Can dyslexia happen with numbers? Let’s figure it out. Dyslexia is a form of learning difficulty that hinders one’s ability to read, write and spell effectively.
The condition happens due to damage within part of the brain responsible for recognizing the visual structure of written material and extracting meaning from it.
Being a neurological condition, Dyslexia has many subtypes and manifests differently in each affected person.
Affected individuals start showing symptoms as soon as they start schooling, but the condition can also go undetected for many years. Young learners often struggle to read accurately and effortlessly as they see words and letters as unfamiliar shapes and symbols.
We have a related article for you, you can read Can Dyslexia Be Passed Down?
For a dyslexic child, a set of letters such as “ABCDE” can look like what “x&$D)6n?v#a!P” looks like for a normal reader. This makes every letter, word, and digit seem unfamiliar despite its visual structure being recognized and memorized previously.
These and many more difficulties can cause problems with numbers and pairs of digits. Some of the common problems faced with numbers and the influential symptoms behind them are explained below.
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Can Dyslexia Happen With Numbers? What is Number Recognition?
Just like letters, digits can also seem unfamiliar symbols to individuals with Dyslexia. Affected individuals often need to go through a lengthy “decoding” process before the number can finally be recognized. This makes working with numbers incredibly difficult, especially when dealing with complex figures.
Moreover, math problems can cause more reading and understanding problems compared to words and letters. This is because there is only a certain amount of letters (26 in the case of the English language), whereas numbers can be paired with unlimited possibilities.
The always-changing pairs of digits can seem overwhelming and lead to dyslexic learners reading and understanding at a relatively slower pace than their peers.
However, not all cases of Dyslexia cause this problem. Some subtypes, such as phonological Dyslexia and Deep Dyslexia, don’t cause noticeable problems with number and letter recognition. The problem is more heavily present in Visual Dyslexia, also known as Surface Dyslexia.
Math functions are heavily reliant on a series of numbers, sequence of numbers, different math symbols, and order of problem-solving. Individuals with dyslexia struggle with almost all of these tasks as they have trouble with directionality and often mess up the order of things.
Different math problems require different directionality; some may be solved left-to-right while others are solved top to bottom. This can be confusing for dyslexic learners, especially those in the early stages of schooling.
Another struggle is understanding math symbols such as the x of multiplication, ÷ of division, and even plus and minus signs. Percentages, fractions, and brackets can also reduce one’s ability to carry out calculations.
Individuals with Dyslexia often struggle with mathematical word problems as well. Almost all cases of Dyslexia cause a weak working memory, making mental reasoning and problem-solving a serious challenge.
Working memory is the ability to hold new pieces of information, relate these pieces of information with each other and manipulate the input to solve a problem. With a weak working memory, learners often struggle with arithmetic that involves multiple steps requiring high levels of mental problem-solving.
This can result in inaccurate answers even if a student applies the right problem-solving method.
Multiple studies have found that children with dyslexia work so hard to recognize the words, letters, and digits that they forget to think about their meaning.
For example, they may dedicate all their attention to understanding the visual structure of “d”, ”a” and “y” and then fail to realize that what they are reading means “day”. This can also happen with numbers, where the learner spends so much time decoding the “3” and “5” that they fail to realize that the actual value the figure indicates is thirty-five.
Such comprehension problems can make working with numbers incredibly hard, especially for those who don’t receive adequate support from teachers.
Along with reading, Individuals with Dyslexia also struggle to write down numbers. Every brain stores an image indicating the specific visual structure of each letter and digit that makes it unique.
Most subtypes of Dyslexia lower the ability of a brain to store this visual information. This makes recreating digits from visual memory relatively difficult. For this reason, the written numbers by an affected person can often look distorted, inconsistent, and even inaccurate in severe cases.
The inability to write down numbers effectively also causes challenges in math problem-solving as fluent and accurate writing is essential for dealing with various calculations and math functions.
What About Dyscalculia?
Dyslexic learners showing problems with numbers and mathematics often get referred for Dyscalculia. However, Dyscalculia is an entirely different learning difficulty with different root causes and symptoms than Dyslexia.
Misdiagnosis can often lead to more learning difficulties due to the incompatible learning support and strategies provided. Number problems with Dyslexia happen only because of reading and writing problems.
The difficulties remain evident in all cases of writing material, including words, sentences, and complex numbers. In comparison, Dyscalculia is where number-related problems occur despite normal reading, writing, and comprehension skills.
For this reason, Dyslexic learners facing a numbers problem need more tailored support rather than the specialized support and math instructions appropriate for those with Dyscalculia.
Is it Dyslexia or Dyscalculia?
It’s important to gain a valid assessment before reaching a conclusion based on the symptoms. Both Dyslexia and Dyscalculia have highly similar symptoms and cause almost identical difficulties when dealing with math.
Moreover, Dyscalculia can also cause trouble with reading problems similar to Dyslexia, making diagnosis more complicated. Sometimes, misdiagnosis can be more damaging to a child than an undiagnosed disorder.
It is best to seek a professional assessment from the school, psychologists, and speech-language pathologists rather than making a guess based on symptoms.
While Dyslexia can cause noticeable problems with numbers and calculations, the difficulty seems to diminish with progressing stages of education.
Also, make sure to check out my post on Can Dyslexia Come And Go? Is It A Chronic Ailment Or Non-frequent?
Multiple studies have found a similar trend where young learners within the primary and middle schools have a harder time with numbers than adults and college-level students with Dyslexia. This should compel teachers and parents to provide sufficient learning strategies that can help affected learners build number awareness as it is a manageable problem.
Moreover, the condition doesn’t inherently make people bad with numbers, but only with written numbers and writing numbers. Affected individuals do well with verbally communicated figures and everyday calculations.
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