How Dyslexia Affects Math Skills


Imagine my joy at discovering that my kids were a part of the 20-60% of kids with dyslexia who also have dyscalculia! Now alongside teaching struggling readers, I’m teaching kids who struggle with math as well. Sigh…

The longer I teach my kids with dyslexia, the more I learn about the complexities of this brain-based condition and its impact on how my kids learn.

It’s really no surprise that many kids with dyslexia also struggle with:

The Link Between Dyslexia and Dyscalculia

4 Underlying Areas of Weakness

Students with dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia all have underlying weaknesses in the same areas:

Understanding How Processing Issues Affect Learning

Typically, students with slow processing speeds (either visual or auditory processing) lack the underlying perceptual and associative processing tools that enable them to efficiently process numbers and math.

In essence, processing means information in, information out.

For example, how we:

These processing ‘tools’ help us to express what we know.

If mathematical processing skills are not developed, then it appears as if we do not know the math. So while our kids may have perfect vision and hearing, once the information enters the brain through the eyes or ears, things get messy and the information doesn’t quickly and efficiently go where it needs to go.

Learn more about Visual Processing here.

Learn more about Auditory Processing here.

How Working Memory Weakness Affects Math and Reading

Working memory refers to the brain processes used for temporary storage and use of information and affects our ability to remember instructions and recall rules such as in games, reading, or math.

It is similar to processing as in the previous example but involves manipulating the information that is being taken in as well – therefore the term ‘working’ memory.

Working Memory operates over only a few seconds, and it allows us to focus our attention, resist distractions, and guide our decision-making.

Doing math in “your head,” or mental math, requires significant amounts of working memory. Children need to store the information, hold it in mind for the time necessary to use it, retrieve the math facts that they have presumably learned, and then process the information.

Consider doing a math word problem in which one needs to keep in mind all of the facts that they have just heard, engage in calculations, and then recall additional math facts in order to arrive at a solution

Example problem:  There were 1768 cars in the convention center parking lot.  Half of the cars left after an afternoon concert and 1020 more cars came in for the evening show.  How many cars were there before the evening show let out?

Word problems can be particularly difficult.  Our kids may know how to do different kinds of calculations. However, many kids can run into trouble with word problems. It’s difficult to listen for clue words that indicate which operation to use, while at the same time remembering the numbers that need to be plugged into the equation.

Low working memory causes problems with the efficient learning of both calculations and higher level problem-solving.

Research shows that the most common deficit among all students with dyscalculia, with or without co-occurring dyslexia, is their difficulty in performing on working memory tasks.

Learn more about Working Memory and How it Affects Learning.

dyslexia and dyscalculia

Understanding Executive Function Weaknesses

Executive function refers to the network of the brain that is responsible for planning, organizing, prioritizing, and recognizing errors and also involves working memory.

Executive functioning issues can produce a wide range of symptoms. Depending on which skills your child struggles with the most, and the particular task he or she is doing, you might see the following signs:

  • Finds it hard to figure out how to get started on a task
  • Can focus on small details or the overall picture, but not both at the same time
  • Has trouble figuring out how much time a task requires
  • Does things either quickly and messily or slowly and incompletely
  • Finds it hard to incorporate feedback into work or an activity
  • Sticks with a plan, even when it’s clear that the plan isn’t working
  • Has trouble paying attention and is easily distracted
  • Loses a train of thought when interrupted
  • Needs to be told the directions many times
  • Has trouble making decisions
  • Has a tough time switching gears from one activity to another
  • Doesn’t always have the words to explain something in detail
  • Needs help processing what something feels/sounds/looks like
  • Isn’t able to think about or do more than one thing at a time
  • Remembers information better using cues, abbreviations or acronyms

Learn more about Executive Function and how it Affects Learning here.

That’s nice, but now what?

Knowing about these co-existing weaknesses helps us to understand the bigger picture when it comes to these outside-the-box thinkers of ours, doesn’t it?  We can’t fix the problem unless we know what’s broken.

If you’ve been around this site for long, you know that I don’t for one second think that our kids are broken.  To the contrary, I believe that our kids (and husbands or wives) have been created this way for a purpose – for great purpose.  See all of these dyslexia success stories.

The reality is though that we need to teach these guys how to read and write and do math.  When parents take the time to learn how their kids learn (and don’t learn) they are better able to teach their kids.

Teaching Math to Kids With Dyscalculia

Dyscalculia class

Take a class. Teaching Math to Kids With Dyscalculia is a one-hour, online, parent class full of the latest research and tons of effective teaching tips for kids who struggle with math.

Or learn more about the underlying weaknesses that affect reading and math in our new parent course bundle:

auditory visual processing working memory executive function


How about you?  Do your kids struggle with math?

Imagine my joy at discovering that my kids were a part of the 20-60% of kids with dyslexia who also have dyscalculia! Learn more about the link between dyslexia and dyscalculia or how dyslexia can affect math skills. #Mathskills #dyslexia #dyscalculia #homeschooling


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