Many people are familiar with learning disabilities that deal with reading, writing, or language, but did you know that learning disabilities can also affect the ability to process and understand mathematics? Dyscalculia, sometimes also called “math dyslexia” is a math learning disability that is diagnosed in approximately 5 to 7 percent of students in the US. It affects the ability to understand numbers and learn math facts.

What are the signs and symptoms of dyscalculia?

Individuals with dyscalculia may have trouble understanding math symbols, have difficulty telling time, have trouble with memorizing and organizing numbers, and have trouble counting. Other symptoms can include:

  • Difficulties understanding and completing word problems

  • Trouble sequencing events or information

  • Difficulty in putting language to math processes

  • Trouble making change/handling money

  • Trouble with place value, carrying/borrowing, positive/negative values, etc

  • Difficulty understanding concepts of time, like days/months/quarters/seasons

  • Trouble finding different approaches to the same problem

  • Trouble with measurements for ingredients for recipes, etc.

What causes dyscalculia?

The exact causes of this learning disorder aren’t known, but there are some possible causes that have been explored, including:

  • Genetics: dyscalculia tends to run in families

  • Brain development: brain scans have shown that the brain structure and function is different in certain areas in those with dyscalculia

  • Environment: the learning disorder has been associated with low birth weight, prematurity, and fetal alcohol syndrome

  • Brain injury: some individuals develop dyscalculia after a head injury; this is often called “acquired dyscalculia”

Can I go to graduate school with dyscalculia?

Of course! There will be challenges, but everyone faces challenges in graduate school. It’s important, though, that you provide the disabilities services office documentation of your dyscalculia, so that they can help provide accommodations for you. These accommodations might include test-taking accommodations like a different room or longer testing time, alternative text services like different ways of printing the math problems, note-taking services, tutors, and more. Talk with your professors about what you need and what works best for you, and don't be hesitant about seeking help at the academic center or tutoring center.

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