Discussion on Dyscalculia

Welcome, Everyone, to the Two-Day Asynchronous Discussion on Dyscalculia. Dyscalculia is a math learning disability affecting up to 7% of the world’s population and may show up differently. If that number seems low, remember it represents only a few people who have been diagnosed with Dyscalculia. Many adults may have this math learning difficulty and have just learned how to live with it. 

In these next two days, Mike Cruse, moderator for the LINCS Learners with Disabilities Group, and I will unpack and discuss Dyscalculia as a follow-up to our February webinar discussion. If you could not be at the web discussion, that is okay; you are welcome to discuss and post your thoughts, questions, ponderings, etc., here.

Let us start with the following guiding questions as we begin this asynchronous event.

According to the National Center for Learning (2020), Dyscalculia is a learning difficulty that affects an individual’s ability to do basic arithmetic such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.  Adults with Dyscalculia often take longer when working with numbers and may be more prone to making mistakes in calculation. Symptoms/signs may include difficulty with the following: 

  • Understanding concepts of place value, quantity, positive and negative values, and 

carrying / borrowing

  • Organizing problems on a page and keeping numbers lined up;
  • Sequencing information or events;
  • Recognizing patterns
  • Putting language into math processes
  • Understanding concepts related to time (i.e., days, weeks, months)
  • Solving word problems


  1. What are your initial thoughts about this learning difficulty?
  2. Have you seen students struggle with undiagnosed/diagnosed Dyscalculia? What strategies have you used or seen your students use to support learning?


Hi Brooke,

Many adult learners I've worked with have these difficulties. I wonder how, as a field, we could gather more data about Dyscalculia. 

Some things I've done before include the integration of graphic organizers to help students stay organized, recognize patterns and connect language to pictures. Here is a website I often turn to when I need a graphic organizer or an easy to print/access "manipulative". 

Something that I forget is that volunteer tutors or classroom aides can make life a little easier for students with these difficulties. They can spend the one on one time needed to help a student make connections.

There are also assistive technologies that might benefit the adult student like calculators, apps, websites, text-to-speech. 

I wonder if anyone has used either graphic organizers or assistive technology in adult ed? Has anyone paired students with dyscalculia with a tutor?

Hi, Maribel & Brooke -

I hear you about the need for more data and resources to help learners who struggle with math as a result of a learning difference, or a disability.  Here's an interesting article from 2019 on the diagnosis of dyscalculia, which includes information on the experience of adults.  This 2022 research demonstrates the need for "innovative interventions that ... target deficiencies in the cognitive, numerical, social, and emotional dimensions of adults with Developmental Dyscalculia (DD)." 


  • The diagnosis of dyscalculia requires mathematical performance as assessed by a standardized test to be at least one standard deviation below the age- or grade-appropriate mean. In addition, the history and the findings from clinical examination and further psychosocial assessment should clearly support the diagnosis.

 While most adult educators can't diagnose dyscalculia, we are sometimes the best hope for learners to be     screened and possibly referred for formal diagnosis.  The Dyscalculia.org site is a good source to learn about screening options. 

  • Between 70–90% of the affected persons ended their schooling prematurely at age 16; at age 30, very few of them were employed full-time. Their probability of being unemployed and of developing depressive symptoms was twice as high as that of persons without dyscalculia 
  • According to the ICD-10 definition of the disorder, these problems are not merely due to low intelligence or inadequate schooling. These problems are often associated with impaired basic processing of numbers and quantities. 
  • Symptom-specific interventions involving the training of specific mathematical content yield the best results. There is still a need for high-quality intervention trials and for suitable tests and learning programs for older adolescents and adults.

1:1 tutors and assistive technologies can be great resources for supporting learners with dyscalculia, but may not be available or easily accessible in every classroom.   Here are some other accommodations that can support teachers across settings in meeting challenges faced by learners with math-related learning differences, or disability.


  • Read math problems aloud and help the learner identify key ideas and the language - the words and symbols, written and spoken - used to solve a problem.
  • Create a hundred chart by writing out the numbers 0-100 and post it for learners to use while solving problems.
  • Engage the learner in multisensory learning using touch, vision, and audio to teach math concepts.  Think about using simple resources like a number line, play money, different colored chips/coins, jigs or pre-measured guides, even finger counting is a simple way to make numbers more tangible.
  • Use graph paper to support learning and maintaining place values when solving problems by hand.
  • Use color coding to help learners identify number types, place values, etc.   
  • Authentic assessments are excellent alternatives to paper tests. The learner is optimally engaged and recruits all brain areas to consider, organize, problem-solve, create, and communicate. For example, instead of asking a learner to solve multiple practice problems, ask them to teach back the concept to a teacher, tutor, or a peer.
  • Allow the learner submits a video of themselves teaching a lesson, or a project demonstrating that they can teach a learned concept (or individual step) to someone else.

