Dyscalculia: Problems With Learning Mathematics?

Updated on February 5, 2019
AdeleCosgroveBray profile image

Adele Cosgrove-Bray is a writer, poet, and artist who lives on the Wirral peninsula in England.

Bad at Arithmetic?

Did you have serious problems trying to learn basic maths in school, or do you know of a child who is experiencing this?

Have you heard of dyscalculia?

The videos here go a long way to describing and offering some help for this condition, which is akin to the much more widely known dyslexia. Whereas a dyslexic has word blindness - to over-simplify the condition - a dyscalculic person has number blindness.

Number Blindness

This means that anything requiring numbers, such as mental arithmetic, remembering phone numbers, using a calculator or understanding the mechanics of mathematics is incredibly difficult. If a child, for example, is doing fine on other subjects like English, History, Art, Geography or Biology, but struggles badly with scientific equations or the times-table, then there is a possibility that dyscalculia may lie at the root of the problem.

As well as having obvious numerical problems, a dyscalculic may also possess a poor sense of direction, be a poor judge of distance or speed, and have trouble visulalising the quantity of anything.

Don't rush to self-diagnose or to diagnose your own child - this condition needs to be properly diagnosed by an expert, of course.

Problems in school can also be caused by poor teaching, classroom distractions, bullying, weak eyesight, hearing problems, or simply by being bored. All these possibilities need to be carefully considered and investigated.

Video by the National Center for Learning Disabilities

My Experience of Dyscalculia.

As a junior school pupil, I dreaded maths lessons. Those stupid little scratches on the blackboard, usually called numbers, made no sense. I knew that in some way they were supposed to be related to each other and to symbolise something, but the code to crack this remained a total mystery.

We pupils would be handed lists of problems to solve, which involved identifying the wrong number in a sequence. Or we'd have to state which number came next in the sequence, or fill in the missing numbers within the sequence. Ha! Not a chance. I'd sit gloomily staring at this bewildering mess of scratchy shapes and give up. I knew I could try for eternity and still never figure it out.

Can't Remember Numbers

Trying to memorise multiplication tables was hopeless. The tens were easy, as you just stuck a zero on the end of everything. The elevens were easy up until you had to do more than just double the number, as in 2x11=22. After endless sleepless nights I managed to memorise some of the six times table, but I'd have to silently chant the entire thing in order to arrive at the multiplication that I needed.

As for mental arithmetic, forget it. My brain responded with a total blank.

But I was good at English and Art, and other non-numerical subjects. My reading skills were so in advance of my age that the headmaster was impressed. "Do you like school?" he said. "Are you bored?" We weren't allowed to admit to being bored at home, not unless we wanted to risk being given a pile of chores and an even heavier burden of ear-ache, and so I politely lied and replied that I enjoyed school. Either I was a good liar or he wasn't sufficiently interested to discern the truth.

Yes, I was bored at school - bored silly every single day. I'd listen to the teacher droning on about cavemen hunting dinosaurs and similar nonsense, and to escape from the monotony I'd gaze out of the window and daydream, and go off into fantasy worlds of my own creation. Maybe this is how I became a writer.

New School

Fortunately, my parents relocated to another area and my new junior school was much better, and the teachers more pro-active. That I struggled with maths was quickly noticed, and even though no mention of dyscalculia was ever made my teacher, a lovely lady named Miss Bingham, isolated part of the problem - that of a difficulty in understanding quantity. She came up with the solution of giving me small toy building bricks as to use for counting. I'd lay these out and move them around from one pile to another, then add up the result. For example, if the calculation was 3x8 I would line up three rows of eight toy bricks then add them all together.

Yet at the same time I was helping the teacher coach other kids in my class at reading.

Early Warning Signs to Look Out For

Numerical Dyslexia

It wasn't until my second year of high school that the phrase "numerical dyslexia" was mentioned, and even then nothing was done about it. I struggled on, and figured out a way of working with numbers by visualising the dots from dice and adding, or subtracting, these one by one. If the column of figures was more than three deep, I'd literally draw the dots onto the paper I was working things out on. It's a method I still use. It's slow but accurate.

Calculators! You might think the advent of the pocket calculator would have made things easier. No it doesn't. I press the wrong buttons without meaning to. Twos turn into sevens, threes turn into eights, and nines go haywire on occasion. I also suspect I somehow zap the electronic circuits and make calculators have nervous breakdowns...but that can't be true, can it?!!

I have the same effect on cash registers. One time, in work, I rang-up the sale of two £5 mugs and got something like £98.67 as the total. Now that's what I call inflation.

Sugested Solution

Share Your Opinion!

Had You Heard of Dyscalculia Before?

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© 2010 Adele Cosgrove-Bray


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    • AdeleCosgroveBray profile imageAUTHOR

      Adele Cosgrove-Bray 

      2 weeks ago from Wirral, Cheshire, England.

      Thank you for your comment.

    • profile image

      Sharon Roberts 

      2 weeks ago


      I have and my children ha e struggled with maths but have found ways to cope once the exams was out the way a lot of quesstimating im a teaching assistant and have been told that it’s in my head it’s a case of can’t do won’t do I’m into a lot of visual maths when I can find it I work at secondary

    • AdeleCosgroveBray profile imageAUTHOR

      Adele Cosgrove-Bray 

      17 months ago from Wirral, Cheshire, England.

      You're most welcome, Jesse. One-to-one tuition can help hugely, if you can find a sympathetic tutor to work with.

    • profile image


      17 months ago

      I have a son with the above mentioned disability and I’m hoping to learn more about it and help him cope with it Thankyou for such a knowledgeable input

    • AdeleCosgroveBray profile imageAUTHOR

      Adele Cosgrove-Bray 

      10 years ago from Wirral, Cheshire, England.

      You're most welcome.

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      10 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      Never heard this term! Great Hub! I learned something new! Thank you!

    • AdeleCosgroveBray profile imageAUTHOR

      Adele Cosgrove-Bray 

      10 years ago from Wirral, Cheshire, England.

      My school reports often said I could do much better if only teachers could hold my interest. Look at that admission another way, and the teachers admitted their classes were boring!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Like Dyslexia it can run in families. How many of my junior school reports say, 'must improve handwriting'? Some of it was to hide the fact that I wasn’t a ‘lazy speller’ I could not spell. I still can't. I was in college, the second time there, doing OC A units when the tutor said, 'what you need is a phonetic dictionary'.

      In junior school we learnt the times tables parrot fashion; I can crawl through the 3x table, on the fourth I count on fingers, I know the 5th, on the 6th I revert to fingers ...

      In college, the first time round, I confused my bookkeeping tutor because, while I knew exactly where to put each and every entry, I just couldn't get the accounts to add up. Excel hadn't been invented then.

      How many hours of geography, history, et al, did I while away gazing out of the window or in my own world having read and understood the text book section the teacher was talking about while he was still explaining the first page? But come to English, especially comprehension, poetry is still an all out war between the words and myself, even in an anonymous challenge; everyone knew which piece I’d written.

      I didn't know you were struggling, sorry, but I doubt I could have helped and then such discussions weren't encouraged.

    • AdeleCosgroveBray profile imageAUTHOR

      Adele Cosgrove-Bray 

      10 years ago from Wirral, Cheshire, England.

      I'm glad you both found this page useful.

    • nadp profile image


      10 years ago from WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA

      This was really interesting. It explains a lot of what I've encountered as a math teacher. Thanks!

    • The Rope profile image

      The Rope 

      10 years ago from SE US

      Never heard of this, thanks for bringing it to my attention!


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