finding objective evidence of dyscalculia is by using the Dyscalculia Screener devised by Brian Butterworth (2003). This is a computer-based test that measures reaction times which are then compared with other measures that have been found by Professor Butterworth to be associated with the condition.

Intelligence tests are also conducted such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WAIS-IV) to identify the child’s overall intelligence score that may help define the strengths and weaknesses that child may have in relation to mathematics. It has to be noted that children with dyscalculia have more or less average or normal and intelligences, and that learning disabilities such as dyscalculia is not brought about by other conditions like intellectual disability, autism and others.

Some assessment procedures and tests can also be conducted to test the co-occurring conditions that may have caused the difficulty in learning mathematics. These include:
a.    specifi c language delay
b.    dyscalculia
c.    dyslexia
d.    dyspraxia
e.    maths anxiety
f.     attention defi cit disorder (ADD) or with hyperactivity (ADHD)
g.    understanding and using the language of maths.


  1. Oh, it's scary! Is this disability really widespread oк it's just some student are really dumb?

  2. as i said in my post, pupil with dyscalculia have more or less average or normal intelligence..this means that they can do fairly or even exceptionally well in other subjects but sadly, not math...