What is Dyscalculia

DYSCALCULIA is a specific learning difficulty with mathematics, primarily arithmetic. It was defined in a UK Government document in 2001 as: 'Dyscalculia is a condition that affects the ability to acquire mathematical skills. Dyscalculic learners may have a difficulty understanding simple number concepts, lack an intuitive grasp of numbers, and have problems learning number facts and procedures Even if they produce a correct answer or use a correct method, they may do so mechanically and without confidence.'

It is defined in the USA (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 2013) as:
'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.'

Research into dyscalculia has lagged far behind research into dyslexia, but this is beginning to even out. The new powerful neurological tools are shedding new light on this difficulty. Despite this, our understanding of dyscalculia lags behind our knowledge of dyslexia. However, researchers agree that there is no single profile. There are many contributing factors. It is described as a heterogeneous problem which is compounded by the constellation of demands made by maths.

Bearing this in mind, the estimate of people who are dyscalculic is around 5%. There will be a spectrum of maths difficulties. A UK survey into young adults suggests that about 22% are functionally innumerate. My own research suggests some startlingly depressing statistics of success rates for basic problems in a wide range of topics, for example, multiplication and fractions. Again, the research is not definitive, but it some research suggests that the occurrence of dyscalculia is the same for girls and boys, and may even be more prevalent in girls.


Whilst it is socially acceptable to say, 'I'm hopeless at maths' and for people to accept that statement without criticism, it doesn't mean that there are no everyday problems that are a consequence of those difficulties with maths. Obviously, there may be problems with finances and money, time management, remembering sequences of numbers (for example, phone numbers, pin numbers), reading timetables, correctly diluting medicines, speed of calculating and achieving the maths qualifications needed to enter many professions and jobs.

Maths, more than any other subject, causes anxiety and that anxiety usually amplifies problems. I think one of the key contributors to this situation is the fear of being wrong, the fear of negative evaluation. Much of maths is very judgemental, for example, whilst saying 7 plus 8 is fourteen is close to the right answer, the answer is wrong. Children rarely get credit for being almost right.

There is now neurological evidence to confirm a link maths anxiety to a fear of physical harm.

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