Dyscalculia – Numberphile

These are the famous dots. So you just have to say how
Two. That’s very good. And you’re quite quick. Now the next one. BRADY HARAN: Six. PROFESSOR BRIAN BUTTERWORTH: OK,
you’re accurate there, but you’re a bit slower. Well, I’ve been particularly
interested in the last few years in dyscalculia, which is
a congenital condition that affects somewhere between 3
and 6% of the population. And what it means is that
they’re very, very bad at learning arithmetic, at least
learning it in the normal way. And this seems to be a
lifelong condition. We’ve met a lot of adults who
have this condition, adults who are very successful
in other branches– other walks of life. Walks of life that don’t depend
very much on being good with numbers. I mean, they could be
filmmakers, TV producers. They could even be science
journalists. They’re not going to be terribly
good at doing the maths for physics. Well, it’s like dyslexia in the
following way, that it’s something that you’re meant to
learn at school, and that unless you have special
help, you’re not going to learn it at school. It’s not exactly the same as
dyslexia, though it’s often called dyslexia for numbers,
because dyslexia is a problem in reading. But in fact, it’s really a
problem of language, dyslexia. So you have a particular problem
with analyzing the sounds of language. And that’s really what prevents
you from linking letters with sounds,
particularly for an orthography like English
orthography, where the relationship between letters and
sounds is not particularly consistent. BRADY HARAN: What’s the
difference between someone who has dyscalculia and someone
who’s just a bit rubbish at math? PROFESSOR BRIAN BUTTERWORTH:
The difference between dyscalculia and just being
rubbish at maths is that lots of reasons for being
rubbish at maths. My own excuse is that I didn’t
have a very good math teacher at school. And I didn’t like him. I didn’t get on with him. I’ve had to try desperately
to make up for that since. For example, you might miss
a lot of lessons. And since math is a kind of
cumulative subject, unlike history, then if you miss a lot
of stuff, it’s very hard to catch up. Dyscalculia can occur in people
with high intelligence, good memories, who go to school
every day, have really supportive backgrounds. And yet they’re unable to do
what everybody else in their class can do– do simple arithmetic. So there is a difference. You can often spot a
dyscalculic– though these aren’t formal tests– in lots of different ways. For example, they have great
difficulty in remembering telephone numbers. They have difficulty in
remembering any numbers. So they often are going to use
the same PIN, when they shouldn’t, for lots of
different activities. They’re very bad at shopping. So actually, one of the first
developmental dyscalculics we came across was in prison. And he was in prison
for shoplifting. Why did he shoplift? Well, because he was too
embarrassed to go to the counter, because he didn’t know
how much money to give. He didn’t know whether he was
getting the right change. So shopping is an area which
is really difficult for dyscalculics. They also have trouble
with time. It’s not that they can’t
estimate intervals. It’s just that they’re not very
good at the numerical side of it– working out, for
example, what time they have to leave home in order to
get to somewhere at a particular time. We know that there’s a
particular part of the brain that seems to be involved in
very simple number tasks. So for example, here in the
parietal lobes of the brain— this is the back of the brain. This is the left parietal and
that’s the right parietal. We know that these areas are
critical for just enumerating the number of objects
in a set. One of the things that
we now know– this is a very recent
discovery– is that dyscalculics have
abnormalities particularly in both of these areas, and maybe
particularly in the left in older dyscalculics. So they have abnormal
structure. And also, the brain activates
in a different way when they’re doing number tasks. Now, why should they have
abnormal structure or abnormal activations? Well, there are a number
of possible reasons. We don’t know all of them. One of them is these
abnormalities seem to be, in some cases, inherited. One of things we do know is
that there are particular genetic abnormalities that seem
to affect numbers more than other cognitive
abilities. So abnormalities in the X
chromosome seem to have an effect on parietal lobe
development and also on numerical abilities. So individuals with a number
of different X chromosome conditions– like Turner
syndrome, where you have only one complete X chromosome, or
Fragile X syndrome– they seem to have a big effect on your
ability to do even very simple number tasks. BRADY HARAN: How do you
diagnosis this? How do you make the decision,
yep, that person’s got the problem? PROFESSOR BRIAN BUTTERWORTH:
Well, in the study that we just published, we used
two criteria. One is you’ve got to be
bad at arithmetic. And it’s important to note that
it’s got to be– it’s timed arithmetic that’s
