Dyscalculia: Dyslexia in Numbers

October 17, 2012 in Eve Pearce

Most people in America have some understanding of dyslexia and how it can affect people’s reading and writing abilities. For some people with dyslexia, however, reading and writing are not the only things that are affected. Dyscalculia is a lesser understood form of dyslexia and yet it may affect just as many people in America as dyslexia does. Furthermore, it is thought nearly half of all people diagnosed with dyslexia suffer from some sort of dyscalculia, making some researchers believe the two conditions are inexplicably linked.


Dyscalculia is the inability to process numbers, which makes mathematics difficult. For some people with dyslexia that struggle with their math, it may just be because they can’t process numbers in the written form or understand the correct wording of mathematical questions. However, for other sufferers of dyslexia, numbers and equations may be difficult to comprehend, which can cause just as many difficulties as dyslexia does.

While some dyscalculia sufferers have no other noticeable form of dyslexia, the inability to process mathematical equations can affect all sorts of aspects of their daily lives. Many people suffering from dyscalculia struggle with their daily finances and often get into difficulties with credit cards, loans, and overdrafts. This is because items such as bank statements can be difficult to read, and even what some people may regard as simple calculations, such as working out how much money is left in a bank account or even making sure they get correct change can prove difficult to somebody with dyscalculia. This can result in people overspending or running out of money long before they are due to get paid  and lead to sufferers getting into debt. Of course, help is available for people struggling with their daily finances, but as with the more commonly understood dyslexia, identifying and treating dyscalculia can vastly improve people’s lives. Furthermore, levels of dyscalculia ca vary dramatically so many people suffering from the condition may be unaware of it and may think they are just not very good with money.


As with dyslexia, symptoms of dyscalculia are first noticeable in childhood. Children with dyscalculia often have no problem counting in sequence, but struggle when it comes to basic multiplication so may not be able to count in twos, threes or other multiples. Dyscalculia may also affect the ability to read numbers in different orders, so a child may understand that 2 + 3 = 5, but may fail to realize that 3 + 2 equals the same amount.

Another common symptom of dyscalculia is identifying the relationship with written numbers with their numeral counterparts. Later in life, complex equations and mathematics can become incomprehensible to somebody with dyscalculia, while they may also struggle with weights, measurements, time and other concepts involving numbers. People with dyscalculia may rely heavily on calculators, even for simple arithmetic, and even something like working out the days of the month or planning a future event on a calendar can be difficult as can working out what change to expect in a store.


As with dyslexia, the exact cause of dyscalculia is not completely understood. It is thought that dyscalculia is caused during brain development, resulting in a different structure forming in the areas that are used to process numbers. However, scientists are very interested in the relationship between dyslexia and dyscalculia because the processing of numbers is normally done in a different part of the brain to that which is used to process words, so the reason why half of dyslexic sufferers also have some form of dyscalculia is not really understood.

It is thought it may be due to the factors that cause dyslexia, whether they are genetic or environmental, may act on several areas of the brain at once, making it more likely those with dyslexia will also have dyscalculia.


Not all people with dyslexia will have dyscalculia. In fact, about ten percent of people with dyslexia show a better than average ability to process numbers. However, it is believed that at least half of dyslexia sufferers do struggle with some mathematical recognition so may be also suffering from dyscalculia.

Diagnosis is not easy, and far less research has been done on dyscalculia compared to dyslexia, which means there is no standardized test. However, there are a few simple tests available that teachers and parents can use to see if there is a likelihood dyscalculia may be present. As with dyslexia, a child with dyscalculia will need support and counseling to help overcome and learn to deal with the condition.

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