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by Dr. Becky Spelman on 12/09/2019

What is Dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia is similar to the better-known condition of dyslexia but, rather than involving having difficulty reading, it means that the person involved struggles to understand numbers and how to use them, including doing mathematics and learning about mathematics.

Having dyscalculia does not imply anything about the intelligence of the person in question. People with a wide range of intellectual abilities can suffer from the condition, with up to 6% of the population (involving similar numbers of men and women) showing symptoms. However, it does sometimes occur together with other learning disabilities and/or physical health conditions, including dyslexia and ADHD. Sometimes, in a minority of cases, it can result from a brain injury, but in most cases we simply do not know why some people have dyscalculia.

 Although some symptoms of dyscalculia can be seen in very young children, it is usually diagnosed in older children or even in adults, when they are observed having difficulty with mathematics and activities that involve the application of mathematics. As well as the more obvious example of doing mathematics per se, people with dyscalculia often struggle with dance, which involves motor sequencing, and can find it more difficult than average to acquire skills such as driving, which calls for the good spatial awareness that they often lack.

Implications of not properly treating Dyscalculia?

Many children develop coping mechanisms that help them to manage their dyscalculia, with varying degrees of success, but in many others the condition is still very evident in adulthood. Without help and treatment, it can have a serious impact on their lives.  Adults with dyscalculia can have problems not only with mathematics specifically, but with recognising when they have made an error involving numbers, with controlling their finances, and with important adult skills such as driving. All of this can have a negative impact on their mood and can even contribute to depression.They can experience profound feelings of anxiety and frustration when they fail at tasks that they feel they should be able to do. Like people with dyslexia (which can be comorbid with dyscalculia) they may worry that they are lacking in intelligence.

If someone suspects that they may have dyscalculia, the most important thing is to confirm this with an accurate diagnosis. A trained psychologist can assess the person in question to ascertain if this is indeed the problem.

Because most adults with dyscalculia have to learn how to live with the condition, the focus is usually on helping them to manage it such that its impact on their lives is minimised. Some accommodations can include using a calculator and tools that can assist with time-management. Many people with dyscalculia find it much easier to understand mathematical data when it is presented to them in a visual way. This may mean that if they can view data as a bar-chart or pie-chart, for example, it is easier for them to understand and apply. It is also important to communicate to their colleagues and/or employer that they have dyscalculia and may occasionally need to ask for extra time or support.

As with all learning disabilities, anxiety and stress make dyscalculia worse, both in terms of how the symptoms are expressed, and of the general impact of the condition on the person’s life. For many, being able to give a name to something that has been impacting negatively on their life for years is therapeutic, in and of itself. Many people experience a profound sense of relief when the source of their difficulties has been identified, and this makes it easier for them to accept the need to make special accommodation in their lives and to occasionally reach out for support.

Who can I speak to further about Dyscalculia assessments in London?

If you would like to talk to someone about Dyscalculia assessments, please get in touch with us at the Private Therapy Clinic by telephone at: 020 3887 1738 or by email at: info@privatetherapyclinic.com.

 References:

  • Butterworth, B. (2005). Developmental dyscalculia. In J. I. D., Campbell (Ed.), Handbook of mathematical cognition (pp. 455–467). Hove, UK: Psychology Press.
  • Butterworth, B (2010). “Foundational numerical capacities and the origins of dyscalculia”. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 14(12): 534–541.
  • Mussolin, C.; Mejias, S.; Noël, M. P. (2010). “Symbolic and nonsymbolic number comparison in children with and without dyscalculia”. Cognition. 115 (1): 10–25.