Dyscalculia – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment


Dyscalculia is not to be confused with a general intellectual disability Depending on the person affected, dyscalculia is based on various influenceable causes. In contrast to dyslexia (reading and spelling weakness), dyscalculia is a mathematical weakness .

What is dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia refers to an existing weakness in calculation or arithmetic disorders. Those affected who suffer from dyscalculia show, among other things, long-term difficulties in dealing with numbers and also in comprehending mathematical facts.

The prerequisite for diagnosing dyscalculia in the presence of limitations is that the arithmetic weakness is not simply due to a lack of education or an intellectual disability. Above all, basic arithmetic operations such as subtraction, addition, division and multiplication cause difficulties for people suffering from dyscalculia.

On the other hand, abstract mathematical processes, such as those on which geometry is based, are often less affected. If dyscalculia is diagnosed in a person (which is far from always the case), this usually happens during elementary school. It is estimated that around 10 to 15% of children in Germany have dyscalculia.


Depending on the severity, dyscalculia can have many different causes. In most cases, arithmetic weakness results from a combination of several causes.

Since the sum of the causes of dyscalculia varies greatly between individuals, it is often not easy to clearly identify the relevant causes. In educational psychology, there are various explanations for dyscalculia; Depending on the person affected, these can be more or less accurate: For example, it is possible that dyscalculia is based on a developmental disorder in a certain area.

It is also possible that a person affected has not yet understood arithmetic relationships. Frequent teacher changes and teaching methods as well as class size and structure can also influence dyscalculia. In rare cases, dyscalculia can also hide concentration disorders and/or blockages in performance caused by anxiety or depressive moods.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

As a rule, those affected by dyscalculia suffer from a pronounced intellectual disability . There are various weaknesses that have a negative impact on everyday life and the quality of life of those affected. The development of children is also considerably delayed and limited by dyscalculia.

Those affected suffer from this disease primarily from problems with arithmetic with numbers. Even with simple arithmetic operations with small numbers, there are severe complaints and difficulties, so that the affected children already have problems at school. Difficulty concentrating can also occur, so that the children do not pay attention at school or appear hyperactive.

Many children continue to be irritable or even slightly aggressive. They can also suffer from apathy , which can lead to severe social problems. As a result of dyscalculia, some of those affected suffer from bullying or teasing, especially in childhood, and as a result develop psychological problems or even depression .

If dyscalculia is not treated, it will also lead to significant problems in everyday life in adulthood. The disease does not usually have a negative impact on the life expectancy of the person affected.

Diagnosis & History

Various tests can be used to diagnose dyscalculia. Appropriate tests are to be carried out, for example, by the competent school psychology departments.

Both the test results and the behavior of a person affected during the test can provide the test administrators with relevant information. Usually, an affected child is first subjected to an intelligence test; in this way, a possible over- or under-demand can be determined.

In order to diagnose dyscalculia, the test procedures mentioned are supplemented by tests of perception and motor skills. Because all of these factors can be indications of an existing dyscalculia.

The course of dyscalculia depends on various factors. If an affected child is given individual support measures, arithmetic weaknesses can improve over time.


Children with dyscalculia are more likely than their peers to suffer from behavioral disorders or abnormalities. These peculiarities can occur both in parallel with dyscalculia and can also be indirectly related to the arithmetic weakness: children with dyscalculia sometimes feel inferior and sometimes try to compensate for this feeling with conspicuous behavior.

However, the children do not always react with unwanted behavior such as aggression, oppositional behavior or fears: some children are particularly ambitious and try to compensate for the (perceived) “failure” with other achievements. Any fears that may arise as a complication of dyscalculia take very different forms. Some children develop isolated math anxiety, while others tend to have school anxiety.

Various other anxiety disorders are also possible as a result of dyscalculia: Social anxiety and generalized anxiety disorder can also affect adults. In general, dyscalculia can indirectly affect the psychological development of children. This puts them at an increased risk of developing another mental disorder. Possible concomitant diseases (comorbidities) such as ADHD or dyslexia can cause further complications.

Mental stress, such as that caused by dyscalculia and the associated fears, is often reflected physically. Palpitations, sweating, and tremors are possible symptoms of anxiety. In addition, somatic complaints such as abdominal pain or headaches can develop.

When should you go to the doctor?

Many sufferers first notice dyscalculia at school age. While normal to good performance is achieved in other subjects, there seems to be a complete lack of understanding when dealing with numbers. In some cases, affected children are already noticed in kindergarten in projects with numbers and counting games. If educators and primary school teachers inform parents of such observations, they should definitely be taken seriously and reported to the pediatrician .

