Understanding Dyscalculia in Students

Shemmicca Moore
Shemmicca Moore
Director of Secondary Instruction; Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from Gardner-Webb University
A little girl looks stressed while studying mathematics.

What is Dyscalculia?

Today, districts across our nation report that America’s students are graduating unprepared to tackle college-level math content. This has prompted school districts to pour additional resources into the teaching and learning of math.

Dyscalculia Definition

With the additional assistance, teachers are more equipped to recognize learning disabilities such as dyscalculia, which is the inability to easily solve arithmetic equations like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

How Dyscalculia is Related to ADHD

It is reported that dyscalculia affects approximately six percent of the total population and is common among individuals with ADHD. 60 percent of people with ADHD are diagnosed with learning disabilities such as dyscalculia, which is extremely higher than the general population. This poses additional barriers for students who already struggle to focus during instructional time.

Supporting Students with Dyscalculia in the Classroom

In comparison to disabilities like dyslexia, dyscalculia does not have an extensive amount of research available.

Dyscalculia Symptoms

Some of the dyscalculia symptoms reported are:

  • Repeated trouble with skills such as learning to count
  • Repeated trouble with solving equations
  • Extreme confusion with information presented in graphs or on charts
  • Taking more time when working with numbers
  • Making more frequent and repeated mistakes

Recognizing that dyscalculia is a disability that exists in our students prompts educators to seek ways to support students diagnosed with this disability. Through my work with students who have identified learning disabilities in math, I have found the following strategies to be most effective:

Recognize It

Experience has taught me that before I can effectively meet a student’s needs with dyscalculia, I must first recognize that a problem exists. Believing that a student is simply “not good in math” without identifying the root, and not offering a dyscalculia test of any sort can cause many students suffering from additional learning loss.

Recognizing the underlying issue allows opportunities to identify ways of closing the gap and or leveling the playing field between students diagnosed with dyscalculia and their non-disabled peers. Furthermore, recognition gives way to additional resources being accessible to the students to help them out.

Students with identified learning disabilities can be privy to federal funds that are not permissible for other students. This funding allows for supplemental assistance that may be paramount in identifying effective methods of making the math content attainable for students with dyscalculia. In recognizing the problem, teachers can qualify students for the previously mentioned funding.

Modify and Accommodate

It is important that students with dyscalculia are provided accommodations and modifications to meet their independent learning needs through an IEP. Accommodations make the content assessable in that it is presented in a way that compliments the learner. Accommodations such as preferential seating, extended time, and read-aloud are all designed to assist in displaying what the learner knows without hindering elements of their disabilities.

Likewise, modifications such as shortened assignments and alternative grading assist by focusing on what the learner can show in terms of mastery. The key is to remember that modifications and accommodations do not make it easier for students; they simply remove barriers that prevent students from displaying the knowledge that they have acquired.

As educators, when we issue assignments, we must be mindful of the information we wish to ascertain from the work we assign our students. Being that basic computation is a struggle for students with dyscalculia, accommodating allowances for a calculator when permissible should be one of the first considered accommodations for students with dyscalculia. Fore, if we are checking for content mastery as far as solving an equation, the utilization of a calculator will not prevent us from gathering that information.

Calculators assist in computing, but students will still be responsible for displaying knowledge on how to follow steps to solve the problem.

Appropriately assigning accommodations or modifications will go a long way in two ways:

Provide Choices

I believe that one of the most powerful things we can provide to any student is choices concerning how to solve problems and display mastery. In fact, this very idea is used frequently when instructing advanced learners. The premise is to allow students the autonomy to choose how they can best show that they have mastered the content.

This prevents the students from being locked into a single style as far as problem-solving. Just as this is effective for advanced learners, I have found it to be adequate for students with dyscalculia.

Providing the student with choice allows them the freedom to find the right fit in terms of the method that they are most successful at when displaying their learning. It highlights the students’ strengths as opposed to displaying their weakness in the area of math.

Choice has proven to increase student engagement which is key when attempting to interest students in a subject that is identified as weaker. It helps to make the curriculum relatable and relevant to the students’ everyday lives. The strategies that I have described above have proven to be successful for me in terms of working with students with dyscalculia.

However, it is essential to note that the most effective thing a teacher can do is keep the line of communication open with the students so that you can identify what works best when trying to meet the students where they are and growing them from there. Students with dyscalculia have the ability to learn just as much as other students; it is our job as educators to help them identify how they best learn in regards to math.

Have a passion for assisting students with their learning disabilities and want to advance your career? Check out our available graduate programs focused in learning and behavior disorders and take your next step today!

Dyscalculia in Adults. Retrieved June 29, 2022.
The ADHD Symptoms That Complicate and Exacerbate a Math Learning Disability. Retrieved June 29, 2022.
Let’s Talk About the Link Between ADHD and Dyscalculia. Ladak, Ameera. Retrieved June 29, 2022.
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