What other ideas have you used, or thought about using, to support learners with math-related learning differences, or disability?





I use gobs and gobs of different things in my tutoring center... 'way too many to describe in the 12 minutes left of the work day and I have to get the outside clothes on too :P 

A huge deal is building concepts.  Entirely too many approaches to math are about passing some test or other, with the usually but not always silent assumption that well, no, you aren't supposed to have a CLUE!!!  You're just supposed to pass the test.    This teacher does areally good job of explaining main concepts in this "GED MATH CRASH COURSE https://sites.google.com/view/gedmathcrashcourse/home    .   

I was thoroughly disgusted at a Covid Times NCTM session on "productive struggle" that spent 35 minutes explaining all the things that students with learning disabilities couldn't do (*couldn't.*  not "couldn't yet." )  The next stuff was how to get them to use the calculator and "anchor charts" as accommodations with the formulas, and to train them to memorize which formula to use for what.   I bailed before it was over becasue not one word was even mentioned about actually understanding any math and no, I'm not going to fix NCTM.  (Listening is not a strong point for them :P ) 

I have meter sticks, yard sticks, big number lines on the wall and charts -- https://mathequalslove.net/   -- and lots of short videos (many on youtube https://www.youtube.com/user/motthebug/videos  . and we're trying to put together a basic number sense course;  Ialso played around with Javascript to make a times tables course for people who can't remember stuff. 
   Time to layer up and leave ;) 

Thank you for all the information and resources. 

I just want to add an additional resource, for virtual manipulatives. I recently read some research that showed virtual manipulatives are also incredibly effective. "Comparing the Effectiveness of Virtual and Concrete Manipulatives to Teach Algebra to Secondary Students With Learning Disabilities" Rajiv Satsangi, PhD rsatsang@gmu.eduEmily C. Bouck, PhD, […], and Carly A. Roberts, PhD+2View all authors and affiliations"

I love this website: https://www.mathlearningcenter.org/apps
the manipulative can be accessed either online or you can download the apps. You can even create pages and share the link at the bottom of the page,  so students can work on your specific problems.




Thank you, Susan and Rebecca, for sharing these resources.  Manipulatives - both tangible and virtual - are excellent resources for teaching all learners, and especially those with dyscalculia.  The dyscalculia.org site also has a good list of virtual resources (some free and some subscription-based).  

I also want to mention the role that vision difficulties can play in dyscalculia and other learning disabilities (LD).  Subitizing: Vision Therapy for Math Deficits is an interesting - though scientifically-based - article on the importance and role that vision plays in dyscalculia.  Vision screening is another step that adult educators can help facilitate for struggling learners who may not have had a recent eye exam.  Often times, community healthcare centers or organizations like the Lion's Club will sponsor visions screenings.  Providing information to learners about these opportunities can be part of the answer to unlocking their challenges with math and basic numeracy.

     Last week I was working w/ a student on an ALEKS question where they had to write the decimal number for a dot on a number line between, say, 8.3 and 8.4 ... and somehow, when I got out the meter stick, it clicked and ... it really wasn't that different than the one on the screen. 
     I also realized -- and how many decades did it take? -- that using a meter stick to talk about tenths, hundredths and thousands is a tad bit clearer, I think, at showing just how fast things shrink.     

   LOL I am trying to request a 2023 article about manipulatives and algebra and middle schoolers w/ LD -- and research gate is trying to confirm my identity by asking if I'm any of the Susan JOnes who have written all kinds of publications.  I finally just said "skip this step..."   .. i twas 3 whole students who liked virtual tiles better. 

.... Just worked w/ a student who got a flat out zero, zilch nada on our placement test. 
    Both folks I've worked with who got  that score... nope, it *wasn't* just anxiety;  there are very basic concepts they haven't gotten (yet), like ...  place value.  Like "what number is halfway in between 70 and 80" for reading a graph.   Meter stick REALLY HELPED with that too. "I think I'm getting the hang of this!"   
      They'll be back Friday and I'm hoping to have some stuff to do between ALEKS (the program to practice for improving the test scores that goes too fast)...