Demystifying Dyscalculia: Defining Dyscalculia

Demystifying Dyscalculia: Defining Dyscalculia

Previously, I covered dyslexia and dysgraphia in other blog posts.  Dyslexia and dysgraphia are learning disabilities; dyslexia is a learning disability in reading and dysgraphia is a learning disability in writing.

Definition & DSM-5

For the third and final type of learning disability, I am going to discuss dyscalculia.  In the word “dyscalculia,” the “dys” means “impaired.”  The root “calculia” comes from the Latin word “calculare,” which means “to count” and “calculation.”  Therefore, dyscalculia is a learning disability in math.  In fact, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) uses the term Specific Learning Disorder (SLD).  SLD with impairment in mathematics (e.g., number sense, memorization of arithmetic facts, accurate or fluent calculation, accurate math reasoning).  And the DSM-5 specifies dyscalculia as an alternate term to SLD.

U.S. Education

Before I dive deeper into dyscalculia (check out the alliteration!), I want to point out some flaws with our educational system in the U.S. pertaining to math.  First, schools generally focus on English language arts (ELA) and put ELA at the start of the day and for the longest time block.  That means that math instruction typically occurs in the afternoon and generally for a shorter period of time (45 minutes per day).  Second, there is often an over reliance on the answers.  In order to become proficient in math, students need to practice multiple methods of problem solving from both a verbal and visual-spatial approach.  Third, math skills must be fun!  Material cannot be dry and boring; rather, math should be presented in the format of games and activities.  To this end, I love recommending math games to struggling students (e.g.,

The Dyscalculia Profile

The common dyscalculia profile is as followed.  The individual is slower in basic numeric processing.  That is, rapidly identifying numbers, making comparisons between magnitude of numbers, and counting forwards and backwards.  In addition, the individual struggles to determine the quantitative meaning of numbers (e.g., poor use of strategies, inability to visualize numbers with ease).  Finally, the individual typically has difficulty learning basic numerical calculation procedures required to problem solve. In my next blog post, I will discuss how to assess for dyscalculia.  If you suspect that you (or your child) have dyscalculia, and would like to have a comprehensive evaluation, email or call me at 602.699.4543.  Dr. Andersen