Is there a student in your learning centre for whom maths is a constant challenge? That frustrating student who “just doesn’t get it”? This could simply be a dislike for maths, but in a severe case


Most learners eventually understand tricky maths concepts with a bit of help, but some have a genuine inability to grasp even the most basic forms of number sense. 

Whereas Dyslexia involves problems with the processing area of the brain regarding language, there is a similar learning barrier that relates purely to mathematics and affects one’s ability to develop numeracy skills, and that is Dyscalculia. 

Also sometimes called “Maths Dyslexia”, Dyscalculia affects about six percent of the South African population. 

It’s important to understand that Dyscalculia goes far beyond simply struggling with maths. These individuals have a genuine incapability to grasp basic number sense concepts such as: more/less, higher/lower, bigger/smaller, 5/five and telling time. They simply cannot see patterns and connections between numbers. The concept of counting in twos, fives or tens is incomprehensible, so they tend to count up in ones. They cannot fathom how the number 7 can also be represented by 7 dots.


  • Poor recognition and understanding of maths symbols (+ – x ÷) 
  • Problems with sequencing 
  • Poor spatial reasoning 
  • Difficulty telling left from right 
  • Difficulty keeping score, e.g. of games 
  • Difficulty keeping track of time / reading time / judging the passing of time 
  • Problems following directions / poor sense of direction, so they tend to get lost easily 


It goes without saying that supervisors and monitors should demonstrate patience with these students, once they’ve established that their challenges with mathematics go deeper than just a mental block. 

Individuals with Dyscalculia carry this condition into adulthood when they’re required to manage everyday finances and budgeting. Early diagnosis is therefore essential to ensure the basic building blocks of mathematics are absorbed as much as possible.

Although Dyscalculia is a lifelong condition, the good news is that there are many brilliant games and computer software applications available on the market to help build numeracy skills.


  • Playing games, e.g. Dice games, Card games, Lego, Bingo, Dominoes, Snakes and Ladders, Monopoly and Sudoku. 
  • Having a “pretend” shop where children must “buy” items and work out how much change is needed. 
  • Guessing the weight of various items. 
  • Involving as many senses as possible – very important: 
  • Visual = visual aids and lots of them! Colour coding, coloured counters, beads, pattern blocks, Cuisenaire rods, linking tubes, multi-sensory activities, etc. 
  • Auditory = students must count objects and say the numbers out loud. 
  • Tactile = touch/feel the objects as they’re picked up and counted. 
  • Kinaesthetic = movement; climbing stairs or walking purposefully, counting each step as they go.

Children with Dyscalculia need plenty of additional practice and repetition. With effective support, strategies and intervention, the vast majority will overcome their difficulties and progress well.