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Math Disorder

Specific Learning Disorder with impairment in Math is a failure to develop age-appropriate math skill despite adequate instruction. Math disorder may include deficits in number sense, arithmetic, calculation fluency, or math reasoning.

Math disorder is distinguished from normal variations in academic attainment, and math problems persist in the presence of adequate educational opportunity and instructional exposure. Math disorder is also distinguished from math problems that are due to other medical problems, like intellectual disability, neurological or sensory disorders, and neurocognitive disorders. Finally, though math disorder commonly co-occurs with other neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g. ADHD, developmental coordination disorder, autistic spectrum disorder) and mental disorders (e.g. anxiety, depression), math disorder is distinct from and not due to those disorders.

Dyscalculia is a specific math deficit that is characterized by an inability to acquire basic arithmetic skills.

Signs of a math disorder include:

  • Poor number sense (e.g. limited understanding of numbers, their magnitude, and numerical relationships)
  • Difficulty mastering simple math facts (e.g. counting on fingers when other children the same age can recall facts automatically)
  • Poor calculation skills (e.g. getting lost while carrying out a computation and switching procedures midway)
  • Poor mathematical reasoning (e.g. difficulty applying mathematical concepts, facts, or procedures to solve a problem)

Math disorder may be mild enough that the individual is able to compensate or function well given appropriate accommodations or support services. In more severe cases, difficulties are so pronounced that the individual is unable to become proficient in core academic skills unless intensive and specialized teaching is provided in school and at home.

Regardless of severity, however, it is crucial that the math disorder be addressed. Individuals with untreated learning disorders show negative consequences across the lifespan, including lower educational attainment, higher rates of unemployment and under-employment, and higher levels of psychological distress.