Dyslexia Vs. Dyscalculia: Differences & Similarities

dyslexia vs dyscalculia

Takeaway: Dyslexia and dyscalculia are separate learning differences, but they have common roots in the brain. So, while dyslexia affects reading skills and dyscalculia affects maths skills, they often overlap. And they both can chip away at your child’s self-confidence if left unchecked. The solution? Teach your child how to adapt to her new learning needs.

Dyslexia and dyscalculia are learning differences caused by brains that are wired differently.

Some children’s brains are wired to learn things differently. Specifically, things like reading, writing, and maths. These learning differences also affect other parts of their lives, like paying attention to (and remembering) things, organising information, managing their time, solving problems, and more. Note that these differences are programmed into your child’s brain – so if she’s struggling at school, it doesn’t mean she’s less intelligent or motivated than her classmates. But it does mean that she’ll have to experiment with new learning techniques, to find the one that suits her best.

With dyslexia, children primarily struggle to read.

Children with dyslexia have problems reading from very early on. For example, they’ll struggle to learn the alphabet – especially when trying to match sounds to letters. And later, they’ll find it hard to spell, too – for example, getting the letters right but mixing up their order. This complicates so many other tasks like writing essays, studying for exams, taking notes in class, etc. Learn more about dyslexia.

With dyscalculia, children struggle with numbers and maths.

Children with dyscalculia have trouble processing numbers, and this spills over into things like learning maths (basic arithmetic, maths equations, geometry, etc.), telling time, managing money, etc. And they also have trouble with visual-spatial skills like catching an oncoming football or judging how far away the friend they’re chasing is. Learn more about dyscalculia.

Though dyslexia and dyscalculia are separate learning differences, they have common roots.

We’ve associated dyslexia with reading difficulties, and dyscalculia with number-processing difficulties. But many children with reading difficulties also struggle with numbers, and vice-versa. And just as interesting – children with dyslexia or dyscalculia are often diagnosed with attention issues (ADHD), too. So, why is this? Well, it’s because things like dyslexia, dyscalculia, and ADHD stem from differences in the same core executive functions of the brain. For example, the same working memory issue makes it harder for a child to remember what she’s read and/or the numbers she’s trying to multiply in her head. When we zoom in to the level of brain-cell wiring, dyslexia and dyscalculia aren’t that different.

They also affect children’s lives in very similar ways

Children with learning differences are generally bright and capable, so their difficulties can go unnoticed for years. And sometimes, they hide their differences so well that they never get diagnosed. But going unnoticed doesn’t mean being unaffected. Children with dyslexia and/or dyscalculia end up blaming themselves for being ‘stupid’ – after all, why else would they struggle with things their classmates find easy? And in time, this self-criticism will wear away at their sense of worth. Remember, learning differences don’t go away. So, children either adapt their learning style or learn to mask their difficulties.

It’s surprising just how much of an impact reading and maths difficulties can have on our day-to-day lives.

Children with dyslexia struggle with reading and language. So, in an average day, they’ll likely have trouble answering questions in class, learning new words texting friends, understanding jokes (especially if the punchline involves a rare idiom), playing word games (e.g., scrabble and boggle), and more. Similarly, a child with dyscalculia will struggle to manage time, follow directions (e.g., turning right instead of left), measure things (e.g., how much cocoa to add to this hot chocolate?), play games that use numbers (e.g., Uno), and more. Imagine how many times a day their classmates might tease or bully them about things like this!

Reading and maths skills seem like superpowers to children with learning differences. But the real superpower is in adapting to life’s challenges.

Children can work through learning differences by adapting their learning style. With dyslexia, you could encourage your child to audio-record class lectures (rather than taking notes) and learn through audiobooks. She could also organise her thoughts by drawing mind maps and using mnemonics. And to share what she’s learned, she could make multimedia presentations instead of writing essays. With dyscalculia, you could encourage your child to rely on tools like calculators and lists of pre-written maths formulas where possible. You could make abstract maths concepts concrete by using visual aids and physical objects. And you can role-play to prepare her for real-life situations she’s anxious about (e.g., calculating the change she’s owed at the supermarket.) The idea is for your child to see dyslexia/dyscalculia as ‘differences’ to adapt to rather than ‘problems’ to solve. Remind her that it’s this ability to adapt that’s a superpower – not her reading or maths skills.

If you suspect your child has a learning difference, an early diagnosis can give her a head start.

The earlier your child gets diagnosed, the earlier she can change her learning techniques. And this will make her life significantly less stressful. So, give her a head start and reach out to us for an evaluation. At The Ed Psych Practice, we offer face-to-face and online assessments, consultation, advice, and problem-solving strategies for parents, nurseries, schools, and universities in London. We have psychologists, paediatricians, and therapists who can help assess your child and offer guidance and support. To consult with us or set up an appointment:

Want to see how else you can help your child? You might enjoy some of our other posts.

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