Levels of Dyscalculia

Dyscalculia is a condition that makes it difficult for people to understand math. Those with dyscalculia may find it challenging to solve mathematical problems, even if they seemingly enjoy the topic and concepts. Dyscalculia is one of the “Four Ds” as they are called-dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia and dyspraxia.

In severe cases, dyscalculia can lead to difficulties with daily life due to the inability to perform basic calculations. As an advocate, I often hear words like that–severe. Or mild. So, are there different levels of dyscalculia?

child doing a math problem on a white board

Well, there is no simple answer to this. And I’m going to get into the different levels as well as dyscalculia and your IEP.

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Let’s Not Compartmentalize

But I view it this way. Quite often I hear parents say things like “He has Level 1 autism” or “she has level 2 autism” and things like that. Some states, as a part of their special education programming, have created different levels.

However, I do not believe this is best practice. Too many kids with all kinds of learning disabilities, not just autism, have scattered skills rather than a skill set on a continuum that goes from mild to severe.

By labeling a child as mild or moderate, some significant skill deficiencies may be missed. Or, labeling them as severe, their strengths may not be recognized.

Mind you, I get it. As humans, we like to try and figure out where a child is. But over 12 years of advocacy, I’ve just seen too many kids labeled as “mild ADHD” when some of their skill deficiencies are pretty significant.

The takeaway here is this: If it makes you feel better to categorize your child, so be it. However, please make sure that they have been accurately assessed and that the IEP present levels are complete, thorough and accurate description of the child’s strengths and areas of need.

IEP Goals are based upon identified needs in the present levels. So you want to make sure that they’re all there, and that your child is not insufficiently supported because they’re labeled something like “Mild Dyscalculia.” Make sense?

What Causes Dyscalculia

Dyscalculia is similar to dyslexia in that they are both specific learning disorders or SLD caused by brain differences rather than being caused by poor education or environment.

People who struggle with dyscalculia often see math as a challenge, rather than something they enjoy. While there is no single cause of dyscalculia, scientists believe that it occurs when there are differences in how a person’s brain processes numbers and details of abstract reasoning. Many of these thinking and reasoning skills are executive functioning skills. If you have adept executive functioning skills, we often take them for granted.

For example, if I say to you “10 pizzas” or “1000 pizzas” you probably can create a picture in your brain of that. If I ask you to compare and contrast them, you might tell me that 10 pizzas would fit in your kitchen, but 1000 would not.

A person who lacks some processing and reasoning skills cannot do this. So you can see why this would make math difficult.

There are levels of dyscalculia severity like any other condition. The extent of each individual varies depending on the individual’s circumstances and difficulties with math in general.

However, many people who have mild forms of dyscalculia do not show any signs of problem until later in life when independent studying becomes more important and difficult subjects must be tackled at school or college.

As my friend Judi always says, “these conditions rarely travel alone” so it’s quite common for a student with dyscalculia to struggle in other areas like dyslexia, executive functioning or social skills. Some of these issues may not be visible until either academic demands, social demands or daily living demands change.

Types of Dyscalculia

A person with dyscalculia is usually an individual with normal intelligence, who can do well in other subjects, but has difficulty processing numbers and details of abstract reasoning.

Mild Dyscalculia: those with mild levels of dyscalculia may not show any signs of problem until later in life when independent studying becomes more important and difficult subjects must be tackled at school or college. In these cases, the learning disability is likely to persist throughout the course of their life. But, they can still be successful with supports and accommodations.

Severe Dyscalculia: there are two types of severely dyscalculic individuals:  those who have had brain damage that makes it difficult for them to process numbers, and those with neurological disorders that are causing problems with math. These cases are persistent throughout the course of their lives.

child waving her arms

Dyscalculia and School Supports

At school, it is important that students with dyscalculia receive the appropriate support. The best way for this to happen is an IEP or 504 for accountability. Without an IEP or 504 plan, the school is not required to provide anything additional above or beyond what their non-learning-disabled peers are receiving.

Additionally, some common accommodations for children with dyscalculia are extra test time or small group instruction so they can take tests without making mistakes.

If a child is diagnosed with dyscalculia after finishing primary education and enrolls in college, then he or she may have trouble understanding math classes as well as other subjects due to differences in how the brain learns. Colleges can and do provide 504 plans for learning disabled students.

This is where post-secondary programs are valuable for those receiving diagnoses of dyscalculia. It is important that those who are receiving this diagnosis are provided with assistance over the course of their academic career so they can continue to thrive and grow.