critical here. Because there’s a difference
between somebody who answers the question, what’s 5 plus 3,
with 8, and the individual who goes, 5 plus 3– 8. So time is a very good
diagnostic here. And we also looked
at the ability to just enumerate sets. So how many dots are there
on the screen? Now, how good you are at this,
even in kindergarten in one of our studies, is a very good
predictor of how much difficulty you’re going to have
in learning arithmetic. BRADY HARAN: What is it
about counting dots? Counting dots seems to– is it just because it’s a good,
easy, dependable test? Or is there something more
to it that I’m missing? PROFESSOR BRIAN BUTTERWORTH:
It’s a very dependable test. So if you’re bad at it at five,
you’re bad at it at six, you’re bad at it at seven,
you’re bad at it– well, up until 11. In our longitudinal study,
that’s as far we’ve gone so far. So it’s a very stable
indicator, so that’s one reason. The other reason is because it
links to the kinds of things that might be inherited, the
kinds of things that other species are able to do. BRADY HARAN: What do
we do with someone who’s got it, then? Are there drugs they can take? Is there something
that can be done? Or are they a basket case? PROFESSOR BRIAN BUTTERWORTH: No,
they’re not basket cases. But like dyslexia, what you
need is special kinds of intervention. So if they’re not very good at
enumerating sets, it means they don’t have a very good
sense of the number of objects in the set. So if it’s a set of five, not
very good at enumerating it means they don’t have
a very good sense of what fiveness is. So what you have to do is you
have to have interventions that target that particular
weakness. So you’re given lots of practice
at enumerating sets, linking that enumeration with
the symbols that we use for sets, like the word five
and the digit 5. And in fact, you can relate the
number of dots to how long it takes you. So unsurprisingly, you might say
the more dots there are, the longer it takes you to
give the right answer. But there’s a very reliable
result, which we’ve known for at least 50 years, which is that
up to about four dots, you’re very accurate and
you’re pretty fast. And thereafter, it takes you
about an extra quarter of a second for each additional
dot. And this is sometimes called
the subitizing range. And that’s called the counting
or estimating range. And there’s a point at which you
go from one range to the other range. And that suggests there
are actually two processes at work here. And we know, actually, from
some recent mirror-imaging studies that we’ve done, that
there are in fact– there’s a separate part of the
brain that does the subitizing range from the estimating
range. BRADY HARAN: At how many dots
does it become reasonable for someone to make a mistake? Because I feel a lot of pressure
with the dots. And if you put up 30 or so,
that would take me a long time to count. PROFESSOR BRIAN BUTTERWORTH:
Right. This is a very fair point. If you give people unlimited
time and you tell them they have to be accurate, they’ll
just count them. And they’ll be pretty good
at counting them. If you give them limited amount
of time, then they can count them up to a point. So for example, this
is from children. So it’s taking them seven
seconds to get to eight dots. But if you gave them less time
to do it, then of course they’d have to estimate. And it looks as though for big
numbers, you use a somewhat different process than when
you’re doing an exact enumeration. BRADY HARAN: What do I
Well, you make an estimate which is based on extracting
various visual properties from the stimulus. And there’s now some brilliant
work done by Marco Zorzi’s lab in Italy, where they’ve modeled
how this might work. But for numbers up to about 9
or 10– for some people, it might be a bit more– there’s a way in which you kind
of can enumerate even if you’re not actually
verbally counting. BRADY HARAN: I feel like when
I’m doing it, like when you showed me the six,
I counted three. And then I kind of made a
little split and counted another three and added
them together. Is that a normal thing? Is everyone doing that? Or are some people counting
Dyscalculics will count one by one. This is one of the interesting
things about dyscalculics. They’re very bad at doing the
estimating, using the estimating strategy. You can do it with
three and three– we’ve done some work on this– but you won’t do it
on three and four. So you won’t say, well, there’s
a group of three and there’s a group of four. It doesn’t give you
any advantage. For reasons we don’t fully
understand, having two visually separable groups
of the same number is an advantage. But having two visually
separable groups of different numbers, for reasons I don’t
understand, doesn’t give you any advantage. BRADY HARAN: Well, you
know more than me. I feel like with seven, I would
count three and four. Or maybe I would do
three and twos. I don’t know. PROFESSOR BRIAN BUTTERWORTH:
Well, come into the lab for some tests and we’ll see
what you really do. BRADY HARAN: There’s
Yes. Correct.

