Dyscalculia, also referred to as Maths disorder or Maths learning disability, is characterised by an inability to understand mathematical concepts, remember mathematical facts, and perform mathematical calculations. It has been estimated that this effects up to 8% of the population. Performing simple mathematics operations is challenging, as is comparing two numbers to determine which is larger in value. They may also have more difficulty estimating numbers than their peers, needing to count the items one by one instead.
It can be said that those with dyscalculia are unable to grasp the concept of numbers and how they represent value. Dyscalculia is usually first detected when a child performs poorly in mathematical tasks in school, though the deficit often continues into adulthood.
Studies have attributed numerical processing challenges in dyscalculia to low levels of activation in the parietal and frontal lobes in children. These areas play a significant role in processing numbers as well as performing executive functions.
Cognitive issues associated with dyscalculia
Individuals with dyscalculia may also have difficulty with their working memory. When solving mathematics questions, they might not be able to remember the answer from one step to apply it to the next step. However, it has been found that it is not working memory in general that is impacted but only on tasks involving the use of numerical digits.
Unlike dyslexia, dyscalculia affects a specific range of numeric processing abilities and does not impair the child’s overall cognitive abilities. Children with dyscalculia hence perform at average levels on IQ and vocabulary tests. In up to 40% of cases, dyslexia (reading disorder) is also present, in which case there may be left hemisphere processing deficits present, resulting in deficits in reading and naming objects.
Dyscalculia may occur as a symptom for other disorders. When comorbid with finger agnosia (inability to recognise own fingers), dysgraphia (inability to write), and left-right discrimination impairments (inability to tell apart left from right on own body), dyscalculia constitutes a diagnosis for Gerstmann’s Syndrome. In up to 11% of cases, children with dyscalculia may have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).