What Is Dyscalculia

Dyscalculia is a form of developmental disability, which means it can be prevalent in young children. In the United States, 4 to 6 percent of the population struggles with dyscalculia. This is when the number of people diagnosed with dyscalculia is greater than 1 percent of the population.

It isn’t clear why there are so many cases of dyscalculia in the US, but there are some theories that this could be due to a high level of stress and poor parenting skills as well as environmental factors like nutritional deficiencies.

Overall, studies show that there is an increase in dyscalculia because more people are living in urban areas with higher levels of stress.

There are several types of dyscalculia. Researchers and clinicians have defined as many as 5-8 different, specific types of dyscalculia. To get that specific, your child will likely need what is known in IEP world as a ‘neuropsych eval.’ You can read more in that link and decide if your child needs one.

Signs of Dyscalculia

There are some signs that can indicate if someone may have dyscalculia, such as struggling to understand the importance of numbers in everyday life, difficulty understanding mathematical concepts, or cognitive difficulties with math.

Some warning signs of dyscalculia that you may see in a child overlap with other disorders such as ADHD and executive functioning deficits. So it’s important to get accurate evaluations.

Some signs of dyscalculia are:

  • have trouble with memory
  • have trouble with following directions
  • cannot read maps
  • struggle with orientation and direction
  • struggle to complete basic math concepts in every day life (making change, adding up costs, etc)

Again, many of the warning signs for dyscalculia overlap other conditions.

Some individuals who have mild forms of dyscalculia might not show any signs until late in their lives.

Dyscalculia presents itself differently for different individuals and is not unique to one sex or ethnicity, but it does differ based on factors like age and IQ. Gender, race and socioeconomic status do affect how accurately and at what age a child is identified.

How to Spot Dyscalculia

Signs of dyscalculia may be subtle, but there are some tell-tale signs that parents or teachers can look out for.

Additionally, many people who have mild forms of dyscalculia do not show any signs of problem until later in life, when independent studying becomes more important and difficult subjects must be tackled at school or college.

In this day and age of smart phones, it can be many years until we discover that a person cannot read a map. The same goes for making change, or adding up the cost of our groceries as we go through the grocery store.

But if your child is struggling with math skills and concepts and mild supports and interventions are not working, you may want to request IEP evaluations.

Developmental Dyscalculia

Developmental dyscalculia is a severe form of the condition that starts when children are very young and is often the result of a developmental delay. The severity of developmental dyscalculia can range from mild to moderate to severe.

This form of dyscalculia is more prevalent in children who have other learning disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

People with developmental dyscalculia typically do not understand what they read or do not know how to divide or multiply numbers by 10. In some cases, people with developmental dyscalculia will struggle to tell time and read maps. Or, even if they can tell time, you can tell they struggle with the concept of time, and how long it takes to do some things.

As with all forms of dyscalculia, people who struggle with this type experience difficulty in school and life because they cannot perform basic tasks that would be simple for those without the condition.

Math Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that can affect people in different ways.

For example, someone with dyslexia may find it difficult to read and understand text, whereas someone with dyscalculia may have difficulty reading and understanding numbers.

Math Anxiety

Math anxiety refers to the state of being anxious about mathematics. It can be a normal response to math-related challenges, such as mathematical tasks, or it can be a symptom of dyscalculia which is characterized by a fear of numbers and mathematical symbols.

These feelings are often manifested in the form of “math phobia”, which is an intense fear of mathematics that causes people to avoid studying math and other related subjects. Despite this, many people feel they must “deal with” their anxiety because they believe there is no way out.

If you suffer from math anxiety, here are some things you can do to help ease your symptoms. You can encourage your child to do some relaxation exercises like deep breathing or guided imagery. Or they can practice mindfulness meditation. Open communication and being able to talk to someone who understands what you’re going through is also important.

While statistics are not readily available for dyscalculia, the co-existence rate of dyslexia and suicide is very high. This is because kids internalize their struggles and ‘feel stupid’ and insufficient. You want to support your child’s mental health if they are diagnosed with dyscalculia.

Dyscalculia in Adults

Dyscalculia is typically diagnosed in children, but it may also occur later in life. Adults who struggle with dyscalculia can often find themselves struggling at work or school as well.

We know much more about learning disabilities than we did when I was growing up. It is quite common for a student to have struggled in school, and then get diagnosed as an adult.

It is amazing to see the coping mechanisms that people put in place to get by. Otherwise known as ‘masking,’ it can be both good and bad. Good that they were able to get by. Bad in that what often happens is that later in life, it’s thought that their struggles ‘aren’t real’ because “you got through high school and college just fine.”

Double edged sword if you will.

In any event, if you have more questions, please join our Facebook group and ask.

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