Specific learning disorder with impairment in mathematics (dyscalculia)

A specific learning disorder with impairment in mathematics (dyscalculia) is an innate difficulty in learning and comprehending mathematics. Children who have a specific learning disorder with impairment in mathematics (dyscalculia) have trouble understanding numbers, learning how to manipulate numbers, learning mathematical facts, and a number of other related difficulties.

Dyscalculia can be defined as:

… a condition that affects the ability to acquire arithmetical skills. Learners with dyscalculia may have 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 do so mechanically and without confidence.

The severity of mathematical impairment differs depending on the individual. Although it can be argued that many of the defining features of a specific learning disorder with impairment in mathematics (dyscalculia) can also be seen in children who do poorly in mathematics, it is the degree of these difficulties and the resistance to remedial intervention that set children with dyscalculia apart from others with learning difficulties. 

When looking at identifying a Specific Learning Disorder with impairment in mathematics (dyscalculia), deficits in one or both of the following key academic areas are usually present:

  • Difficulties mastering number sense, number facts or calculation (e.g., has poor understanding of numbers, their magnitude, and relationships; counts on fingers to add single-digit numbers instead of recalling the math fact as peers do; gets lost in the midst of arithmetic computation and may switch procedures). 
  • Difficulties with mathematical reasoning (e.g., has severe difficulty applying mathematical concepts, facts, or procedures to solve quantitative problems).


What you might see in the classroom.

Lower Primary School Upper Primary School Secondary School
  • Difficulties organising objects and sets of items in a logical way
  • Difficulties recognising printed numbers
  • Poor counting skills and knowledge of counting strategies
  • Difficulties using counting strategies (counting in 2's, 5's etc)
  • Difficulties with mastering number knowledge (recognising how many items make a set without counting)
  • Delays in using effective counting strategies for addition (counting all instead of counting on)
  • Difficulties decomposing numbers
  • Difficulties remembering arithmetic facts
  • Counting skills mastered but persistent use of ineffective strategies for calculation
  • Difficulty telling the time and recalling times tables
  • Delays in the retrieval of overlearned maths facts
  • Difficulties with inattention to numerical operator 
  • Delays in applying concepts of borrowing and carrying (place value)
  • Difficulties with measurement and understanding spatial relationships
  • Difficulties with multi-step calculation procedures
  • Increased anxiety and negative attitude towards maths
  • Difficulties learning maths concepts beyond basic number facts
  • Difficulties with mental maths
  • Difficulties finding more than one way to solve a maths problem
  • Delays in learning and recognising  maths vocabulary
  • Difficulties in reading and interpreting graphs, charts and maps
  • Poor perception of the passage of time and difficulties sticking to a schedule
  • Poor budgeting skills
  • Delays in spatial directions


Information reproduced from AUSPELD Understanding Learning Difficulties: A practical guide (Revised edition).