A specific learning disorder with impairment in mathematics (often referred to as dyscalculia) is associated with significant difficulty understanding numbers and working with mathematical concepts.

Dyscalculia is a term referring to a wide range of difficulties with maths, including weaknesses in understanding the meaning of numbers, and difficulty applying mathematical principles to solve problems. Dyscalculia is rarely identified early.

Dyscalculia presents itself as a neuronal dysfunction in the intraparietal sulcus of the brain. This dysfunction develops a pattern of cognitive deterioration that usually manifests itself with skills deficits such as:

·       Focus (concentration): Skill related to the pattern of cognitive deterioration linked to dyslexia. The structural deficit in these connections of neural networks is also related to inhibition, which affects the mind's sharpness, making it more difficult for the child to learn math.

·       Divided attention: This skill is important as it allows for multitasking. Children with math disabilities present problems when responding to a stimulus because they are unable to focus, they get distracted with irrelevant stimuli, and they tire easily.

·       Working memory: This cognitive skill refers to temporary storage and the ability to manipulate information in order to complete complex assignments. Some difficulties as a result of this may be trouble following directions, forgetting instructions and tasks, low motivation, incomplete memories, being easily distracted, not remembering numbers, and delayed mental arithmetic.

·       Short-term memory: The capacity to retain a small amount of information during a short period of time. This mental deficit explains the inability to carry out math assignments. The problems present themselves when they calculate or attempt math problems. This is also related to the inability to remember numbers or multiplication tables.

·       Naming: Implies the ability to recall a word or number and use it later. Children with dyscalculia often have trouble remembering numbers because their brains may show added difficulties in processing information and naming concepts.

·       Planning: Low levels in this cognitive skill implies difficulties in planning and making sense of numbers and exercises. This inability to anticipate events or outcomes prevents the student from correctly completing the exercise.

·       Processing speed: This corresponds to the time it takes for our brain to receive information (a number, a mathematical equation, a problem…), understand it, and respond to it. Children that do not have any learning difficulties complete this process quickly and automatically, while children who have dyscalculia need more time and energy in order to process the information.

Types of dyscalculia

Although the symptoms that present themselves in dyscalculia are usually common in different types of dyslexia, dyscalculia usually presents itself in 5 main types.

·       Verbal dyscalculia

 This type of dyscalculia is characterized by a difficulty naming and understanding the mathematical concepts presented verbally. Children with this type of duscalculia are able to read or write numbers, but have a hard time recognizing them when presented verbally.

·       Practognostic dyscalculia

This type of dyscalculia is characterized by a difficulty translating an abstract mathematical concept into a real concept. These children are able to understand mathematical concepts but have trouble listing, comparing, and manipulating mathematical equations.

·       Lexical dyscalculia

Trouble reading and understanding mathematical symbols and numbers, as well as mathematical expressions or equations. A child with lexical dyscalculia can understand the concepts when spoken, but may have trouble writing and understanding them.

·       Graphical dyscalculia

Difficulty writing mathematical symbols. Children with this type of dyscalculia are able to understand the mathematical concepts but do not have the ability to read, write, or use the correct corresponding symbols.

·       Ideognostical dyscalculia

Difficulty carrying out mental operations without using numbers to answer math problems and understand mathematical concepts. They may also have a hard time remembering mathematical concepts after learning them.

·       Operational dyscalculia

This type of dyscalculia presents itself with a difficulty to complete written or spoken mathematical operations or calculations. Someone with operational dyscalculia will be able to understand the numbers and the relationships between them, but will have trouble manipulating numbers and mathematical symbols in the calculation process.

Causes of dyscalculia

There are numerous investigations conducted by neuroimaging. This technique allows for a live visual of brain activity and the central nervous system. Thanks to these representations, you can see that the deficit in the neural connections associated with dyscalculia is found specifically in the brain module in charge of numeric processing, which is located in the parietal lobe of the brain. Moreover, other areas such as the prefrontal cortex, the cingulate cortex, the back of the temporal lobe and numerous subcortical regions also form part of the proper functioning of mathematical or arithmetic skills.

Dyscalculia disorder occurs due to a congenital condition, meaning it has a genetic component. Normally one of the parents of the child also had trouble learning math.

Some of the causes of dyscalculia correspond to:

·       Cognitive deficit in numeric representation

This is a neuronal dysfunction that prevents the correct mental representation of numbers. It makes numeric decoding more difficult and it affects the comprehension of the meaning of assignments or math problems.

·       Cognitive deficit that impedes ability to store information in the brain

Children with dyscalculia show a dysfunction in a specific neural connection that prevents them from easily accessing numeric information. Their neural connection networks use alternative routes that a personal without this disorder does not use.

There are other possible causes that related to dyslexia. Neurobiological brain disorders, neurological maturation failures, psychomotor alterations, and even memory problems related to the environment, such as maternal exposure to alcohol, drugs in the womb, or premature birth are some possible causes.