He can advise whether further examinations by specialists, for example in special early intervention centers, are advisable or whether it makes sense to wait and carefully observe the further development of the child. Dyscalculia is not a condition that causes long-term physical damage.

As long as those affected are also mentally well with their limitations, i.e. there is no psychological strain, the suspicion of dyscalculia does not necessarily have to be clarified by a doctor. It should be noted, however, that an early diagnosis, especially in children, also offers the chance to specifically promote further mathematical development and thus prevent poor school performance and mental pressure.

Treatment & Therapy

If the diagnosis of dyscalculia in a school child is to be counteracted, experts usually suggest interventions that focus on the child’s individual problems.

Therapy methods offered against dyscalculia, which can be used in schools, for example, usually last two years. Appropriate therapy ideally includes not only the affected children, but also their parents and teachers. Depending on the child, such therapy for dyscalculia takes place in small groups or with individual children twice a week.

A first goal of treating dyscalculia is to stabilize a child’s self-esteem. The supported child is the focus of the therapy session, which is initially designed, for example, by painting or singing; this should reduce the pressure to perform. In a second step of the therapy for dyscalculia, the training of mathematical skills usually follows – for example, by first calculating with three-dimensional, tangible objects.

These items can then be gradually replaced with worksheets. Eventually, when the time comes, therapy for dyscalculia also focuses on mental arithmetic. Depending on the individual case, it can make sense to supplement a described support program with accompanying methods (such as ergotherapy ).

Outlook & Forecast

Dyscalculia will not improve without treatment and support. The sooner it is recognized and remedied, the better the prospects of the person affected to learn how to deal with numbers – slowly, but ultimately to a comparable extent as other people.

There are good prospects of learning success if dyscalculia is already recognized at primary school age, because then the child can be counteracted with targeted support. Often the affected child does not have to be transferred to another school, but only needs special support in the mathematical area.

If, on the other hand, dyscalculia is only discovered and treated in adulthood, the process can firstly take longer and secondly, there is no longer any guarantee that the person concerned will be able to cope with all the difficulties associated with it. The adult brain is not developing as quickly as a child’s, and corrective action may not be as rapid as it is in a child with dyscalculia. It is still possible, the only important thing is continuous practice.

The prospect of improvement from dyscalculia can also be hampered by the fact that sufferers have already noticed that they have difficulties with numbers, which is why they develop fears of situations in which they have to calculate. This fear may need to be resolved first or at the same time before the dyscalculia itself can be treated.


Dyscalculia can be prevented, among other things, by carefully observing the first signs of arithmetic problems. In this way, appropriate children can be encouraged at an early stage. An important time for recognizing the first problems that can lead to dyscalculia is the time of the first elementary school years.


In most cases, the patient with dyscalculia has very few options or measures for follow-up care. The affected person is initially dependent on medical treatment of the disease so that there are no further complaints and also no delayed or restricted development of the child. The earlier the dyscalculia is treated or recognized, the better the further course of the disease.

In most cases, dyscalculia is treated with various exercises or therapies. Usually there are no further complications. Parents can do many exercises with their children at home to counteract dyscalculia. However, a lot of rest is required from the parents so that the children are not overwhelmed.

Dyscalculia can be treated relatively well with small tasks that are distributed throughout the day. In some cases, psychological treatment is also necessary for this disease, whereby discussions with family or friends can also have a positive effect on the course of the disease. Contact with other affected parents can also be very useful.

You can do that yourself

When dyscalculia is diagnosed, the parents play a very important role. You can support your child in many ways. In principle, there is the possibility of integrative individual support during school time. Parents must apply for this.

The path is often arduous, but worth it. Tutoring within the regular remedial classes rarely leads to success for the affected children. The large group size is a hindrance. It is important to enable so-called 1-to-1 care by a trained social worker or curative teacher .

Already in the last two years of kindergarten, the children are taught the first mathematical terms and understanding of quantities. Here parents can actively seek dialogue with the supervising educators and thus offer initial support measures.

In the case of dyscalculia, it has been proven that there is a connection between the mental state of the child and problems with understanding basic arithmetic mechanisms. Parents should question whether their child is suffering from anxiety or even depression . Psychotherapeutic counseling should not be ruled out. It is also important to rule out existing behavioral problems. Because these can also cause learning difficulties.

Basically, parents have to accompany their child through school with a lot of patience and understanding. There are also physiotherapeutic programs that improve the child’s ability to concentrate. They ensure physical and mental relaxation after the school day and can be easily integrated into everyday life.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.