100 thoughts on “Dyscalculia – Numberphile”

  1. I have failed geometry five times, algebra one 4 times. I do not know if I will graduate highschool, if i will be able to last in college, if i will be able to do anything with myself that i want to because i have this.

  2. Do i have something wrong w me? I can count the sets very fast. Maybe at 5 or 7 dots. But I work as a math tutor????😔😂😭

  3. So what this guy is saying is some people can count faster than others. That's it. That's all he's saying. Psychologists wish they were real scientists. Neuropsychologists point to a map and tell you it's the road.

  4. 16 years old and only now in 6th form did the teacher's take notice i had this, i find it awful how throughout my years of education the teacher's ignored my parents when confronting them i had major difficulties in maths. i knew from a very young age i couldn't remember numbers and found it difficult to learn to tell the time , when i tried to explain to teacher's that reading maths was like reading a forren language, they would punish me in assuming i was making excuses to not do the work when in reality all i wanted was to learn and pass my GCSEs, yes i did make it to 6th form passing all my GCSEs except for science and maths failing 4 times but i still was punished by teachers for not passing maths. half way through my 6th form year i took a test for dyscalculia, my results came out as "High risk of dyscalculia" , i did a test and in total had a score of 9/100 . i felt very embarrassed but relieved to know that I wasn't just "thick" but indeed severely diagnosed with learning difficulties. i wish these test were given out earlier in school education specially before the age of GCSEs so that we do get more help and time in learning how to deal with dyslaculia.

  5. It is difficult to get tested as an adult, though. I'm thinking of just quitting school (at university level) and become a writer (which doesn't involve math).

  6. Its either im blind or i have dyscalculia, likely blind cause i wear glasses, i dont know how you can see the dots in enough ime to count em

  7. I've recently found this information & research about this problem recently, after failing this Algebra EOC, the class itself & having a long history of struggles, i've been really stressed out & bewildered.
    I'm impressed to realize this and just plain relieved to know there's an answer to this.
    Right now, i just want to know how to get these things over.
    Thank you guys for giving out an explanation of this.

  8. I counted 3+4=7. Biggest numbers I did count every 2 or 3. The biggest (27 dots) I did with the help of my index finger not to get lost.

  9. I'm a math major with a 130 iq. I have mild dyscalculia, I usually get the answers wrong because I make lots of computational errors. I'll typically get half of the questions on the math test wrong and get half credit so, I'll get lots of C's where I would have been getting perfect scores, I spend 2-3 times longer doing homework. I typically work 75 hours a week on home work where your typical math major would spend 25 hours a week doing homework.

    I'm pretty sure I'm a masochist.

  10. I have to count these each and every time and didn’t get the task done once there was more than 3 or 4 dots. At no time did I add up groups. I’m in my 60’s and have been ashamed of my math skills almost my entire life. Can’t remember times tables, can’t add in my head, and am really slow at doing math. I worked for years in finance though because there are calculators! And I actually like math and wish I could have done more.

