What is Dyscalculia?

Mathematics is part of the core programing of the world. Children across the world have some understanding of the underlying connections of math. Some of the early concepts children learn through the exploration of their world include patterns, sequences, sorting, comparing, and classifying [2]. Sometimes connections are not made correctly. Dyscalculia (aka math learning disability) is a type of learning disability that affects how an individual processes, comprehends, and learns math facts. About 1 in 20 people have some degree of math learning difficulties [6]. When recognized early, you can help your child develop good math skills and prevent/reduce math anxiety. Researchers at the University of Missouri have identified some key early math skills children should understand before the first grade: the number line and how to place numbers on the line; understand numbers and quantity; and breaking complex problems into smaller parts [5].

Below are some activities you can do with your baby to encourage math exposure.

1. Shape toys and puzzles

Did you know that poor visual- spatial reasoning is linked to dyscalculia [4]? Matching shapes is a common assessment of visual perception as it utilizes visual- spatial reasoning to recognize form consistency [4]. At around 2 years, children should be able to match shapes: same size and orientation, different size and orientation [4].  Since babies learn best from hands-on experiences, shape toys and puzzles are a great way for your baby to gain experience with pairing like shapes together.  Matching games can also help develop reasoning skills.

2. Manipulatives (Blocks, cars, etc )

As your baby learns to count, they will start explore the meaning behind numbers; by 4-5 years, your child should understand the logical concept of numbers under 10 [2]. Manipulatives such as blocks or toy cars offer a hands on experience of the concept of numbers. One study found that students who start elementary school with a difficulty with one-to-one correspondence went on to being diagnosed with math learning disability by fifth grade [1]. An example of this is “printed number 3 represents 3 dots on a page” [1]. Blocks allow your baby to stack and count the sequence. When playing with your baby, ask them how many blocks there are in their tower. Point to each one and count with them.

3. Flashcards and picture books

Those with dyscalculia have difficulty with being able to immediately name something that is presented to them, known as rapid automatized naming [7]. This task utilizes our working memory by retaining the visual information in order to either name or learn the name of the object [7]. To strengthen your baby’s working memory, use flashcards of colors, shapes, or animals and help them pair the names with each. Also, when reading to your baby, point to the pictures and say the name of the object.

What you can do and what to look out for

Although many of the learning disabilities aren’t noticeable until your child starts school or learning math, it is never too early to help foster good math skills. Try the example activities above to help your child gain exposure to basic math concepts. As they grow older, find ways to make math fun; this will help keep math anxiety at bay. Play math related games with them or take them to a tech museum for kids to show them the amazing things that can be done with math.

When your child reaches preschool and elementary school, some common signs and symptoms that you can look out for include difficulty in understanding concepts of place value, fractions, and number lines [3]. Also look out for avoidance of math and noticeable difficulties [3]. Math literacy is important in all aspects of life and skills carry over to different stages of life. Although it cannot be completely assessed until elementary school, you can still aid your child in developing a good number sense. Remember to make math fun!


[1] Bock, R. (2011, October 25). Math disability linked to problem relating quantities to numerals. Retrieved December 8, 2015, from
[2] Davis, G., & Keller, J. (2014, May 1). Mathematics Development. Retrieved December 19, 2015, from
[3] Dyscalculia. (n.d.). Retrieved December 6, 2015, from
[4] Mazzocco, M. M., & Thompson, R. E. (2005). Kindergarten predictors of math learning disability. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 20(3), 142-155.
[5] Psychology study finds key early skills for later math learning. (2011, July 11). Retrieved December 8, 2015, from
[6] Wilson, A. (n.d). What is dyscalculia? Retrieved December 8, 2015, from
[7] Willburger, E., Fussenegger, B., Moll, K., Wood, G., & Landerl, K. (2008). Naming speed in dyslexia and dyscalculia. Learning and Individual Differences, 18(2), 224-236.

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