Bad maths may be a disability

01:43, Jan 31 2009

If counting change makes you sweat, subtracting digits sends shivers up your spine and calculators make you anxious, you may have dyscalculia.

A study launched by Auckland University researchers Anna Wilson and Karen Waldie aims to find out why 6 per cent of the population suffer from dyscalculia - a learning disability that makes it difficult for the brain to process and understand numbers and simple mathematics.

Dr Wilson says the research into the numeric form of dyslexia will try to identify the cognitive and neurological symptoms of dyscalculia - which means "counting badly".

"Dyslexia is reasonably well-known, and there has been a lot of research into its neurological causes and how to combat it. Dyscalculia is also quite debilitating, but many people do not even realise the condition exists."

The study - involving Aucklanders aged 18 to 35 - will look at the relationship between dyscalculia and dyslexia, in which the brain is slow to read words. About half of the people with dyscalculia also have dyslexia, but research tends to focus on dyslexia.

Dr Wilson says that not everyone who has trouble with maths has dyscalculia. Often people are just "math-phobic".


"People often have a very negative experience with maths and it can be hard for them to see how math is used in everyday life, unlike with reading, where it is pretty obvious."

Striking a bad maths teacher one year can be enough to change someone's opinion of maths, she says. Difficulty with keeping score in a sports game or failing to understand statistics read in a newspaper article would prove challenging for someone with dyscalculia.


* Did you struggle to learn maths as a child, even in primary school, and despite extra help?

* Have you always had trouble with fast recall of basic addition or multiplication? (e.g. 8+7=?, 7x6=?)

* Do you find that numbers sometimes seem like meaningless symbols to you?

* Do you have trouble estimating, for instance, how much your supermarket shop is going to cost or about how much 236 + 564 is?

* Do you struggle to understand everyday numbers such as statistics in the newspaper or your financial statements?

If you answer yes to all or most of these questions as an adult, you could have dyscalculia.

For an official diagnosis, you would need a professional cognitive assessment.


* Children with dyscalculia fall behind early in primary school, and may develop anxiety or a strong dislike of maths.

* In secondary school they are likely to struggle to pass maths and science courses and find their career options reduced.

* As adults they may earn less, and have difficulties managing their everyday finances.


The Dominion Post