EdCuration Blog: Learning in Action

Four Signs Your Students May Struggle with Dyscalculia—and How to Support Them

Oct 18, 2021 8:51:29 AM / by EdCuration Staff Writer

IDLS October Blog Article

Although many students struggle and lack confidence in math, students with dyscalculia need additional supports and interventions. Dyscalculia is a specific learning disorder impacting a student’s ability to understand and perform math-based tasks, and it impacts 5-7% of elementary-aged children

Here are four ways to spot which students may be struggling with dyscalculia and how to support them.

Signs of Dyscalculia:

  • Trouble recognizing and remembering numbers

If you notice a student consistently struggling to recognize and remember numbers, this may be a sign that they have dyscalculia. In younger grades, this may look like a student falling behind when connecting number symbols with words (i.e. 2 and two). They may struggle to identify patterns and place things in order and might have a hard time reading a clock or telling time. 

In higher grades, dyscalculia can look like having trouble memorizing longer numbers, such as an address, phone number, or zip code. When playing games that involve keeping score or strategizing with numbers and patterns, the student may opt out or show frustration.

  • Losing track when counting

Students with dyscalculia may struggle when learning to count and may lose track frequently while counting. Counting backwards may also be a challenge. With dyscalculia, it’s common to have trouble with place value as well as mathematical signs and symbols. 

This disorder can extend to tasks such as measuring something for a recipe or stating how much liquid is in a bottle. It can make money-based tasks like calculating change more difficult as well.

  • Noticeable gap between subjects

As with any specific learning disorder, students struggling with dyscalculia will likely perform better in other subjects than they do in math. Because the disorder impacts math-related skills only, it’s common for students with dyscalculia to stay on pace or exceed grade level expectations in subjects like literature and social studies, while they seem to fall behind in math and some math-heavy science subjects. This gap can act as a flag for a specific learning disorder.

  • Struggling with spatial tasks and estimations

Students with dyscalculia often confuse left and right and have a hard time memorizing spatial directions. This can also make it difficult to make sense of charts and graphs. Students with dyscalculia may have a hard time judging distances or estimating the amount of time something might take. 

If you think a student may be struggling due to dyscalculia, you can utilize IDL’s screener in order to better understand what they need. 

How to Help:

Teachers can support students with dyscalculia by accommodating appropriately and providing targeted tools. 

Physical Tools:

  • Calculator

When you’re not directly assessing computation skills, providing a calculator can help students with dyscalculia to stay on pace with the lesson and show what they can really do! Especially in earlier grades, it’s also important to ensure students know how to use the calculator when first offering it as an accommodation.

  • Graph paper

In order to help with spatial reasoning and to assist students in keeping numbers and problems correctly lined up, provide graph paper for students to use to work out their math problems.

  • Timers

Provide easy-to-read digital or sand timers to help students accurately pace themselves throughout each task. 

  • Manipulatives 

Tactile objects like counting chips, blocks, or coins can help students with dyscalculia to keep track and solidify understanding as they solve complex problems. 

Possible Accommodations:

  • Visual aids

Providing graphic organizers and visual representations of problems can help learners work through dyscalculia and experience success on math tasks. It can also be helpful to teach students how to draw their own charts and sketch out helpful diagrams of problems on their own, especially in higher grades.

  • Reference sheets

In order to keep the focus on building math skills instead of memorization, provide fact sheets with formulas and quick tips. 

  • Break down problems

To prevent students from being overwhelmed and help them tackle math tasks in chunks, break down problems and worksheets into steps or encourage learners to cover up the rest of the question as they work through each step. This can help them to keep each important number straight and promote focus. 

Aside from the concrete tools and accommodations above, sprinkle in encouragement as much as possible. Math anxiety is a common struggle for all students and is particularly prevalent in those with dyscalculia. With the right support, all students can experience success in math. What will you do next to make sure your students with dyscalculia are supported to be successful?


Topics: Elementary Education, Secondary Education, Mathematics

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