Symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment

Difficulty with math concepts can be a sign of dyscalculia, a learning disability that’s most easily treated in childhood.

Some learning disabilities are better known than others and therefore diagnosed earlier. A less talked about learning disability called dyscalculia occurs when someone has trouble with basic mathematical concepts.

Children and adults with learning disabilities have the same intellectual capacity as their peers who do not have learning disabilities. They can learn; they just learn differently. About 1 in 5 children in the United States has a learning or attention disability.

Dyscalculia develops during childhood and is best treated the earlier it is detected. But sometimes it’s not diagnosed until adulthood.

Either way, there are treatments and resources available that help people with dyscalculia cope and even overcome the condition.

Dyscalculia is a learning disability where an individual has difficulty performing basic calculations. This includes:

  • account
  • recognize numerical patterns
  • recall math facts

It can affect men and women of all ages. A German study noted that 3% to 7% children, adolescents and adults are diagnosed with dyscalculia.

Dyscalculia doesn’t just refer to making mistakes in calculations or inverting numbers. People with the condition have difficulty understanding the basic concepts on which all math is based, such as three of something being greater than two.

This learning disability can not only make it difficult to succeed in an academic environment, but it can also impact daily life.

A major sign of a specific learning disability like dyscalculia is average or high performance in other subjects, such as reading, but very low grades in math classes.

Here are several specific signs of dyscalculia that you can look for:

  • difficulty processing numbers and measuring quantities, starting in preschool
  • difficulty understanding the association between a number (e.g. 3) and the quantity it represents (e.g. 3 carrots)
  • difficulty reading the time on a clock
  • difficulty counting, comparing numbers or amounts
  • challenges with basic math calculations
  • use of fingers to count past the appropriate age and difficulty counting backwards
  • difficulty recognizing mathematical symbols and what calculation they refer to

Many of these symptoms point to a fundamental lack of understanding of mathematical concepts. People with dyscalculia may have difficulty remembering concepts and when and how to apply them.

Symptoms in adults with dyscalculia are different from those in children. The condition can be marked by difficulty:

  • manage finances
  • perform simple monetary calculations
  • read tables and graphs
  • grasp spatial awareness

This condition can lead to feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.

In many cases, dyscalculia is an inherited condition. Genetics plays a major role in brain development and cognitive abilities.

“Dyscalculia is likely due to a combination of genetics and neurological development. For example, learning disabilities are often hereditary and a child with dyscalculia likely has a first-generation parent with the condition,” says Nicole Arzt, LMFT, and consultant to Kim Saeed “That said, there isn’t a lot of research on what specifically causes the disease.”

Specifically, these are unformed neural pathways or the left hemisphere of the brain, the side that controls numerical tasks and mathematical processing, does not work properly.

Some researchers believe that dyscalculia is the result of early math education explaining concepts only as rules to follow and not delving into the logic behind them.

A 2013 study reports a link between math problems and other conditions, including:

the The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) defines dyscalculia as a “specific learning disability with impairment in mathematics.” People may also call it a learning disability or a learning disability.

Children are usually diagnosed at the end of primary school, when lessons are rigorous enough to make specific challenges more evident. Primary physicians, learning specialists, and psychologists can be part of a child diagnostic team.

A diagnosis of dyscalculia involves the analysis of mathematical performance using standardized tests and a clinical examination. On standardized tests designed for elementary school age, children with dyscalculia typically score below grade level.

In 5-year-old children, there are certain skills (specifically, the understanding of quantity and the ability to compare numbers and quantities, and to count) that can predict their ability to calculate and perform numerical tasks. Working memory can also predict their computational ability.

Adults will usually be diagnosed by a treating physician and a psychologist.

Because dyscalculia is developmental, early interventions are most effective. You don’t age from a learning disability.

Since dyscalculia affects everyone differently, all dyscalculia treatment methods should be taken on a case-by-case basis. Specific areas of low math performance should be targeted and the method of intervention can be designed accordingly.

After reviewing the child’s skill level and making the diagnosis, teachers can create an environment more suited to the child’s needs. This includes eliminating distractions that might interfere with the learning process. In some cases, a child will receive individual instruction during school hours and an after school tutor.

“People can benefit from special accommodations like supportive technology or counting tools,” says Artz. “Therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can promote relaxation and confidence, which can also help people with dyscalculia. Adults may benefit from assistive technology or math-specific tutoring.

While children with untreated dyscalculia will try to adapt to cope with their math difficulties, childhood developmental disabilities can continue to have an impact into adulthood.

An adult with dyscalculia who has difficulty performing day-to-day numerical tasks may also experience anxiety and depression. Treatment plans often include therapy to improve mental health.

There is little research to show the effectiveness of treating dyscalculia in adults, but supporting coping strategies can still improve quality of life. The awareness that a diagnosis alone brings can boost adults’ self-esteem.

Dyscalculia is a specific learning disability that makes it difficult to understand mathematical concepts. This in no way reflects the intelligence of a child or an adult.

Symptoms include difficulty measuring quantities, counting, and making connections between numbers and the quantity they represent. The condition is treatable with early diagnosis.

Most schools are required to support children with dyscalculia with an adapted classroom designed to meet their developmental needs or an adapted curriculum. A private tutor and a psychologist can also help a child overcome this learning disability.

About Antoine L. Cassell

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