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Jessalyn Rowlee

TED 494
Exceptionality Paper
Spring 2015

Dyscalculia became a recognized disorder about 15 years ago. Today, the

disorder often gets missed. Awareness of dyscalculia is currently at the same stage as
dyslexia was twenty years ago. Many people are unaware of dyscalculia. Students who
seem to have no understanding of numbers or the functions of numbers need the extra
help to receive a good education. Making educators more aware of dyscalculia will help
the students that may be presenting indicators of dyscalculia. This paper will go on to
discuss what dyscalculia is, how it can be diagnosed, how it presents itself in students,
and what can be done to help students with dyscalculia.

What is Dyscalculia?
Dyscalculia was first recognized in 2001 in the United Kingdom. While it is not
recognized as often as it should be, it is gaining awareness throughout the world.
Dyscalculia is present in about five percent of school-age (ages 6 to 14) children and is
as equally present in males as it is in females. Dyscalculia is not prevalent based on
ethnic or racial backgrounds. It can be associated with neurology or genetics and
factors of the environment. To understand dyscalculia, it may be easiest to compare it to
dyslexia. While dyslexia is an impaired reading ability, dyscalculia is an impaired ability
in recognizing and calculating numbers. It is not uncommon for students with

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dyscalculia to also have dyslexia. Students with dyscalculia have little to no sense of
numbers and even the most basic math operations and problems cause the student to
struggle. Dyscalculia refers to difficulty with any kind of arithmetic functions. A child may
be taught step-by-step procedures to solve a problem one day and seem to have a full
and deep understanding of the topic. The next day, when the student comes back, the
child may not be able to solve a single similar problem. This is one of the greatest
struggles for those with dyscalculia.

How is Dyscalculia diagnosed?

Diagnosis of dyscalculia is recently and more often tested by using the
Dyscalculia Screener. The Dyscalculia Screener is used to test children when it is
believed that they may be at risk of dyscalculia. A student who is believed to be at risk of
having dyscalculia would present the indicators mentioned below, in the next section of
this paper. The parents, teachers, or others that work with the student regularly would
be able to recognize the indicators in students. If indicators are noticed, one would need
to talk with the parents of the child and bring the child in to be screened. This screening
lasts thirty minutes and is administered to an individual student on the computer as a
response time test. The four parts of the screening include: simple reaction time, dot
enumeration, number comparison, and arithmetic achievement test. (A demo of the test
can be accessed at
The simple reaction time section of the test is exactly what it claims. This part of
the dyscalculia screening tests how quickly a student is able to see a dot on the screen
and respond by pushing a key. Students are given directions about which keys they are

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to use and which hand they are to hit the keys with. They are tested on each of their
The next part of the test is dot enumeration. For this part, the computer prompts
the student with two circles on the screen. One circle contains a random number of dots
and the other circle gives the student a number. The student is asked to select whether
the number of dots inside the circle is equal to the number being shown in the other
circle. The keyboard is set so that students can select keys on the right side to answer
yes and the keys on the left to answer no.
The number comparison part of the test is also set up with two circles. For
number comparison each of the circles contains a number (always different from each
other). The student is to select which of the numbers is larger than the other. During the
test the numbers will be varied in size and placement within the circles. This is not to
trick the students, but to see if they are looking at the value of the numbers. Students
would choose a key from the right side of the keyboard if the number on the right was
larger in value, or a key from the left side of the keyboard if the number on the left had
the larger value.
The last section of the test is about arithmetic achievement. Students are given
either an addition or multiplication problem that has been solved. All the student is
asked to do is to select yes if the answer is correct, and no if the answer is not
correct. This is done using the same keyboard controls as in part two of the test.
The Dyscalculia Screener provides results that give the students strengths and
weaknesses for each of the four tests. The results of the screener have been
standardized, so they can be expected to be accurate and reliable. This screener helps

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to draw a line between the students who are poor in math and the students who have
difficulties because of dyscalculia. Results from the Dyscalculia Digital Screener are
online and immediate. The digital version of the screener can be accessed from
anywhere with good internet connection and is recommended when it will be used on
multiple computers for large groups of students.

