Despite being as smart and educated as other children of the same age, some children encounter persistent and impairing difficulties in particular aspects of learning. These difficulties may be identified to be a Specific Learning Disorder (SLD) which is neurological or inborn in nature.  Among the many types of SLD, two of the most commonly experienced learning deficits include dyslexia and dyscalculia. Yet, how can we tell them apart and what are some of their early signs that we can observe for?

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a reading disability that is characterised by difficulties with phonemic awareness, rate of reading, fluency, comprehension and/or written expression.

Early signs of dyslexia:

  • Shows delays in pronouncing words correctly.
  • Finds it hard to remember the names of common objects, e.g. cat and book.
  • Has difficulty learning to read, write, and spell, despite putting considerable effort in learning.
  • Has difficulty copying accurately from books.
  • Has difficulty remembering and following oral instructions.
  • Persistently reverse letters and figures, e.g. ‘b’ for ‘d’.

What is dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia is a learning disorder in numeracy. It is characterised by difficulties in understanding numbers, counting, identifying mathematical signs (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division), learning multiplication tables, and in general doing activities that involve numbers.

Early signs of dyscalculia:

  • Has trouble recognising patterns, such as from smallest to largest or shortest to tallest.
  • Has difficulty recognising number symbols (e.g. knowing that “8” means eight).
  • Struggles to understand the meaning of counting. For example, when asked for three biscuits, he/she might simply hand you a few without counting them out at age four.
  • Has difficulty learning and remembering basic math concepts, such as 3 + 3 = 6 in Primary 1.
  • Has difficulty identifying and using +, ‒ and other signs correctly.
  • Struggles to understand words related to maths, such as ‘greater than’ and ‘less than’.

If you suspect your child to have the above learning needs, it is important to act early! Early intervention and training have been found to bring about more positive change at a faster pace than intervention provided to older children. It also prevents secondary effects, such as stress and reduced self-esteem.  Hence, parents of children suspected to have dyslexia or dyscalculia are recommended to look for psychologists who have the appropriate credentials and experience to conduct a comprehensive psychoeducational assessment. It is important to work together with them to understand the children’s needs and generate treatment plans.