Dyscalculia is defined as a specific learning difficulty affecting a person's ability to understand and/or manipulate numbers. Like dyslexia, dyscalculia can be caused by a visual perceptual deficit. Dyscalculia is often used to refer specifically to the inability to perform operations in math or arithmetic, but is defined by some educational professionals as a more fundamental inability to conceptualize numbers themselves as an abstract concept of comparative quantities. It is a lesser known disability, much like dyslexia and dyspraxia. In fact, it is considered by some to be a variation of dyslexia. Dyscalculia occurs in people across the whole IQ range, but means they often have specific problems with mathematics, time, measurement, etc. Dyscalculia (in its more general definition) is not rare. Many of those with dyslexia or dyspraxia have dyscalculia as well. There is also some evidence to suggest that this type of SpLD is partially hereditary, although there are scholars who remind us that dyscalculia, like many other learning differences, may be a socially constructed concept.
Deficits in Working Memory: Adams and Hitch argue that working memory is a major factor in mental addition. From this base, Geary conducted a study that suggested there was a working memory deficit for those who suffered with dyscalculia. However, working memory problems are confounded with general learning difficulties, thus Geary's findings may not be specific to dyscalculia but rather may reflect a greater learning deficit.
Dealing with students having dyscalculia
Give them extra time for numerical problems.
Make sure that the student has actually understood the problem.
Attempt to determine whether the learning style of the student is primarily visual, auditory or kinaesthetic.
Encourage students to "visualize" the quantities involved in mathematics problems.
Be aware that students may use non-standard methods to solve problems. If their method is helpful, encourage it.
Where appropriate have the student read problems out loud and listen carefully.
Provide plenty of examples and try to relate problems to real-life situations.
Provide uncluttered worksheets.
Dyscalculic students will probably need to spend considerable extra time memorizing mathematical facts. Repetition is greatly important. Rhythm or music may help the process.
Severely dyscalculic students, particularly if they are also dyslexic, may in fact have too poor a memory to memorise by rote at all. In this case, they should first concentrate on strengthening the basic numerical bonds and then use of calculation strategies.
Do not scold or pity the student.
Where appropriate, seek the advice of the SENCO or Ed. Psych.