Specific learning disorder (SLD) with impairment in Mathematics

Difficulties in Mathematics are also known as Dyscalculia. These terms will be used interchangeably in the texts within this site.  

Dyscalculia is an alternative term used to refer to a pattern of difficulties characterised by problems processing numerical information, learning arithmetic facts, and performing accurate or fluent calculations. The first neuropsychological definition of developmental dyscalculia was put forward by the researcher Kosc (1974), who defined it as a difficulty in mathematical performance resulting from impairment to those parts of the brain that are involved in mathematical processing, without a concurrent impairment in general mental function. This definition is the same definition that researchers in cognitive neuroscience use today when searching for the causes and features of dyscalculia. Note that here dyscalculia refers to what is strictly called “developmental dyscalculia”. There is another type of dyscalculia called “acquired dyscalculia” which is acquired (usually in adults) as a result of brain injury or stroke.

Diagnostic criteria – DSM 5 (quoted from the section on Specific Learning Disorders)

  1. Difficulties mastering number sense, number facts, or calculations (e.g. has poor understanding of numbers, their magnitude and relationships; counts on fingers to add single digit numbers instead of recalling eh math fact as peers do; gets lost in the midst of arithmetic computations and may switch procedures.
  2. Difficulties with mastering mathematical reasoning (e.g. has severe difficulty applying mathematical concepts, facts or procedures to solve quantitative problems).

Specific learning disorder (SLD) with impairment in mathematics:

  • Number sense
  • Memorization of arithmetic facts
  • Accurate or fluent calculation
  • Accurate maths reasoning

Note: if a child is low functioning i.e. has low intellectual ability, one cannot diagnose them with dyscalculia. His or her maths skills must be significantly below their intelligence (as tested by a standardised IQ test).

Prevalence of Dyscalculia

The percentage of the population with developmental dyscalculia is estimated to be between 3-6 percent, or one in twenty individuals [2-4]. This is a similar percentage to that for dyslexia, and yet dyscalculia is very understudied and under-resourced in comparison. Unlike some other learning disabilities, dyscalculia is as likely to affect girls as boys (Sourced from www.aboutdyscalculiamain.html)

How is dyscalculia diagnosed?

Dyscalculia can be difficult to diagnose because there can be several other factors part from neurological dysfunction. For example, a child who has had poor instruction will perform poorly on a standardised / graded test. Other reasons include attention difficulties, lack of motivation, anxiety disorders or low cognitive functioning.

Before it is diagnosed, it is important to look at the early warning signs. These can be found on the next page.

What causes dyscalculia?

Researchers don’t know exactly what causes dyscalculia. But they’ve identified certain factors that indicate it’s a brain-based condition.

Here are some of the possible causes of dyscalculia:

  • Genes and heredity: Studies of dyscalculia show it’s more common in some families. Researchers have found that a child with dyscalculia often has a parent or sibling with similar math issues. So dyscalculia may be genetic.
  • Brain development: Researchers are using modern brain imaging tools to study the brains of people with and without math issues. What we learn from this research will help us understand how to help kids with dyscalculia. The study also found differences in the surface area, thickness and volume of parts of the brain. Those areas are linked to learning and memory, setting up and monitoring tasks and remembering math facts.
  • Environment: Dyscalculia has been linked to exposure to alcohol in the womb. Prematurity and low birth weight may also play a role in dyscalculia.
  • Brain injury: Studies show that injury to certain parts of the brain can result in what researchers call “acquired dyscalculia.”

For children with dyscalculia, it’s unclear how much their brain differences are shaped by genetics and how much by their experiences.

Researchers are trying to learn if certain interventions for dyscalculia can “rewire” a child’s brain to make math easier. This concept is known as “neuroplasticity” and has been shown to work in people with dyslexia.

More to come in this section….