Understanding Dyscalculia

Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash Multiplication Sentences painted on stairs

Dyscalculia literally means a disorder of calculation and is a condition that affects the ability to acquire math skills. Children with Dyscalculia may have difficulty understanding basic number concepts, lack a feel for numbers, and have problems learning even basic number facts. Children with Dyscalculia may also struggle with spatial awareness (i.e. making it hard for them to learn their left and right), understanding of time (i.e. making it hard for them to read an analog clock) and organization/planning skills (i.e. making it hard for them to keep up with their homework). There is no single form of Dyscalculia. Every child, teenager, and adult with the condition may experience it differently. Current estimates state that between 5 – 8 % of children have Dyscalculia (Katherine, Lewis & Marie, 2016). Researchers are still not sure of the underlying causes of Dyscalculia or why children struggle to learn mathematics. It is believed that the roots of Dyscalculia probably lie in the brain and likely have a genetic basis (Fias, 2016).

Early Signs of Dyscalculia

The first signs of Dyscalculia can be seen when children struggle to develop the foundational building blocks of mathematics. These are:


The ability to see numbers without having to count. We do this for example when we look at dice, we do not need to count each dot on the dice to know how much the number is. Students with Dyscalculia experience an inability to ‘see’ numbers.

Internal Number Line

Most people have a mental line where numbers are ordered evenly to represent quantity. Students with Dyscalculia do not have a secure understanding of numbers and are often said to lack an internal number line.  


Many children with Dyscalculia may learn to count, however, this is often rote learning without a true understanding of the number system. Because they do not have a deeper understanding of the number system, they may struggle to start counting from a number that is not 1, to count backward, or to skip count.

Number Patterns

Our number system is built upon a base-ten pattern. Understanding place value (i.e. units, tens, hundreds) and seeing patterns in numbers can be difficult for students with Dyscalculia.

These are all fundamental skills necessary for building ALL math competencies. When students move on before developing these building blocks, gaps begin to form and continue to grow. At different stages of development, Dyscalculia can be seen in different ways. You can find a helpful list of Dyscalculia signs HERE.  

How to Support Your Child with Dyscalculia

Students with Dyscalculia CAN learn. They just learn in a different way and at a slower pace. Here are some tips for ways you can help your child build confident math skills at home.

Math in the Real World

Make learning concrete by showing your children how math works in the real world. For example, ask your child to estimate how many apples are in the bowl before counting them, or ask them to help you calculate how many plates, forks, spoons, etc. are needed when setting the table, or get them to help you work out which items are cheaper when shopping.


We use math all the time in our heads. Show this to your child by verbalizing your thinking processes when using math at home.


Children who struggle in math often come to hate the subject. Make math more fun and engaging by playing math games at home. Games also provide a great opportunity for you to model how you solve math problems which help show your kids how to do it in a more relaxed way.

Extra Support

As a parent, you cannot be an expert in everything. If your child has math challenges, consider working with a specialist to provide your child with individualized support.

There is a wealth of helpful resources available that provide interesting insights and more tips for parents. Here is a list of just a few:



Learning Disabilities Association of America

Facebook Group

Books with Personal Accounts

My Thirteenth Winter by Samantha Abeel

It Just Doesn’t Add Up by Paul Moorcraft

Books with Learning Games and Activities

Family Math Night by Jennifer Taylor-Cox

Math Intervention: Building Number Power by Jennifer Taylor-Cox

The Dyscalculia Toolkit by Ronit Bird

Dr. Alicia Chodkiewicz has lived in Switzerland since 2014 and worked as an Educational Psychologist in Zurich, Zug, and Basel. Through her work with young people in both the academic and therapeutic settings, Alicia's aim is to help them believe in themselves and their ability to grow. You can find Alicia at www.educationalpsychology.ch