Dyscalculia - Understanding disabilities, impairments and specific learning difficulties - University of Derby


Students diagnosed with a specific learning difficulty ‘dyscalculia’ may experience difficulty in acquiring arithmetical skills. These difficulties can present in a variety of ways; learners may have trouble understanding simple number concepts, lack an intuitive grasp of numbers and have problems learning number facts and procedures.

Dyscalculia will be experienced to varying degrees; therefore, the specific support needs of individual students with a diagnosis of dyscalculia will be set out in their Support Plan.

The difficulties experienced may result in individuals struggling with some of the list below among other things:-

  • Mathematical procedures and sequences
  • Learning theorems and formulae
  • Losing their place frequently when trying to work our problems – or omitting whole sections of the question
  • Memory difficulties with remembering and combining problems 
  • Sequencing difficulties when faced with complex instruction or past/future events
  • Remembering and retrieving information 
  • Equating question wording with their own subject knowledge
  • Problems transferring between mediums for example from the question paper to the calculator
  • Associating the appropriate word with its symbol or function 

The student may also experience another Specific Learning Difficulty in addition to dyscalculia.


It is, therefore, important for lecturers and tutors to ensure teaching is:-

  • Well structured
  • Cumulative
  • Multisensory
  • Allowing time for learners to see, say and do


Some ideas to overcome barriers to learning may include:

  • Breaking up large sections of text
  • Use of a sans serif font for example Arial- no smaller than 12 pt.
  • Going through work at the individual’s own pace; an overloading of information can result in an inability to absorb anything
  • Break problems down into small, manageable steps
  • Use of colour or highlighting can facilitate greater clarity with problems or when using software e.g. spread sheets
  • Provide as many memory aids as possible – such as large wall posters
  • Mind maps can also help with extended pieces of work


Lecturers and tutors will need to take into consideration all aspects of the course and how these may need to be adapted or discussed with the individual. This includes placements, field trips, lab work etc.

Further consideration should be made in regard to individual learner’s self-confidence and self- esteem; the strongest predictor of an individual’s performance in maths is the individual themselves. Those who succeed in maths have the confidence to take risks and solve new problems. A learner with a low success rate will look to problems within their known success range meaning there may be little or no progress in their work.

With the above in mind, considering a learners confidence will often need to precede any teaching. Work should begin at a level where the learner can succeed and move slowly in to new or, previously unsuccessful, areas.

We appreciate that self-consciously changing teaching habits can be extremely difficult, we would, therefore, advise lecturers to meet with their students, not only to discuss the student’s needs but also how the student can support their lecturer in ensuring that their teaching is accessible. It would be a good idea to open the channels of communication so both students and lecturer feel comfortable to discuss when things aren’t working and how this can be amended.

For further information or if you have any questions or concerns please contact the Student Wellbeing team via studentwellbeing@derby.ac.uk or ext 3000.

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Learning and Teaching Conference 2018 - Call for proposals

The Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) is pleased to announce the call for proposals for the Learning & Teaching Conference 2018. All staff are invited to submit using the online form below for consideration by the conference review panel. Proposals need to be submitted no later than 12 noon on 22 May 2018.