Bad at math? You may have dyscalculia

Dyscalculia is a math disability. Like dyslexia, the brain is the culprit behind the problem, not IQ, will, or motivation. Photo: Digital Shotgun@flickr

NORTHFIELD, Minn., October 19, 2011 —Are you are familiar with Dyslexia, the disorder that affects how the brain forms letters? Yes? How about Dyscalculia, the disorder about the brain and numbers? This disorder was unknown to me until recently.

Life has changed at our house since school started. Homework is often on the menu.

We live in a mixed marriage household. My ninth grader comes to me for help with English and social studies homework. She goes to her father for help with geometry.

My husband, son, and daughter seem to have “math brains.” And I don’t. When I was in school I did pass the math classes. However, it never came easy to me. We used to joke that my sister, the math major, who is now an actuary, got all of the math brains!

That is why a report about Dyscalculia caught my eye.

According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities in December 2010, “Dyscalculia refers to a wide range of lifelong learning disabilities involving math. There is no single type of math disability.” (December 9, 2010).

Here are some of the warning signs from their web-site:

Young Children

* Difficulty learning to count

* Trouble recognizing printed numbers

* Difficulty tying together the idea of a number (4) and how it exists in the world (4 horses, 4 cars, 4 children

* Poor memory for numbers

* Trouble organizing things in a logical way - putting round objects in one place and square ones in another

Teenagers and Adults

* Difficulty estimating costs like grocery bills

* Difficulty learning math concepts beyond the basic math facts

* Poor ability to budget or balance a check book

* Trouble with concepts of time, such as sticking to a schedule or approximating time

* Trouble with mental math

* Difficulty finding different approaches to one problem

Knowing about these warning signs means parents can be more understanding of those who struggle with math. Homework can become less of a battleground. And parents may need to advocate for support for their student within their school.

Dyslexia has become better known in my generation. Now is the timefor greater awareness of dyscalculia. It might make the difference in people thinking they are stupid when it is really about the brains they have.

It is a new day for learning disabilities. Instead of all or nothing thinking, we know that brains may be better suited for some subjects than others. It is not a mark of intelligence, except on our part, of being able to recognize the signs.

When I drive into my garage I see in my storage area a box marked Panio Music. Of course, it should be piano music. It drove me crazy until I learned about dysorthographia (the ability to acquire spelling skills). Now I understand and I have empathy. Those who struggle with dyscalculia need empathy too.

Please Comment: Do you have experience with dyscalculia? What have you found useful to make math easier?

Read more from Donna Rae Scheffert at Washington Times Communities and Online Leadership Tools.

Donna Rae is an award winning writer, consultant, planner, facilitator, and coach. One Minnesota organization gave her a coveted ‘Futures’ award. Another named her the 2002 Outstanding Faculty member. She has co-authored five books and numerous articles. She is the founder of the consulting firm Leadership Tools.

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Donna Rae Scheffert

Donna Rae Scheffert is a facilitator, consultant and writer. Find more information online at

She lives in Minnesota with her husband and teenage son and daughter.

Honors and awards include University of Minnesota -Distinguished Extension Campus Faculty Award; Minnesota Rural Futures-FUTURES award; and numerous state and national awards for programs and publications.

Scheffert is an author of practical fieldbooks: Committees That Work: Common Traps and Creative Solutions; Social Capital, Building Leadership Programs, and Facilitation Resources available from

Donna Rae is also a Senior Consultant with and an Associate with

Her civic participation includes: Board Member-Community Action Center; Board Member-Women’s Philanthropic Group, and soccer team coordinator.

Photo Credit: Amber Procaccini

Leadership development expert & educator, Donna Rae Scheffert knows how public action by others for others improves lives - she helps people to get involved and provides tools to propel them toward their goals easier, faster, and with more fun. Read more from Donna Rae at

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