There is no widely accepted definition.

A useful definition for HE is ‘Dyscalculia is an inability to conceptualise numbers, number relationships (arithmetical facts) and the outcomes of numerical operations (estimating the answer to numerical problems before actually calculating)’ (Sharma, 1997 in: Pollak, 2009:126).

Estimates of prevalence in children: 3–8%. There are none for HE.

Students may have difficulty with: understanding and using mathematical concepts and relations; mathematical symbols or digits; mathematical operations.

They may also have difficulties in understanding time, money, direction and more abstract mathematical, symbolic and graphical representations together with severe mathematical anxiety: ‘the panic, helplessness, paralysis, and mental disorganization that arise among some people when they are required to solve a mathematical problem’ (Tobias & Weissbrod, 1980 in: Pollak, 2009:129).

HE issues:

  • choice of courses (pattern cutting, e.g., may be extremely stressful); arriving on time for classes because of difficulties with time and direction; completing work on time because of difficulty reading timetables/time management;
  • financial management leading to debt.

All these may involve high anxiety.

Social: dyscalculiac students may become isolated, avoiding social engagements involving money (shopping with fellow-students at the weekend, drinks in the bar) and time/place (meeting for coffee).

Work placements and careers may be a source of anxiety.

Dyscalculia Screener At: http://dyscalculia-screener.co.uk/


Trott, C. (2009) ‘Dyscalculia’ in: Pollak, D. (ed) Neurodiversity in Higher Education: positive responses to specific learning differences Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, pp.125-148

© Matthew Tizzard