Can't add up? Don't despair – you may suffer from dyscalculia

Apart from the wider impact on society and the economy, the study shows dyscalculia and low numeracy imparts huge costs on individuals, more so than the impact of low literacy

It affects one in 20 people, can undermine their confidence and frequently leads to the embarrassment of counting on one's fingers. Yet the biological inability to recognise numbers is still not seen for the medical problem that it is, experts said yesterday.

Just as dyslexia is a learning disability that inhibits the recognition of words and sentences, dyscalculia is a learning problem associated with the inability to handle numbers. But nobody is taking it seriously even though between 5 and 7 per cent of children suffer from the handicap of not being able to do sums easily, scientists said.

Professor Brian Butterworth, a neuroscientist at University College London, has called for a greater awareness of a problem that he believes is blighting the lives of a significant minority of people who cannot do simple arithmetic and are not necessarily aware of why they suffer from a problem that has dogged them since childhood.

"Broadly speaking, people in this country think literacy is more important than numeracy and it's OK to say 'I'm bad at maths' and not OK to say 'I'm bad at grammar, spelling and pronouncing words'," Professor Butterworth said. "Dyscalculia is at least as much of a handicap for individuals as dyslexia and a very heavy burden on the state, with the estimated costs in the UK of low numeracy standing at £2.4bn," he added.

Experts believe the status of dyscalculia as the poor relation to dyslexia is undermining efforts to address the problem with greater public awareness and better education. Even though they believe that dyscalculia is largely biological, and can be inherited, they also believe it is possible to correct it to some extent if it is identified early enough.

"There isn't much official recognition of dyscalculia and I think there ought to be. Parents should be more aware that if their children suffer from dyscalculia it does not mean they are stupid," Professor Butterworth said.

Dyscalculics often devise elaborate tricks to handle numbers as a way of overcoming their handicap, but they can still show wildly inaccurate attitude to figures, such as estimating the height of a room to be hundreds of feet.

A study in the journal Science led by Professor Butterworth says that apart from the wider impact on society and the economy, dyscalculia and low numeracy imparts huge costs on individuals, more so than the impact of low literacy on individuals.

"They earn less, spend less, are more likely to be sick, are more likely to be in trouble with the law, and need more help in school ... There is an urgent need to help failing learners achieve a level of numeracy at which they can function adequately in the modern workplace," the study says.

Several studies have shown that dyscalculia has a significant inherited component. Sufferers are likely to have siblings with the same problem, and it is more commonly shared between pairs of genetically identical twins than non-identical twins.

Other studies have indicated that the problem is related to the development of the brain either during pregnancy or in the first years of childhood. But early intervention with the right approach in teaching can help, said Professor Diana Laurillard of UCL's Centre for Educational Neuroscience.

"Just because dyscalculia is inherited it does not mean that there is nothing that can be done about it. As with dyslexia, specialised teaching can help," Professor Laurillard said.

"Results from neuroscience and developmental psychology tell us that dyscalculic learners need to practise far more number-manipulation tasks than mainstream learners," she said.

So, are you dyscalculic?

Examples of common indicators of dyscalculia are:

* Carrying out simple number comparison and addition tasks by counting, often using the fingers, well beyond the age when it is normal, or

* Finding approximate estimation tasks difficult. Individuals identified as dyscalculic behave differently from their mainstream peers.

For example:

* To say which is the larger of two playing cards showing five and an eight, they count all the symbols on each card.

* To place a playing card bearing an eight in a sequence between a three and a nine, they count up spaces between the cards to find where it should be placed.

* To count down from 10, they count up from one to 10, then one to nine, then one to eight, and so on.

* To count up from 70 in tens, they say 70, 80, 90, 100, 200, 300...

* They estimate the height of a normal room as "200 feet?"

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
News
Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives his annual televised question-and-answer session
peopleBizarre TV claim
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
VIDEO
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'
tv
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit