Skip to Main Content

Learning Differences: Dyscalculia


This guide focuses on dyscalculia and studying. It includes:

What is Dyscalculia?

Living with dyscalculia (It's not just "number dyslexia") by BBC The Social

What is Dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia describes a specific and persistent difficulty in understanding and using numbers. It's sometimes referred to as maths dyslexia or dyslexia with numbers, however it's more than that.

People with dyscalculia struggle learning math skills, even when they are in a good learning environment at home and at school. This can lead to a wide range of challenges with maths, including:

  • a lack of an “intuitive feel” for numbers and struggling to learn basic number facts and procedures
  • low confidence when solving maths problems, and may solve them simply by following a process rather than understanding the process
  • issues with long-term, short-term or working memory
  • difficulties with day-to-day activities such as following directions, keeping track of time and dealing with finances

It's not caused by low intelligence, background, gender, family problems, emotions or laziness.

What are your strengths?

While people with dyscalculia may face specific challenges, there are some positive aspects. 

Learning Strategies for Students

These learning strategies might be useful to help you manage your study.

Be creative

Take advantage of your creative strengths

  • Draw pictures or diagrams so you can better visualise the problem and see connections between the ideas. 
    • For example, here is a template for number lines which can help you visual problems that involve adding or subtracting, and here is a simple video explaining the concept. 
  • Use objects around you, such as marbles, other people, your fingers, and rulers, to help make the problem less abstract.
  • Give the numbers a meaning by talking through what they represent.
    • If you solve a problem and end up with a number as your answer, try to explain what that number means.
    • For example, if I need 150mls of milk to make a scone recipe, but I was to double the recipe, my equations looks like 150mls x 2 = 300. What does 300 actually represent? It represents 300mls of milk, which is what I need to make twice as many scones.
  • Use colour to highlight or underline key words and numbers. 
  • Reword the problem in a way that makes sense to you.
Solve problems in steps
  • Write down all the steps involved in solving the problem and follow them one at a time.
  • Put the steps into a flowchart for something more visual.
Ask 'why?'

Understanding why problems are solved in certain ways can help you learn how to solve them. 

  • Always as why? Why do I solve the problem in that way? Why do I add and not subtract? Why do I do one step before the next step?
Organise your numbers 
  • Use mathematical/graph paper to help organise your numbers.
  • If there is too much information on one page, use a reading ruler, or cover the information that is not needed in that moment so you can focus on one problem or a few numbers at a time.
Learn through play

Just because we are adults, it doesn't mean we can't play.

  • Try these number facts activities to support memory, and build automaticity.
  • Find some different number games that work for you and have a play.
Use assistive tools
  • Use a calculator to solve problems.
    • Ask your tutor how to use your calculator effectively. 
  • Set timers to help you keep track of your time.
  • Talk to the Accessibility Coordinator about available technology that could support you with your number-related studies.
Find a study buddy
  • Find a study buddy you can work alongside.
    • Talk through the problem with them. 
    • Try to explain what you are doing as you solve the problem. 


Take a moment: Choose one or two learning strategies to try this week. 

Teaching Strategies for Tutors

The best things you can do to support your students with dyscalculia are:

  • Learn more about dyscalculia
  • Get you know your students and their learning preferences. 

Below are some suggested strategies for supporting students with dyscalculia. 

Create supportive learning environments
  • Have one-on-one conversations about dyscalculia, and normalise learning differences. 
  • Use natural lighting, where possible, or dim lights to reduce brightness and glare. 
  • Incorporate regular breaks. Encourage students to move around and get fresh air. 
  • Allow extra time for students to process information and complete tasks.
Scaffold new skills
  • Break new skills down into smaller, more manageable chunks.
  • Teach new skills one at a time and build on previously learnt skills.
  • Outline all steps involved in solving a problem so they can be easily followed. 
    • Try alternative methods for showing steps involved, for example, using flowcharts.
  • Teach the language of maths.
  • Avoid putting too many equations or numbers on one page. 
Take a multi-sensory approach
  • Enhance written equations and problems with visual cues, such as counting on your fingers, drawing charts and diagrams, and using pictures.
  • Facilitate active and engaging activities suitable for practical learners (for example, use movement or play games).
  • Use colour to help students distinguish between numbers or categories.
  • Use visual timers and provide reminders of time limits. 
Teach the 'why'
  • Support learning by explaining why calculations are done in a certain way, and why certain numbers are being used. 
    • For example, when working with percentages, why is 100 a significant number? What does % actually stand for? When the % sign is next to a number, what does that actually mean?
Use real world contexts
  • Relate maths problems to real life by choosing authentic scenarios.
  • Put the numbers into a relevant context for students. 
Assistive tools 
  • Use mathematical/graph paper to help students 
  • Encourage the use of a reading ruler or show students how to cover the information that is not needed in that moment so they can focus on one problem at a time.
  • Teach students how to use calculators effectively. Don't assume they already know.
  • Help students to set up Pathways Awarua accounts so they can try these number facts activities to support memory and build automaticity.

Does this sound like you?

Want to check if you might have Dyscalculia?

  • Click the arrow on the right to answer some questions.
  • If you answer yes to many of these questions, then you might be experiencing the effects of Dyscalculia.

This checklist of symptoms can give you an idea of whether you might have Dyscalculia. It shouldn't be used to diagnose yourself. Talk to your Accessibility Coordinator for more information.


  • Does it take you a long time to solve number problems?
  • Do you have difficulty when counting backwards?
  • Do you have a poor sense numbers?
  • Do you have difficult remembering 'basic' facts (for example, 4 + 6 = 10) even when you have practiced them a lot?



  • Do you have trouble understanding place value, for example, knowing which is bigger - 41.043 and 4.143?
  • Do you forget the formulas or processes to perform calculations?
  • Do you find it hard to 'do' maths in your head?
  • Do you avoid doing maths tasks because your answer could be wrong?



  • Do you have trouble knowing whether your answer is right, or even nearly right?
  • Do you feel anxious when you have to deal with numbers and calculations?
  • Do you have trouble with directions, such as telling left from right?
  • Do you find it hard to read clocks, both analogue and digital?


It may not be dyscaclulia

Just because you have trouble with numbers, it doesn't mean you have dyscalculia. 

There is a difference between having problems with maths skills and dyscalculia. There are many reasons why students are challenged by maths, including dyscalculia, maths anxiety, and bad maths education in the past.


Pathways Awarua has some great interactive modules that can help you learn or improve your maths skills and remember number facts. 

Book : Dyscalculia : from science to education

Dyscalculia: Teaching Strategies & Modifications by Teachings in Education

Dyscalculia: Teaching strategies and modifications by Teachings in Education

If you want to talk about any information on these pages, please contact Wayne Samways, the Accessibility Coordinator. or 027 218 9180


Thank you to the team at Te PŇękenga Weltec Whitireia who gave us permission to adapt and use their guide on Learning Differences