Math Learning Disability Costs Economy $3.9 Billion

Though it afflicts as many people as the better known learning disability dyslexia, the math disorder, dyscalculia, receives much less attention from researchers and educators. As a result, those with the disorder are more likely to be unemployed, earn less, suffer from depression and run afoul of the law, and a new study out of the U.K. suggests that they are costing governments and society in general billions.

Unable to Learn

Dyscalculia is a learning disability that affects a person’s ability to learn math. Sufferers have difficulty learning and remembering basic facts. Simple things like counting or telling time take longer for them to master, and multiplication and division tables are often not learned before they are pushed on to more difficult math subjects, which compounds the problem. The ability to do mental math is the biggest hurdle for people with dyscalculia, and most will always need to employ the use of calculators, or even finger counting, to solve computation problems, which is discouraged in schools due to the mistaken belief that children who suffer from the disorder just need more practice.

As Common as Dyslexia

Although 5 to 7% of the population are thought to have dyscalculia, which is about the same percentage of people who have dyslexia, more money is spent on those with the reading and writing disorder. As a result, people with the math disabilities are often not diagnosed, and teachers have few strategies to deal with those who are.

Believed to be an inherited disorder, it is not linked to intelligence levels, and some of those who have it are often able to master other math skills like geometry.

A Personal Story

I suffer from dyscalculia and didn’t realize it until I was an adult. A special education teacher I worked with recognized the symptoms and was amazed I had managed to cope my way through high school and university math requirements because many of her students would likely not fare as well. It was a relief to know why I’d always had such a difficult time with math. More than one of my teachers had simply labeled me “lazy” or because I was a girl, a math avoider.

My own daughter struggles with math, and I have had to fight to have her tested and to get services for her. If she couldn’t read or had behavior issues, the school system would provide educational assistants and other resources, but there is little help for those who face math learning disabilities.

Though I know and have told her teachers that she will never fully master the basic facts, there is still a feeling among educators that people like us just need more “drilling.” But at 47 years of age, I still have to think before adding or multiplying, and I use my fingers to count. Knowing my limitations, I employ calculators a lot, and I used a computer program to figure grades when I was still teaching. Eventually, my daughter will have a grasp on what is and isn’t possible for her to do with numbers, and she will have coping strategies of her own, but there are paths in life that will be denied to her because of her disability.

Life Limiting Affliction

Learning disabilities in general limit people’s opportunities in life but for those with dyscalculia, the narrowing scope of educational and career choices is less obvious than for those with other disabilities. Most health, science and computer-related careers have math requirements as part of their training, whether or not the math is relevant to the job, and those who have other learning disabilities on top of the dsycalculia, have ever more limited prospects.

Tell Us Your Story

Do you have trouble with math? It’s almost fashionable for people to claim they were never very good at math when they were in school, but only a small portion of us actually had real issues. However, the way in which math instruction has evolved has left many students confused and pushed too quickly from one level to the next.

What can you remember about your math courses as a child or teenager? And if you suffered from a learning disability, what resources were available? How did you learn to cope and were your career aspirations affected as a result?

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Kay L. Brown
Kay L. Brown4 years ago

I've always had difficulty with math from the very start. Even at the age of 49, I have to count on my fingers because my brain is too busy thinking of a million other things. I barely made it through two remedial math classes in community college in the past year, and opted to take a science of light and optics class instead of Elementary Algebra. That was a big mistake. I would be lucky to pass my science class. I struggle to grasp mathematic and scientific equations and concepts. The only part of my science of light class I understood was the photography part because I'm a photography major. I'm going to get tested for Dyscalculia next week, so that should clarify if I truly have a learning disability.

Celeste J.
Celeste J.5 years ago

very interesting all the pieces of my schooling puzzle after 10 years since graduating are coming together so i guess i have the best of both dyslexia and dyscalculia as i cant seem to visualize calculations in my head even small maths problems i reach for my trusty calculator my work mates have just about given up on trying to teach me how to subtract 3 from 10 maybe ill move to japan to work on my reading then ill move to china to learn maths ha just had a thought maybe these learning disorders don't have to exist the only reason they do is because of the stupid sloppy English language lol if Chinese or Japanese was the universal language then dyslexia wouldn't exist sorry about the no punctuation i never understood those things again stupid sloppy English that one size fits all system is ridiculous

Jennifer C.
Jennifer C.6 years ago

OMG this is me! I count on my fingers and had to quit a job because I could not do the books! I didnt learn to tell time till I was 10 and have to have a babys toy to learn it. I have suffered from this all my life and am now 52, I can not do fractions and have learned them over and over again. In school I was subjected to redicule and use to have panic attacks when I was called on in math class. I would break down and cry and everyone would laugh, the teacher was never any help and would just say something like simmer down everone and then ask if I wanted to go to the office to calm down! I would be put in remedal math and still flunk it, then was put into remedal classes all around for all my subjects only to find out I was really smart and could run circles around the other students in both the remdal classes and advanced. I have a 137 IQ but have no math skills and can read and understand books and vocabulary well beyond my schooling. I am a poor speller but above in comprehencion and writing. Where can I get help for this??? My adult son is also like me.

Raven S.
Katja S6 years ago

I have dyscalculia.

Courtney Bliss
Courtney Bliss6 years ago

My sister had a classmate in high school with dyscalculia. When I heard about it, things started to make sense to me as well. I know I would have done a lot better in math, but when writing out the process for some of the problems, I would switch two numbers and get the whole thing wrong. I rarely don't use a calculator except for really simple calculations. It didn't help that my sister is amazing at math and my mom simply thought that our moving around affected my math.

Sheri P.
Sheri P6 years ago

Learn something new every day! Never heard of dyscalculia before...

colleen p.
colleen p6 years ago

I want a way to get a free look over. math makes me rage and cry, I never really mastered reading the clock. I am allegedly artistic and good with words(but not grammar's rules)
I am not good at map reading and at times distance.

I am terrible at memorizing names and faces(but can identify several animal species and dog breeds)

and I am not to athletic.

but there were traits that weren't there. I can only assume I have it.

I only had alderbra in a county college, I had to take that twice. and other math classes. It is painful not to get it, and feel like I should, and it is important! because math=smart! smart=good. If you cannot "math", you are useless, worthless, and sub animal.

Kristin Lovelace-Ross
Kristin Lovelace6 years ago

Randi L., almost NO high schools have a calculus requirement (only those in upper income areas, or private schools). Calculus is usually an "AP" class in math, which a very few students take voluntarily. And, it is being offered in fewer schools as "teaching to the test" and focusing on the basics is becoming more prevalent.

Brenda Towers
Brenda Towers6 years ago

I don't think this problem is fully solvable.

Tina L.
Tina L.6 years ago

wow... I never knew there was such a disorder