Information for parents

This section contains answers to questions frequently asked by parents. Parents are also encouraged to read the Dyscalculia section (which contains general information about dyscalculia), as well as the Resources section.

How can I tell if my child has dyscalculia?

If your child has persistent difficulties with mathematics, you should suspect dyscalculia, even if your child also has reading problems. You should have your child referred to a school psychologist for an assessment. Assessment should include interviews with you and your child, an IQ test, and mathematics tests.

Do not forget though that you have the right to be informed of results, and that you know your child best. Always ask for a second opinion if in doubt. You should be aware that dyscalculia is less well known than dyslexia, so this makes it hard to diagnose. You may need to be persistent!

What can be done to help?

This depends a lot on where you live and how much government funding there is for treatment of learning disabilities. For example in the U.S., a considerable amount of resources for learning disabilities are provided through schools. In this case, you should work with your school to get your child’s learning disability recognised and get an individual education plan.

In some other countries, very little is provided through the school, and you will have to seek outside help. Sometimes governments pay for this help, other times you will have to pay for it yourself. Usually outside help is from a private clinic or foundation which specialises in assessment and treatment of learning disabilities. In some European countries learning disabilities are "medicalised", and there are assessment centres and therapists in hospitals attached to psychiatry units.

Wherever you seek help, you want to eventually find a trained specialist who is able to assess the learning disability, make up a remediation programme, and work with your child on a one to one or a small group basis.

What kind of remediation works best?

There are many different approaches to remediation, some proprietary "methods" taught to special educators, others published in commercially available books or software.

Which works best remains an open question. We just don't know enough about dyscalculia to be sure. Nor can we be sure that a given remediation will work perfectly, or even well. Learning disability specialists who work with children often spend a lot of time trying different techniques and exercises to figure out what is helping the most for a particular child. This is the hallmark of a good person, rather than having a set approach, they will analyse and problem solve.

The types of remediation which are likely to help the most are those which focus on understanding (particularly of quantity), rather than purely drilling or mechanistic approaches.

My child has had so much help but still isn't making progress!

This is unfortunately very common. Learning disabilities take a long time and a lot of effort to overcome, and are very frustrating for children and parents. The important thing is for neither parents nor children to give up. They CAN be overcome, and it is worth it. DO keep evaluating whether you think the current approach is a good one, and don't hesitate to try a different person or ask for a second opinion.

Should I buy a remediation product from company X?

Ultimately this is your decision, but be aware that this area has its fair share of charlatanism. Some things to be wary of are:

1. Promises of miracles or instant cures.

2. Very high prices. They are designed to fool you into thinking that the product must be really valuable if it costs a fortune.

3. "Special" methods that appear have little to do with maths. It is a fundamental psychological principal that the less specific the training is the less it works.

4. Claims that the product is "research based" or "proven in research". This is good if it is true, but unfortunately it isn't always. Find out for yourself... if you can't find detailed information about the research such a list of the scientific publications in peer-reviewed journals, be suspicious!

5. A large investment required without a chance to cancel or pull out.

What should I tell my child's teacher?

A common result of dyscalculia is a high level of maths anxiety. Dyscalculic children may soon come to hate maths, and try and avoid it. Even if they are getting extra help outside of the classroom, activities in the classroom may be far too fast for them and a very discouraging experience. Talking with your child’s teacher can help make them aware of the learning disability and in finding ways of making maths lessons more productive and less stressful for your child. Even little things can help - like writing down the “mental math” problems so your child can work at his/her own pace rather than missing most of them because they were still working out the first one and didn't hear the rest.

It can be difficult talking about this to your child's teacher. Some teachers may be more receptive than others. If your child has outside help from a specialist, it may help to have them talk to the teacher. There is not very much awareness of dyscalculia in most countries (an exception being the US where most teachers are aware of math learning disability), and many teachers may not have had any training in how to teach learning disabled children. This website contains information for teachers, including links to teaching resources.

Will my child "grow out of" dyscalculia?

While it is possible that children may grow out of some difficulties with mathematics, in most cases your child will NOT grow out of dyscalculia. It is important therefore to seek help, your child needs special assistance in order to catch up on maths.

Can dyscalculia be prevented?

At the moment, no (apart from avoiding risk factors like drinking alcohol during pregnancy). In the future, one hope is to develop methods to detect dyscalculia prior to school, so that children would get extra help and monitoring before starting school and during the first years of learning maths. This is really our best chance for being able to cure or prevent dyscalculia.