Dyscalcula, also sometimes spelled dyscalculia, is a mathematical learning disability characterized by inability or difficulty in performance or comprehension of one or more areas of mathematics. This may be manifested by school performance at below the tested level of understanding, or by significantly fewer IQ points in one or more mathematical areas as compared to the overall IQ score. It is generally considered to be a neurological and cognitive disability. It is not the same thing as a math phobia, nor is it the same as test anxiety, although these things can easily occur in a dyscalculic person. People with dyscalcula generally have average to above average intelligence of the kind measured on standardized tests.
It may be apparently inborn, as in developmental dyscalcula, or it may be the result of brain damage or a neurological disability. It may commonly occur along with another learning disability such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, or autism, or it may stand on its own. Currently, the American school system recognizes its existence far less often than its more famous cousin, dyslexia.
Common areas of disability for dyscalculic people may include:
Dyscalculics may also frequently reverse or miscopy numbers, similar to a sort of numerical dyslexia. Many times, a dyscalculic person will be able to do the mathematics if given enough time, and hence may complete worksheets but
be incapable of finishing tests on time. A dyscalculic's mistakes may be misunderstood as careless mistakes, regardless of the effort that he or she puts into the problems. Some dyscalculics may be unable to understand mathematical symbols, but able to understand the concepts behind them. Others may be unable to understand certain concepts at all. There are many variations on dyscalcula.
In fact, since most dyscalculics are not disabled in every area of mathematics, their dyscalcula may go unrecognized. In addition, since in many instances only some areas of mathematical ability are affected, other areas of mathematical ability may be normal or above average. For instance, someone who cannot do arithmetic without a calculator may excel in algebra, number theory, geometry, or calculus. Or, on the other hand, the reverse may be true. In addition, some dyscalculics may be disabled in all of these areas.
Many dyscalculics are of average ability or even excel in other areas unrelated to mathematics, particularly verbal skills such as reading, writing, or speaking, or other less linguistic skills like visualization. However, some disabilities may be present in those areas as well. In fact, arithmetic has been seen by some as a form of linguistic skill, and hence people with some forms of dyscalcula may be especially prone to difficulties in language. Dyscalculics who have more problems in visual and spatial aspects of mathematics may have difficulties in things like visualization. Much depends on the variety of dyscalcula that the person has.
Some useful accomodations for dyscalculics in the classroom are extra time on tests, the use of aids such as a calculator for arithmetic, using tests that assess comprehension of concepts rather than computational ability, waiving of prerequisites for certain classes, and using alternative teaching methods such as visual or verbal aids rather than numerical representations. The specific accomodation depends on the type and degree of disability of the individual student.