  11. I would like to contest the proposal that groups of different numbers don't give you an advantage. It really feels to me as if I am using pattern recognition to identify groups and add them, especially if they come close to the patterns the eyes of a die are arranged. How exactly was this specific observation tested experimentally? Were there a control group that had to count dots arranged in largely familiar patterns? Maybe it would even be useful to have a group train to recognize specific patterns beforehand.

    Additionally it would be really interesting to see if people can still count an image with a number of dots that was shown for less time than they usually need to count the dots and still be accurate. In the same way where you briefly hear a melody and can then unpreparedly be asked to count the number of notes by reproducing the melody in your head and listening to it. This is exactly what made me assume that patterns actually do matter quite a lot.

  12. One of my saddest failures in life for me is my inability to do maths well. It's probably the most awesome language that exists but I just can't seem to remember it 😭

  13. I did 3 and 4 when they put up 7 dots which happened several times so I was surprised when he said people don't do this. I felt sure they would – groups of four stand out.

  14. yeah i actually counted 2 and 2 = 4 plus 3 = 7. Also with the ten dots i did 4+3+3. I also kinda connect them to triangles and quadangles somehow.

  15. I believe I have dyscalculia, and I'm not necessarily one for self diagnosing. I'm going into high school, and honestly, math has always been something I can't do. I'm perfectly fine in every other subject, and I mean i have some trouble in science when it involves numbers. I literally cannot tell time, I'm horrible at remembering any type of routes, and I still dont really know my times tables. Everytime i tell the front desk I dont now my parents numbers they tell me I'm at the age to where I should know it. I barely passed through math classes in middle school, but the thing is, I dont know how to talk to my parents about this. I've always been their child without mental issues, the one who gets better grades than my siblings. I mean, all of my siblings are horrible in math but they dont tend to pay attention to me when it comes to mental issues. I've tried bringing it up before but they kind of just push it away.

  16. I'm in 10th grade and I'm kinda sure I have this. I've had six paid tutors give up on me, I've failed almost every math test I've taken since 5th grade and I've had teachers give me 2nd grade math in 8th grade. I can only add, somewhat multiply, have trouble with dividing and seriously nothing more. Adding is mostly what I can do. I've found it interesting that I am great with history and can think of random dates and numbers that are associated these dates and events in seconds, but if you asked me to subtract 22-16, it would take more than a minute to solve. I really don't get why numbers, problem solving and math don't make sense, but numbers and history are easy.

  17. Funny thing is people with high IQs can have dyscalculia. So, you could have the IQ of Einstein and still struggle with basic mental arithmetic.

  18. May I come into the lab for some testing? It kind of threw me for a loop when you mentioned not counting 3 & 4 since I often group multiple sets of numbers containing different values to make it easier on myself, especially with rather large sets of numbers or prime amounts that obviously don't split up evenly like 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31…..Actually very curious what it looks like I'm doing to a researcher in some of these tests.

  19. 'can not learn in the normal way' – remind me again why normal is better? It's so easy when you start measuring things to give an almost moral meaning to each value,

  20. Im awesome at math, but i cant seem remember names or faces of people. Is there a name for that? I m like the opposite of dyscalculia

  21. I think i have this. When i calculate in my head my brain sometimes switches the numbers, from lets say 234 to 334 and i will only catch it when the game im playing tells me that i got it wrong. Its a very unfortunate condition to have. And that you are supposed to pick up on how many dots there are on the screen instantly is very frustrating. Since it takes me a little while, but not to long.

  22. When our schools are obsessed with the STEM fields, a large number of otherwise intelligent people are left behind

  23. I taught a kid who could multiply any two, two digit numbers instantly in his head and three digit numbers in a second or two. He hid it well though. On the other hand I had a maths professor at uni who could not be relied upon to count beyond 5.

  24. I have dyscalculia but manage to write scientific papers and calculate using SPSS. However, this takes me a very long time compared to others ! Ironically, I like maths

  25. I'm 19. I'm just know discovering that this might be the reason to why I've always been extremely terrible at math. I'm kind of angry that no one knew about this back then. Maybe I would have gotten legit help instead of being placed in extra classes.

