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Math Learning Disability as Common as Dyslexia

Research has found that dyscalculia, a learning disability focused around number and math concepts, is as common as dyslexia. Christie Nicholson reports

The quadratic equation may have instilled horror in many of us. But for some 5 to 7 percent of the population even basic math—like the concept of the numbers 5 and 7—causes anxiety. You may never have heard of the disorder called dyscalculia, yet it’s as common as dyslexia, according to research in the journal Science.

Dyscalculia means “counting badly” which is ironic since those who suffer from it need to count often. Here’s what I mean: They can only tell that a playing card is a number eight by counting the number of objects on the card. If asked to count down from 10 they count up from 1 to 10, then 1 to 9, then 1 to 8, etcetera. Paying with cash is a nightmare. Estimates are hard, too. Asked the height of a room, they might guess 200 feet.

According to researchers dyscalculia is inherited, and specific abnormalities in the brain might be a cause. Despite their challenge, many become proficient at geometry, stats and computer programming. With the right teaching—that focuses for example on using beads to improve the processing of numbers—they can count themselves among the math literate.

—Christie Nicholson

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