Dyscalculia is difficulty in learning mathematics

Dyscalculia is difficulty in learning mathematics. This difficulty in acquiring numeracy is considered a disorder based on brain function abnormality that is separate from other cognitive disorders.


Dyscalculia is difficulty in learning mathematics. This difficulty in acquiring numeracy is considered a disorder based on brain function abnormality that is separate from other cognitive disorders.

It is a specific developmental disorder (such as dyslexia, dysorthography, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, etc. sometimes called dys- disorders). It corresponds to a severe disorder in digital learning, without organic impairment, without pervasive developmental disorders and without mental disability.

Students may, however, have difficulty in math without exhibiting dyscalculia, which is why it is important to differentiate between transient learning difficulties and longer lasting disorders.


It is currently impossible to determine whether the dyscalculia arises from a primary (or innate) disorder in the processing of quantities, or on the contrary from a secondary disorder related to memory and language.

Research continues to find the causes of dyscalculia and it applies to several areas, including:

  • a developmental dyscalculia subtype could arise from a primary disorder in the representation and approximate manipulation of quantities (numbers) allowing activities to estimate and compare those numbers; skills that are the basis of “number sense”. This is the hypothesis of Dehaene and his team, presented in the section above;
    dyscalculia may arise from lesions of the supramarginal gyrus and angular gyrus at the junction between the temporal lobe and the parietal lobe of the cerebral cortex;
  • impairments in working memory: Adams and Hitch explain that working memory is an important element for mental arithmetic. On this basis, Geary carried out a study which suggests that those who suffer from dyscalculia have an impairment of working memory. However, problems related to working memory merge with more general learning difficulties. In other words, Geary’s findings may not be specific to dyscalculia but may also reflect a more general learning disability.
Potential causes:

Scientists are still trying to understand the causes of dyscalculia, and for that they have been investigating in different areas.

  • impaired or reduced short-term memory, making it difficult to remember calculations;
    of congenital or hereditary origin. Studies suggest its existence, however, there is no concrete evidence yet.
  • Gerstmann Syndrome: Dyscalculia is one of the many symptoms seen with damage to the angular gyrus. The intraparietal sulcus may also be involved.
  • Neurological: Dyscalculia has been associated with lesions to the supramarginal and angular gyrus at the junction between the temporal and parietal lobes of the cerebral cortex.
  • Working Memory Deficits (Working Memory): Adams and Hitch argue that Working Memory is a major factor in mental addiction. From this basis, Geary conducted a study suggesting that dyscalculia was due to a deficit in Working Memory. However, the problem is that Working Memory impairments are confused with general learning difficulties, so Geary’s results may not be specific to dyscalculia but may reflect a larger learning deficit.
    Research by mathematics scholars showed increased EEG activity in the right hemisphere during the algorithmic calculation process. There is some evidence of right hemisphere deficits in dyscalculia.

People with dyscalculia often, but not always, have difficulty manipulating dates, times, measurements, or reasoning in space. Although some researchers argue that dyscalculia necessarily involves both difficulty in mathematical reasoning and difficulty with mathematic operations, work (especially with people with injured brains) has proven that arithmetic skills (i.e. calculating and remembering numbers) and mathematics (abstract reasoning with numbers) can be separated.

Indeed, a person may suffer on the one hand from difficulties in calculation (or dyscalculia) and on the other hand have no impairment (and sometimes even skills) in mathematical reasoning.

Other causes can be:
  • A student who has an instructor / teacher whose method of teaching mathematics is difficult for the student to understand.
  • Short-term memory being disturbed or reduced, making it difficult to recall calculations.
  • Congenital or hereditary disorder. Studies show indications of this, but it’s still not concrete.
  • A combination of these factors.

Possible symptoms

  • Frequent difficulties in arithmetic, confusion between the signs: +, -, /, ÷ and ×, difficulties with tables of multiplication, subtraction, addition, division, mental arithmetic, etc.
  • Difficulties with daily tasks such as checking change and reading the time on an analog watch.
    Inability to understand financial or budget planning, sometimes even at the most basic level, such as estimating the total amount of a basket of items or balancing one’s accounts.
  • Can be quite good in subjects like physics or geometry, which require logic rather than formulas, until you have to do calculations.
  • Difficulties in understanding the concept of time and in estimating the passage of time. Can often be late or early.
  • Specific problems distinguishing his right from his left.
  • Can be very good at writing. Many authors and journalists live with this disorder.
    Difficulty navigating or mentally “turning” the map to follow the current direction rather than the usual practice of north = up.
  • May have some difficulty mentally estimating the dimensions of an object or a distance (for example, if something is 3 to 6 meters away).
  • Often unable to grasp or remember mathematical concepts, rules, formulas or reasoning despite numerous revisions.
  • Difficulty reading a detailed plan of an object to assemble or build yourself.
    Inability to read a sequence of numbers, or may reverse it when repeating it, such as saying 56 instead of 65.
    Inability to remember phone numbers without reversing digits. Can often repeat it several times before you can dial a phone number in the correct order.
  • Difficulty filling out a check due to the order imposed and often has to repeat it one or more times.
    Difficulty writing accurately, on a notebook or sheet, a mathematical formula written on a blackboard, which can cause delays and slowness in school.
  • Difficulty in areas requiring sequential treatment. From the concrete level (like dance steps or another sport) to the abstract level (putting things in the right order). They may also have difficulty even with a calculator due to difficulty in the process of entering the mathematical expression.
  • Dyscalculia can lead in extreme cases to a lasting phobia or anxiety about mathematics and everything related to it.
  • Dyscalculia can cause anxiety because the notion of time is quite erroneous.
  • Problems with large numbers, units, tens, hundreds…
  • Low latent inhibition, in other words more sensitivity to sounds, smells, light and inability to turn a deaf ear, to filter unwanted information and impressions. May have a highly developed imagination because of this (possibly as cognitive compensation for calculus deficiency).
  • Frequent difficulties in calculating grades or averages during school results.

Information: Cleverly Smart is not a substitute for a doctor. Always consult a doctor to treat your health condition.

Sources: PinterPandai, Understood, New Hope Media LLC (ADDitude), Child Mind Institute, DSF Literacy and Clinical Services

Photo credit: Onderwijsgek / Wikimedia Commons


Learn More →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *