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  • Writer's pictureKathy Cousineau

Understanding Dyscalculia: Characteristics and Signs of a Specific Learning Disability in Math

Updated: May 7

elementary aged boy confused about math because of SLD in math and dyscalculia

A Specific Learning Disability in Math (or Dyscalculia) is a learning difference that makes it hard for someone to understand and work with numbers. People with SLD in Math might struggle to add or subtract numbers, remember multiplication tables, understand fractions, handle money, or understand time. It can make math class feel challenging and frustrating. 

Characteristics of SLD in Math

& Dyscalculia Checklist

1. Difficulty Understanding Numbers:

  • Struggles to understand what numbers mean.

  • Finds it hard to count or remember number sequences.

Example: Sarah struggles to understand the difference between "3" and "30" when reading them aloud or writing them down. She may not know that 30 is more than 3.

2. Trouble with Basic Math Operations:

  • Difficulty adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing.

  • Makes frequent mistakes in math calculations.

  • Counts on fingers at an age where this would be unexpected.

Example: John often makes mistakes when adding or subtracting numbers, such as getting the answer wrong when calculating 7 - 4. 

3. Trouble Grasping Math Concepts:

  • Finds it hard to understand mathematical concepts like fractions, decimals, or percentages.

Example: Michael struggles to understand fractions, finding it hard to grasp the concept that 1/2 is the same as 0.5 or that 1/4 is smaller than 1/2.

4. Difficulty with Math Symbols and Terms:

  • Confusion with math symbols like +, -, x, ÷.

  • Struggles with understanding math terms like "greater than" or "less than."

Example: Alex frequently confuses the plus (+) and minus (-) symbols, sometimes adding numbers when he's supposed to subtract.

5. Challenges with Learning Math Facts:

  • Finds it hard to memorize multiplication tables or other basic math facts.

Example: David finds it challenging to memorize multiplication tables, often forgetting the answers to basic multiplication problems like 6 x 7.

6. Struggles with Word Problems:

  • Finds it hard to understand and solve word problems, even if they understand the math operations involved.  Example: Susan finds it hard to figure out how many apples Sally has left if she had 8 apples and gave away 3.

7. Difficulty Estimating or Approximating:

  • Finds it hard to estimate quantities or sizes.

Example: Lily has trouble estimating how many objects are in a group without counting them one by one, even if there are only a few.

8. Poor Sense of Time:

  • Difficulty understanding the concept of time.

  • Struggles to read clocks or understand schedules.

Example: Emily has trouble reading analog clocks and often doesn't understand how long a certain period of time, like 15 minutes, actually is.

9. Challenges with Spatial Awareness:

  • Difficulty understanding spatial relationships, like left and right.

  • Struggles with geometry or visualizing shapes.

Example: Emma has difficulty understanding directions like "turn left" or "go right," often getting confused about which way to go.

10. Trouble Organizing Math Work:

  • Has difficulty organizing math problems on paper or keeping track of steps in multi-step problems.

Example: Michael has messy and disorganized math assignments with 

jumbled numbers and calculations that are hard to follow.

11. Slow Math Processing Speed:

  • Takes longer than peers to complete math assignments or tests, even when trying their best.

Example: Alex takes much longer than his classmates to complete math tests, even though he studies and tries his best.

12. Inconsistent Math Skills:

  • Shows uneven math skills, excelling in some areas while struggling in others.

Example: Jason performs well in arithmetic but struggles with understanding geometry concepts like angles and shapes.

13. Avoidance of Math-related Activities:

  • Dislikes or avoids activities that involve math, like counting money or measuring.

Example: Thomas avoids participating in math games or activities in class, often finding excuses to skip or delay them.

These are just a few examples of the characteristics someone with SLD in Math might experience. It's important to remember that SLD in Math can vary from person to person, and individuals may experience a combination of these characteristics to differing degrees. 

If you recognize several of these signs in your child or yourself, it could be indicative of Specific Learning Disability in Math (Dyscalculia). 

Don't hesitate to reach out for support and guidance from professionals who specialize in assisting individuals with Dyscalculia. 


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