Not only math lessons – how dyscalculia affects everyday life

Dyscalculia is a learning difficulty characterized by struggles with mathematics. But are the symptoms visible only at school? Let’s learn about its everyday consequences.

Math is everywhere

We do not always realize how much math affects our lives. We read time using clocks, we cut food into a certain amount of pieces. We use numbers as passwords, codes, addresses, and dates. While it is possible to adjust the school curriculum for a dyscalculic person, there are not so many adaptations available outside of the education system. Let us learn how that affects dyscalculic people and their daily activities.

Field orientation

If you have ever used a GPS in your car, you are probably familiar with communications like: “After 200 meters turn left”, but can you always tell how much exactly 200 meters is? Even people without learning disabilities sometimes find it hard to quickly estimate the distance. For a dyscalculic person, this task is usually impossible to do, but that is just the beginning.

When you are trying to navigate the city, you come across the numbers in so many ways. How much fuel do you have left? How fast are you supposed to drive? You can decide to take a bus, but at what time does it leave? Finally, how to find the particular address, if you don’t understand how the numbers are arranged? Not all dyscalculic people have problems with field orientation per se, but many of them get lost in all the numbers they have to process to reach the destination, especially when they are in a hurry.

Preparing food

For some dyscalculic people, even a question like “How many pancakes do you want to eat?” is difficult to answer.

The kitchen is another place where you come across more numbers than you realize. Cooking something from the recipe can be very difficult for a dyscalculic person, because of lacking understanding of the amounts that they have to use. But using the recipe is not all. You have to choose the right temperature in the oven or under the pot and be careful to cook something for the right amount of time.

Even if someone makes something for you, you still have to communicate with them. For some dyscalculic people even the questions like “How many pancakes do you want to eat?” or “How much sugar do you put in your coffee?” are difficult to answer.

Remembering the numbers

Many dyscalculic people find it challenging not only to understand the numbers but also to remember them. The dates for example can be very difficult to memorize. This not only makes it complicated to learn history but can also lead to uncomfortable situations like forgetting about a meeting or a best friend’s birthday.

Providing others with a person’s own phone or account number can be a nightmare, especially if, what often happens, their dyscalculia is combined with dyslexia or dyspraxia. Those disabilities make it difficult not only to remember but to rewrite long sequences of numbers so that you never know, if you made a mistake or not.

The interpreting and memorizing skills are tightly connected to each other. It is much easier for our minds to remember the information they understand than a completely abstract one. When a person without dyscalculia sees the number “1925” they automatically get that it is a year in the twentieth century, somewhere between World War I and World War II, about a hundred years ago. A dyscalculic person needs more effort to connect this number with all those information and that is one of the reasons why they have a problem memorizing it. 

How to deal with all those struggles?

Those are only some of the ways in which dyscalculia can make daily activities complicated. Thankfully, if a person has access to inclusive education adapted to the needs of dyscalculic people, they have a great chance of avoiding at least some of those problems.

The exercises in estimating and comparing numbers can be a huge help. It is a way to learn which number is higher and which is lower as well as how much is “too much” or “too few” in different contexts. Improving your way of reading and understanding the time is possible as well. It is not true that all dyscalculic people live through their lives without being able to use a clock. Many of them can learn it if it is properly explained to them.

It is key to practice the use of numbers, but at the same time, it is also important to protect yourself from being overwhelmed with all the math symbols that surround you. There is no shame in using electronic clocks instead of analog ones as well as other types of adaptations that limit how many numbers you have to deal with during daily activities. Mathematical concepts can often be replaced by pictures or descriptions, for example, “bake until golden brown” instead of “bake for 75 minutes”.

There are many ways in which we can help people with dyscalculia in their daily activities. If you want to learn more about it, check out Calculate – the project aiming to promote effective methods of teaching mathematics and raise awareness about dyscalculia.

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Clouser, L., Discovering Dyscalculia with Laura Jackson, The LDA Podcast, Learning Disabilities Association of America, from:

Picture 1 by Karolina Grabowska:

Picture 2 by Janine on


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