What Are Dyscalculia And Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a word we are very familiar with, but dyscalculia is less well known. So let’s have a quick look at what the words mean and whether they might be relevant to your child’s maths education.


This tricky word comes from the Greek, meaning ‘difficulty with words’. I guess that is why it is so tricky to spell!

In the many books and writings about dyslexia it appears to be various things, but, put simply, it is a condition that affects a person’s ability to process language. It is characterised by difficulties with working memory, processing speed and phonological processing.

Dyslexia shows itself in children in several ways

  • Hesitant reading
  • Misreading, even very simple words, making understanding of sentences difficult
  • Sequencing difficulties
  • Erratic spelling, often reversing pairs of letters

They may also find organising their thoughts tricky and not be able to manage their time efficiently.

Dyslexia and Mathematics

Obviously, anyone who has difficulties with language skills may well have similar difficulties with the language of mathematics. The problem will lie less with maths itself than with sequencing, memory of facts and use of symbols. These are all crucial to success in maths.

Sequencing problems can lead to incorrect answers, although the maths might have been completed correctly, for example, the sum 35 + 67 might be written down as 53 + 67, with no hope of reaching the correct answer.

Dyslexic learners often find ‘learning by heart’ extremely difficult and failure with this leads to a lack of self belief and failure in maths as a whole. They also find giving a rapid response to a mental arithmetic question difficult, so that they appear slower than their peers, which can be embarrassing in the classroom. These problems are often known as ‘specific learning difficulties’ as the development of these skills do not match with other mental processes such as problem solving and creativity.


An even more difficult word to spell, but a child with dyscalculia would probably have no problem spelling it!

Dyscalculia is a condition which makes it difficult to acquire arithmetical skills. Children with this condition just ‘don’t get numbers’. Even if they use a correct method and arrive at the correct answer there is little real understanding, they have mechanically gone through a process.

Children can often be quite gifted in other areas of the curriculum, have high IQs, read and write well and be hard workers, but maths just overwhelms them, yet eludes them.

Dyscalculia shows itself in a number of ways

  • Difficulty with the concept of time and direction
  • Poor memory for the layout of things, including a clock face, schedules etc…
  • Inability to keep in turn when playing a game like cards; losing track of whose turn it is
  • Inability to remember mechanical processes; able to carry out a written subtraction one day, but not the next
  • Problems with using money, working out change etc…

Again, asking a child with these problems to answer a mental arithmetic question in the classroom can lead to immense loss of confidence.

As we get older some of these problems associated with both dyslexia and dyscalculia seem to develop in even the brightest mathematical minds!

Make a difference

Having labelled a child with either of these terms is of no help in itself, it is what we do as teachers and parents that can make all the difference. Dyscalculia and dyslexia can occur independently of each other, or together, but dealing with either will be fundamentally the same. The next article will look more closely at some of the problems that occur with understanding our number system and how URBrainy can help from an early age.

Read More: Our Number System And Dyslexic And Dyscalculia

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