20 Signs Your Child’s Math Struggles May Be More Serious Than You Think

Updated: Jul. 12, 2018

Math challenges many kids, but for some, it's actually dyscalculia, a type of math learning disability. Here's how to ID that issue in your child.


Is it just math anxiety?

It’s no secret that some kids are just not very good at math. Others may experience something called math anxiety, where they feel so much pressure to succeed in math that it practically paralyzes them. But some children’s math troubles may be more serious than either of those. Those kids could have dyscalculia, a math-based learning disability, sometimes called “math dyslexia.” And experts, such as Daniel Ansari, PhD, a developmental cognitive neuroscience professor and advisor for Understood.org, say that dyscalculia is just as common as dyslexia, but far less frequently identified. So how do you know if your child might have dyscalculia instead of just math anxiety? Here are 20 telltale warning signs that you should be aware of, based on your child’s age.

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In preschool…

1. He has trouble learning to count and skips over numbers long after kids the same age can remember numbers in the right order.

2. He doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of counting. For example, when you ask for five blocks, he just hands you a large group of blocks, rather than counting them out.

3. He struggles to recognize patterns, like smallest to largest or tallest to shortest.

4. He has trouble understanding number symbols, like making the connection between “7” and the word seven.

5. He struggles to connect a number to an object, such as knowing that “3” applies to groups of things like 3 cookies, 3 cars, or 3 kids.

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In grade school…

6. She has difficulty learning and recalling basic math facts, such as 2 + 4 = 6.

7. She still uses fingers to count instead of using more advanced strategies (like mental math).

8. She struggles to identify math signs like + and ‒ and to use them correctly.

9. She has a tough time understanding math phrases, like greater than and less than.

10. She has trouble with place value, often putting numbers in the wrong column. Find out some ways to help your kids beat school stress.


In middle school…

11. He struggles with math concepts like commutativity (3 + 5 is the same as 5 + 3) and inversion (being able to solve 3 + 26 ‒ 26 without calculating).

12. He has a tough time understanding math language and coming up with a plan to solve a math problem.

13. He has trouble keeping score in sports games and gym activities.

14. He has difficulty figuring out the total cost of things and often doesn’t understand the dos and donts of money smarts.

15. He may avoid situations that require understanding numbers, like playing games that involve math. Don’t miss these 33 things your child’s teacher wants you to know.


In high school…

16. She struggles to understand information on charts and graphs.

17. She has trouble applying math concepts to money, such as making exact change and figuring out a tip.

18. She has trouble measuring things like ingredients in a simple recipe or liquids in a bottle.

19. She lacks confidence in activities that require understanding speed, distance, and directions, and may get lost easily.

20. She has trouble finding different approaches to the same math problem, such as adding the length and width of a rectangle and doubling the answer to solve for the perimeter (rather than adding all the sides).

If you suspect your child’s math anxiety might actually be dyscalculia, start by talking to your child’s teacher. You may also want to consider sending a letter to your child’s school requesting an evaluation. By better understanding the source of your child’s math struggles, you can help him figure out how to navigate the math challenges that will arise as he gets older. Even try buying these back-to-school items that’ll make your child enjoy learning. Now, find out the homework-help secrets your child’s teacher wants you to know.