Overview of Developmental Dyscalculia

Pronounced DIS-KAL-KOOL-EE-AH, ‘dyscalculia’ comes from Greek and Latin and means ‘counting badly’.

Developmental Dyscalculia is a specific learning disorder that affects 5-6% of the school population. This small group of pupils work significantly below their peers in maths and are therefore not making age-appropriate progress. They process numbers differently from their typically developing peers and use a wide range of approaches: inefficient and laborious methods, rely on using their fingers whilst counting, unable to tell which of two numbers is larger, have difficulty estimating and use uneconomical methods to solve problems. No two children with developmental dyscalculia present the same profile of strengths and needs. Students with developmental dyscalculia show difficulties in the acquisition of core foundational number skills. It is, therefore, important to identify their Specific areas of Learning Difficulties (SpLD) so that a targeted and intentional intervention can be offered.

The developmental building blocks of acquiring, recalling and applying numbers in their symbolic and non-symbolic forms requires the efficient coordination of numerous cognitive and sensory pathways involved in supporting number development: working memory, auditory and visual processing, attention and visuospatial perception.

Studies show that Developmental Dyscalculia is often encountered as a co-occurring difficulty in a variety of medical conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), developmental language disorders, dyslexia, epilepsy, and Fragile X syndrome,  Williams Syndrome, Autism, Turners Syndrome, Duchenne Muscular dystrophy, DiGeorge syndrome and foetal alcohol syndrome.

A pupil with pure dyscalculia presents their difficulties exclusively in processing numbers, whilst in other subject areas, they work like typically developing students.

It is important to differentiate dyscalculia from developmental dyscalculia and maths developmental delays. Environmental deprivation, poor teaching or a curriculum that is moving too rapidly may lead to maths developmental delays.

Dyscalculia can arise as a result of a stroke or an injury and is known as acquired dyscalculia. Neuroscience research suggests that dyscalculic individuals have a specific neural deficiency in the intraparietal sulcus part of the brain and the cells in that part of the sulcus are either weak or damaged (Butterworth, 2012).

Research indicates that the acquisition, recall and application of arithmetic are both domain-specific and domain-general.

Dynamo Math’s focus is on supporting pupils with developmental dyscalculia. Dynamo Assessment’s strength lies in differentiating pupils with developmental dyscalculia from those with maths developmental delays using the researched and validated NumberSenseMMR™ framework.

A label of developmental or maths developmental delays serves no purpose if the pupil cannot be supported. Dynamo Assessment offers signposts to Dynamo Intervention and a trained interventionist can re-position the pupil’s number sense development and build arithmetical capacity.

Dyscalculia Definition

The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) (2019) defines Developmental Dyscalculia as:

“Dyscalculia is a specific and persistent difficulty in understanding numbers which can lead to a diverse range of difficulties with mathematics. It will be unexpected in relation to age, level of education and experience and occurs across all ages and abilities. Mathematical difficulties are best thought of as a continuum, not a distinct category, and they may have many causal factors. Dyscalculia falls at one end of the spectrum and will be distinguishable from other maths issues due to the severity of difficulties with number sense, including subitising, symbolic and non-symbolic magnitude comparison and ordering. It can occur singly but often co-occurs with other specific learning difficulties, mathematics anxiety and medical conditions.”

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