How is Dyscalculia presented in students?

A student may present dyscalculia in themselves in more ways than one.
Indicators are likely to presented differently for each individual. The following is a list of
indicators that may be present in students who have dyscalculia:
Students with dyscalculia will process maths activities much slower than students
without dyscalculia.
A student that has dyscalculia will not have even the slightest feel for numbers.
They do not have the number sense that many students will have after spending
time learning various maths topics. This could include having difficulty reading or
recalling numbers even if the student is able to read, write, speak, and remember
printed words.
These students are not able to give an estimation of an amount. Given a domino
that would be quickly recognized by students without dyscalculia, the student with
dyscalculia would struggle to respond with the number of dots. The student would
have to count each individual dot before they give an answer, no matter how small
the quantity. Seeing an amount without having to count each part individually is
also known as subitise (Bird, 5).

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The students are not able to determine whether or not an answer is reasonable
when given an answer to some math problem. For example, a student should be
able to understand that 11x11 is going to be a little more than 100. A student with
dyscalculia would not necessarily recognize this to be true. They do not have the
sense of numbers that would allow them to consider that 10x10=100 and therefore
11x11 would be a bit larger than that.
Memory weakness is also a problem for those who have dyscalculia. If these
students were asked to recall times tables, formulas, and procedures, they would
not see it as an easy or even possible task. Memorization for these students is
tricky because the information they are able to recall one day may not be possible
to recall the following day.
Students with dyscalculia often have problems with directions (deciphering left
from right), counting or understanding amounts of money, and telling time at the
same time as many of their peers.
Students with dyscalculia, like students with dyslexia, often struggle to practice
good time management skills (Bird, 5). Students will struggle to predict how long
an assignment is going to take them and they are often running behind.
The students often have a very poor understanding of various mathematical
procedures. The mathematical procedures can be as basic as borrowing or
carrying when completing a subtraction or addition problem (Butterworth, 67), and
yet students will still struggle.
Reliance on lower-level solving strategies is something that students with
dyscalculia struggle with. These strategies include completing basic operations

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(adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing) using their fingers or drawing a picture.
Drawing pictures is a strategy that is often encouraged in math (Posamentier,
154), but in this case it is an immature strategy used to solve problems.
These are many of the ways that dyscalculia may be noticed in children. Some of
the indicators may be represented stronger than others, and each of these indicators is
not required to say that a child has dyscalculia.

What strategies can be used to help students with Dyscalculia?

A variety of strategies exist that can be used to help students with dyscalculia. In
order for any of these strategies to be helpful, keep in mind that each student is unique
and it is important to recognize the different needs of each individual. Also, if a student
seems to have dyscalculia, it is important to address and identify the situation. If the
situation is overlooked, the student will continue to struggle. As soon as dyscalculia is
addressed, try using these methods in order to help the student learn how to get around
their dyscalculia struggles. Each student will present different skills or make different
types of errors so it would not be appropriate to use the same type of intervention for all
First, provide the student with a designated workplace. Be sure that the student
is in an area where they are able to concentrate on the task at hand. This means
eliminating as many distractions as possible. Also, be sure that the student has all the
materials that he or she needs. Get the student any books, papers, pencils, and tools
that he or she may need beforehand so that interruptions are kept to a minimum.

