Judy Hornigold | View as single page | Feedback/Impact

What is dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia is a specific learning difficulty that affects a person’s arithmetical ability. In terms of research it remains the baby of the specific learning difficulties family. There’s a wealth of knowledge and understanding about dyslexia, dyspraxia and autism, but much less is known or understood about dyscalculia.

Coined in the mid-20th century, the word dyscalculia has both Greek and Latin origins: the Greek prefix ‘dys’ means ‘badly’, while ‘calculia’, from the Latin ‘calculare’, means to count. So, literally dyscalculia means to count badly. The reality is much more complex than this. 

Common Difficulties

People with dyscalculia may struggle with any or all of the following areas:

Estimation – being able to tell if an answer is reasonable or not.

Short- and long-term memory – difficulty remembering procedures in maths

Time – many children have difficulty in learning to tell the time, but this can persist in learners with dyscalculia. They can also have difficulty with appreciating the passage of time. So they may not be able to tell whether 1 minute or one hour has passed.

Assessing numerical quantity – eg when given two numbers a dyscalculic learner will have difficulty in identifying which is the larger.

Money – this can be a severe difficulty and often stems from a lack of understanding of place value. For example, not being able to appreciate that a £20 note will be sufficient to cover a £15.75 taxi fare.

Performing calculations – both in choosing the correct numerical operation and applying it correctly

Sequencing and recognising patterns

Counting backwards and counting in steps

Direction/ orientation – difficulty in understanding spatial orientation, confusion over left and right, leading to difficulties in map-reading and following directions