A teacher's guide to Dyslexia for Numbers

Paul Main

A teacher's guide to Dyslexia for numbers or dyscalculia. What actually is it and what can we do to address it?

What is Dyslexia for numbers?

The National Dyscalculia Association estimates that around 1% of people are affected by this condition.  The NDSA also says that it may be more common than previously thought because many sufferers don't realise they have dyscalculia until later in their lives. There isn't any cure or treatment for dyscalculia but there are ways you can help your child develop strategies to cope with maths difficulties. Many children struggle with understanding mathematical concepts, these abstract ideas can be difficult to grasp. Dyslexia for numbers or dyscalculia is different as it is a learning disability that can often go under the radar for years if not a lifetime. A learning difficulty left undiagnosed at best will harm a child's education. At its worse, it runs the risk of putting off children from learning for life. Arithmetic skills are a fundamental part of life and children who continue to struggle with mental maths might need a different pedagogical approach to their learning. In this brief article we look at how children with dyslexia can be supported to develop the essential mathematical skills needed to engage with the curriculum. We will also explore a new visual strategy that supports children with poor memory. 

What causes dyscalculia? There is no single cause of dyscalculia; however, research suggests that genetics play an important role. Some researchers believe that dyscalculia has both genetic and environmental components. This means that while some individuals inherit genes that predispose them towards developing dyscalculia, other factors such as early experiences contribute to whether someone develops dyscalculia. 

What are the signs of Dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia affects the way a person thinks and processes information, which means that some aspects of mathematics might seem difficult. This could include:

  • Difficulty understanding what number words mean.
  • Misunderstanding how addition works.
  • Not being able to recognise patterns such as multiplication tables.
  • Having difficulty remembering things like times tables. 
  • Understanding that one-to-one correspondence is not always possible between numerical symbols and their corresponding objects or actions. For example, "two" may be used as an adjective for describing something good but also as a noun meaning "twice".
  • Difficulty understanding how many items there are in a group of things.
  • Difficulty counting by ones, tens, hundreds, etc. 

Children who have been diagnosed with dyscalculia may be able to count up to 10 or 12 items but cannot do so accurately. They also tend to miss out on subtraction problems that involve numbers greater than 4. For example, if you ask them what comes after 7 they might say 8 instead of 9 because it sounds like an easier problem for them. This type of error is called "subtractive confusion". 

The term dyscalculia was first used by Dr. David Wechsler who described it as "a disorder that affects arithmetic ability" and defined it as an inability to understand or use numerical concepts. He also noted that this condition could affect reading comprehension and spelling skills. The term has been widely adopted since then and is now commonly used to describe any mathematical disability. 

Number dyslexia is a term sometimes used to describe trouble with math. If you have problems reading numbers, then your problem might be called "number dyslexia." It doesn't mean you can't do math at all. In fact, many people with number dyslexia are very good at math. They just find some things more difficult than others. Number dyslexia usually starts early in life. Children often learn how to count before they start school. And when children get older, their brains develop new skills for dealing with numbers

What causes Dyscalculia? There's no single cause of dyscalculia; rather, it seems to result from several different factors working together. These factors include brain damage, learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other conditions. Some researchers believe that genetics plays a role too. There isn't enough research yet to know whether these factors work independently or interactively. These factors include brain damage, learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other conditions. However, we do know that dyscalculia tends to run in families. That means that if one parent has dyscalculia, chances are high that both parents will have it too. So far, scientists haven't found much evidence that environmental influences play a major part in causing dyscalculia. How common is it? Estimates vary greatly depending on which study you look at. One estimate suggests there may be about 1% of the population affected. Another says up to 5%. A third puts the figure even higher: 10–20% of the general population. Why don't doctors diagnose it? Doctors aren't trained to recognise dyscalculia. Most medical students only take two hours' training in basic maths during their studies. Many doctors think that mathematics is simply another language skill - something everyone learns naturally through experience. Others feel uncomfortable diagnosing mental health issues.

What treatments exist? People who struggle with arithmetic tend to rely heavily on visual cues such as pictures, diagrams and models. This helps them remember what they've learned. But not everyone responds well to visuals. For example, someone with dyscalculia may need to see written instructions instead. Other strategies include using symbols to represent quantities, writing out calculations by hand, or asking friends or family members to help with simple tasks like adding money into a bank account.  