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Next it is important that the student feels organized. Students with dyscalculia
need to be organized so that they are able to clearly see the work they are doing. If the
students are able to see the work for each problem set out clearly, they are able to keep
with the procedure of the problem and stay on task. It may be helpful to use graph
paper if the student has difficulty with organization on a regular piece of paper. While
helping to keep the students paper organized, also remember to use the smallest steps
possible for each problem. The steps will need to be repeated and rehearsed multiple
times before the student will feel comfortable enough to move on to the next step.
Do not require the students with dyscalculia to memorize formulas, times tables,
or other maths concepts that these students would struggle with. Students will continue
to struggle trying to memorize the various concepts that their peers are working to
memorize. The working memory is one of the biggest things a student with dyscalculia
struggles with. It would be encouraging to a student with dyscalculia knowing that they
are able to use a calculator for basic operations. For example, by taking the calculator
away additional stress is put on that student to memorize times tables, which leaves the
student concentrating less on the larger topic at hand. A calculator is something that
students will almost always have available to them with the way that technology is
advancing. It does not make sense to take something away that they will be able to rely
on in the future.
Use manipulative materials to help students gain a better understanding. These
materials will be more fun for students to learn with. The materials will also allow for the
students to see reasoning for problems through experimentation and setting up
problems in a more visual way.

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Students with dyscalculia often have a difficult time recognizing patterns,
specifically dot patterns which can be found on dice or dominoes. Play games with
dominoes or dice in order to get students more used to their numbers. Take time to
point out the patterns and have a discussion about the various patterns on dice and
dominoes. Look for similarities in the dice and dominoes. For example, look for the
patterns and sets of twos and threes. Hopefully, experience with these materials will
help students to become more comfortable with them and recognize the patterns of
dots. This will be helpful in identifying amounts in future situations.
Students with dyscalculia are often caught counting by ones or using fingers
when solving problems. Try to keep them away from counting. When students spend
too much time and effort on counting they forget what the problem was by the time they
get an answer, and they are unable to check their answer to be sure that it is correct or
even makes sense.
Make learning fun! Students that are forced to sit down and work on an
assignment or worksheet are going to struggle to have a desire to learn. The
carelessness will transfer into what they are learning. Make learning fun by creating
games and activities for students to play. A game is much more appealing to any
student than completing a worksheet. Ronit Bird gives about 200 activities and 40
games for students with dyscalculia in her book, The Dyscalculia Toolkit: Supporting
Learning Difficulties in Maths. These games and activities encourage learning and
supports those students who have difficulties with numbers. While this book is merely a
starting place, it is a great tool for beginning to create activities for students with

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Keep written work to a minimum when students are beginning to learn a concept
or idea. It is best for the students to really familiarize themselves with what they are
doing before they think about writing it down. Give the students time to work with
manipulative materials or play the games that you have designed to help them create a
solid foundation of learning.

In conclusion, students with dyscalculia need more help. They need one-on-one
time with teachers, parents, or tutors and they need time to get a better understanding
of the topic. Hands-on activities and games will help these students in a positive way.
This paper has helped to define dyscalculia, how it is diagnosed, how it presents itself in
students, and what can be done to help the students who are struggling with
dyscalculia. Becoming more aware of dyscalculia will allow teachers to create lessons
or activities specifically for those who may be struggling with dyscalculia.

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Works Cited
Bird, R. (2013). Dyscalculia toolkit: Supporting learning difficulties in maths (2nd ed.)
Los Angeles, CA: Sage.
Bird, R. (2013). Ronit Birds top ten tips for parents of dyscalculic children. Retrieved
Butterworth, B. (2012). Dyscalculia Screener. GL Assessment
Butterworth, B. & Reigosa, V. (2009). Information processing deficits in dyscalculia. In
D. B. Berch & M. M.M. Mazzocco (Eds.), Why is math so hard for some children?
The nature and origins of mathematical learning difficulties and disabilities
(65-81). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Cangz, B., Altun, A., Olkun, S., & Kaar, F. (2013). Computer based screening
dyscalculia: Cognitive and neuropsychological correlates. The turkish online
journal of educational technology (12)3.
Posamentier, A. S. & Smith, B. S. (2015). The role of problem solving. In Teaching
secondary mathematics: Techniques and enrichment units (144-179). Boston,
MA: Pearson.
Riccio, C. (2007). Dyscalculia. In C. Reynolds and E. Feltcher-Janzen (Eds.),
Encyclopedia of special education: A reference for the education of children,
adolescents, and adults with disabilities and other exceptional individuals.
Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.