  26. When we are trying to fastly process visual inputs a process called "chunking" plays an important role, working memory can be trained to handle much bigger "chunks".
    Credit cards, social security, phone numbers are designed to minimize the effort needed to accomplish the task at hand.

  27. I feel like at this piont they are just making of disorders. Why can someone can't just be bad at math?

  28. I have diagnosed dyscalculia and got no real help with it in school, just extra hours with a teacher that didn't teach any differently from how they did in regular class.
    I feel ashamed of how bad I am with counting and have come up with various strategies to seem normal in front of people I don't know. I cried watching this video, just like I cry with all math related stuff. It just makes me feel so frustrated that I don't get it!
    Now I have to take extra math classes if I want to get in to university to become a physiotherapist- which requires no math but they use high test scores in order to select who will get in. Idk what to do, is there any way for me to actually learn this stuff and not forget it the next day like I usually do?

  29. i was diagnosed with Dyscalculia and Dyslexia haha
    I had some troubles in school but after some time i did manage to reduce my Dyslexia. I even managed to learn english by myself.
    (Actually, I know more things in English than in do in Portuguese)
    I can get lost sometimes tho.

    However, My Dyscalculia never ease up on me, i tried really hard to learn but i did not manage to get over it.

    That makes me really insecure and kinda lost.
    I can't get a scholarship because of that.

  30. … are you telling me most people split the dots into groups? Like, most people don't count one by one? I am… shook.

  31. If ya put the dots closer together the easier they're grouped, and if the number of dots which are close is higher it is more difficult (for me) which is why every odd example in this video stress me out.

  32. I just usually count (at least in the dots examples) in 2s – 2,4,6,8 and then the 1 if its an odd number.

  33. (don't have money for a disabilities test and the college won't pay for it.) I have dyscalculia. (I was tested as a child but the colleges want something more current now that I'm an adult) I can't do addition. Multiplication…. I took a 098 math class that was variable credit so I could do two credits for two quarters and the last credit the last quarter. My disability effects studying and memory retention, as well as directional awareness, time awareness (homework takes forever) and overall testing ability. I have to take a 107 math class (math in society) this next quarter. I can't get my Transfer AA without it. Then I want to go to a four-year and get a Communications degree specializing in Publishing and Editing. I love Engilish and am an English tutor at my College, but if some mentions numbers of any kind my brain seems to flat-line.

  34. I'm in the 3-6%. My struggles have been with remembering formula (which killed my desire to study physics in college), and personal finances.

  35. Why are you only talking about numbers and math skills. Lets not forget working memory, depth perception, Spelling issues, trouble with directions (AKA getting lost easily), there is so much more to it than just numbers.

  36. I have very bad dyscalculia (4 attempts at GCSE maths and I get terrible anxiety shopping and my brain gets anxiety and physical pain with numbers) and yet I have a degree in science and I’m also a professional musician. Makes me laugh when people say music is about maths. I even conduct. Yes there is counting required and sometimes I do have to focus hard on that but only really at the beginning when I’m sight reading a new piece . Once I know the music well I go on feel of pulse.

  37. I'm a male in my early 40s who has dyscalculia and subsequently anxiety and depression. I'm being treated for the anxiety and depression with three different drugs used for different symptoms. Is there anything out there that can help with the left parietal lobe to assist it with proper function of the synapse needed to provide a normal or at least more improved quality of life by improving one's mind's ability to perform math and numerical tasks more efficiently? I would be grateful for any help you might be able to provide.

  38. Is say more than that %
    This is the first test I ever have seen. I can barely count.24 hour clock?!? Fingers! I'm trying to learn arm times tables, so I don't spend the whole of this year's time learning GCSE maths, counting ,blank ,etc I can't learn in class I'm too muddled up trying to work out basic arthimatic…division goes with me count blank blank blank start again.
    Possible I have this kind of learning diff. There are different levels of the severity of course?

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