What is dyscalculia

In the world of learning difficulties, dyscalculia is a term that people are starting to hear more often lately, however there is still a lot of confusion about what it actually is, what it means for those affected and how it is actually impacting their learning and daily lives.

Dyscalculia is a diagnosable learning disability that impacts a person’s ability to acquire arithmetic skills, basic number concepts, math facts and processes. It is often referred to as the maths version of dyslexia. It is important to note that dyscalculia is not just about being “bad at maths” but rather a condition that people are born with that will impact their entire lives.


There can be many reasons a person has difficulty with maths such as a weakness in working memory, inappropriate teaching methods, socio-economic factors and more, but these do not equate to dyscalculia. Dyscalculia stems from a difficulty in processing basic numeracy, which then impacts a variety of numeracy based elements that change and evolve as a person ages.


The learning of maths is cumulative, meaning that later concepts are built from foundation skills, and without that foundation it's like asking someone to build a roof without first putting up walls. As with most learning difficulties, early intervention is always the best option, but ultimately it comes back to figuring out the correct methods to build those foundation skills that will work for the individual, and this can be done at any age.


There is no one method that will work for everyone. The key to intervention is determining the appropriate strategies for an individual that make sense with how their brain works. This can sometimes involve some trial and error, but ideally a comprehensive assessment will be able to determine the types of methods and strategies that will work for a person.


Whilst there is still a lot of research being done into dyscalculia, some things we do know are the impacts it can have on individuals. For younger individuals this can include:

  • Low self-esteem and confidence

  • Social and emotional difficulties

  • Behavioural issues

  • Underachievement in other subjects

  • Limited school participation or even disengagement

For older individuals with dyscalculia that do not receive appropriate intervention, research shows a number of possible consequences such as:

  • Mental health difficulties

  • Less occupational prospects

  • Lower earning capacities

  • Higher rates of unemployment

Fortunately we are now at a stage where the diagnosis and intervention of dyscalculia is becoming more common, more accessible and more understood. Intervention at any stage will always be beneficial, particularly early on so that individuals can learn the methods that work for them and carry them through the rest of their learning, employment and life.


For more information on dyscalculia interventions ask your Raise the Bar Psychologist.

This article was created using the following resource:

  • Dr Sarah Gray, Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne, Dyscalculia: Insights from Cognitive Neuroscience 2021APS College of Educational and Developmental Psychologists, Virtual Conference