Dyslexia for numbers in Adults

Developmental Dyscalculia, like dyslexia, is one of a family of specific learning difficulties Co-occurrence of learning difficulties appears to be the rule rather than the exception, and it can often occur with one or more conditions such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or ADHD/ADD. The most common co-morbidity in adults with dyscalculia is dysgraphia. Other comorbidities include: dysorthography ; phonological processing problems; reading comprehension deficits; poor spelling skills; visual perception impairments; auditory processing problems; attention deficit hyperactivity disorder /attention deficit disorder ; anxiety disorders; depression; obsessive compulsive disorder; autism spectrum disorders; and other neuropsychiatric disorders. 

Dyslexia for Numbers Treatment and Accommodations

Providing extra time for testing or writing an assignment may help students who struggle with mathematics because it allows them to complete their work without rushing. It also gives teachers another opportunity to observe how well each student performs under pressure. providing additional materials such as calculators or computers.

Some people find using technology helpful when doing arithmetic problems. Computers allow users to type numbers into a calculator-like device instead of having to write out calculations by hand. 

Mastering Math with Dyslexia

Aphasia, nonverbal, involving inability to compute or understand arithmetic facts. Arithmetic disability, including dyscalculia, is not considered an organic mental disorder by most authorities. It may be associated with other disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, reading difficulties, language impairment, autism spectrum disorders, and specific phobias. The following terms have been used interchangeably over the years but are now being replaced by "number dyslexia" :

• Arithmomania - A condition characterized by excessive counting, especially of coins, bills, etc., which leads to hoarding behavior. This was once called arithmania.

• Arithmatica - An abnormal interest in mathematical subjects.

• Arthimania - Excessive love of numbers. 


Other Terminology associated with Number Dyslexia

  • Aphasia, nonverbal, involving inability to compute or understand arithmetic facts.
  • Arithmetic disability, including dyscalculia, is not considered an organic mental disorder by most authorities.
  • It may be associated with other disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder , learning disabilities, reading difficulties, language impairment, autism spectrum disorders, and specific phobias. 


What are the best mathematical manipulative classroom tools for teaching Maths?

There are some very good resources available to develop math concepts, especially for those with number dyslexia. These include:

  • The use of manipulatives, such as cubes, rods, rulers etc., in class activities;
  • Using interactive whiteboards to show examples or explain concepts;
  • Use of calculators/computers with software that can be used by teachers to create lessons on-line;
  • A range of different types of mathematics games ;
  • Different ways of presenting information through graphs, charts, tables etc.;

Learners with dyscalculia could also benefit from using our specially designed learning blocks. The blocks have been used to help children grasp basic maths concepts. Activities include building number lines, exploring place value and creating basic math operations. Educational psychologists and SENDCos are always looking for tools to make number concepts less abstract. Using colour and shape to develop spatial reasoning has become common place in classrooms around the world. Building spatial reasoning skills can help reduce levels of Mathematics anxiety. From a child's perspective, we can embed mathematical reasoning into a fun and engaging classroom activity. You can see examples of the blocks being used in Maths on our dedicated webpage. 

Using learning blocks to promote maths reasoning
Using learning blocks to promote maths reasoning

What other teaching tools are available for children with number dyslexia? 

How does Numicon work?

Numicon is a great tool for visualising math concepts and could be very useful for individuals with dyscalculia. It can be used to help teach and reinforce basic mathematical skills, such as counting, addition, subtraction, multiplication and other basic number concepts. The app also includes an interactive calculator that allows you to practice basic math skills. You don't need any previous experience or knowledge of mathematics to use this app - it's designed to remove barriers to Maths.

What is Singapore Maths?

Singapore maths has been adopted in many schools around the UK. This overarching approach to number involves using concrete and pictorial representation of number. This method helps students understand numbers better by breaking them down into smaller parts and then combining those pieces together again. The country's success in mathematics education was recognised when it won the prestigious International Mathematics and Science Study award for excellence in science teaching last year. The IMSS awards are given annually to countries that have made significant improvements in their performance in math and sciences over time. In this article we look at how Singapore uses evidence-based approaches to improve student learning. 


What are Dienes Blocks used for?

Dienes blocks are another good approach to Maths. Like the broad umbrella term of Singapore Maths, students manipulate blocks in different ways to express numbers and patterns. For example, they may stack two blocks on top of each other to represent 10; place one block under another to show 5+5=10; or add up all the blocks to find out what total amount there is . These manipulatives allow students to explore abstract ideas through physical manipulation. They provide opportunities for students to develop conceptual understanding and problem solving strategies