Understanding Dyslexia & Dyscalculia:
Unraveling the Distinctions
Dyscalculia is a learning disability that affects one’s ability to learn mathematics, as compared to peers of the same age who receive identical instruction. Research supports that with early identification and the right interventions and supports students with dyscalculia can master math as well as other students.
Dyscalculia can be classified as a disability under both the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which may qualify them to receive accommodations in school via an IEP.
When it comes to learning difficulties, dyslexia and dyscalculia are two peas in a pod. Both can significantly impact a person’s academic performance, but they affect different areas of learning. When looking at these two difficulties you can also see there is more research associated with dyslexia, more state legislation for it, and in the case of one large school district, many more Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for their students.
Dyscalculia has been referred to as math dyslexia, number dyslexia, and dyslexia for math — which can cause confusion about the symptoms and signs surrounding this specific learning disability and can be a barrier to information regarding specific interventions and supports.
Exploring dyslexia and dyscalculia and comparing their characteristic, symptoms, and impact on students’ lives will help us understand the unique challenges each condition presents so we can better support those students and create more inclusive learning environments. It’s also important to note that if you have dyslexia or dyscalculia, you’re 35 to 70 percent more likely to have both.
What Is Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. Common characterizations of dyslexia may include difficulty reading, challenges spelling, slow reading, reading that requires tremendous effort, letter confusion, poor phonological awareness, difficulty with sequencing, challenges with working memory, illegible handwriting, reading comprehension trouble, and avoidance of reading.
What Is Dyscalculia?
Dyscalculia is a specific learning disability that affects a person’s ability to understand and work with numbers, mathematical concepts, and calculations. Common characterizations of dyscalculia may include difficulty with basic arithmetic, trouble with number recognition and sequencing, challenges with counting, poor number sense, difficulty with number manipulation, inability to grasp math concepts, time and money management trouble, spatial ad measurement difficulties, memory challenges, and math anxiety.
Going Deeper Into Common Characteristics
Difficulty Reading: Students with dyslexia often struggle with accurate and fluent reading that affects their reading comprehension and overall academic performance.
Difficulty with Basic Math: Students with dyscalculia may struggle with performing basic arithmetic operations, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
Challenges with Spelling: Dyslexic students can have difficulty spelling words correctly due to difficulties in recognizing and manipulating the sounds in words.
Challenges with Counting: Students with dyscalculia may have difficulty with counting objects or understanding the concept of counting in sequence.
Slow and Effortful Reading: Dyslexia can lead to slow and laborious reading which affects a student’s ability to keep up with peers.
Poor Number Sense: Dyscalculia can lead to a lack of intuitive understanding of numbers and their magnitude, making it challenging to compare, estimate, or work with numerical quantities.
Reversal and Letter Confusion: Dyslexic students may frequently reverse or confuse letters such as “d” and “b” or “p” and “q”.
Number Recognition and Sequencing: Difficulty in recognizing numbers and their proper sequencing is a common characteristic of dyscalculia.
Poor Word Sound Awareness: Dyslexia is often associated with difficulties in identifying and manipulating the individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. This is also referred to as phonological awareness.
Difficulty with Number Manipulation: Students with dyscalculia may have trouble manipulating numbers mentally, leading to errors in calculations and problem-solving.
Difficulty with Sequencing: Dyslexic students may have trouble with sequencing tasks, such as remembering the order of letters in a word or the steps in a process.
Inability to Grasp Math Concepts: Dyscalculia can make it difficult for students to understand fundamental math concepts, such as place value, fractions, and decimals.
Challenges with Working Memory: Working memory deficits can make it challenging for dyslexic students to hold and process information simultaneously.
Memory Challenges: Dyscalculic students also have difficulty memorizing math facts, retaining mathematical information, and holding and processing information simultaneously.
Poor Handwriting: Dyslexia may also impact handwriting skills, making it difficult to produce neat and legible writing.
Time and Money Management Challenges: Students with dyscalculia may struggle with telling time, managing time-related tasks, and understanding money concepts.
Reading Comprehension Difficulties: Dyslexic students may struggle to understand and retain information while reading, leading to challenges in grasping the meaning of texts.
Spatial and Measurement Difficulties: Dyscalculia can affect a person’s ability to comprehend spatial relationships and understand measurement concepts.
Avoidance of Reading: Due to the challenges and frustrations associated with dyslexia, students may avoid reading activities or show resistance to engaging in reading-related tasks.
Math Anxiety: Due to the challenges faced in math-related tasks, dyscalculic students may develop math anxiety, which can further impact their performance and confidence in math.
According to an EdWeek Research Center survey, “Nearly 75 percent of teachers said they had received little to no preservice or in-service training on how to support students with math-related disabilities, and 40 percent said they have no math coach or interventionist at their school.” Research supports that with early identification and the right interventions students with dyscalculia can master math as well as other students, and it’s just as critical to empower teachers with the right tools and resources to support those individual student journeys in the most intuitive and efficient way.
TouchMath is an evidence based, multi-sensory approach to mathematics that can help students when other math learning solutions fail. If a student suffers from dyscalculia, they can still succeed in mathematics, and we have the resources to support you so you can better support them. Learn more by visiting our website.