Key Information about Learning Difficulties

This page outlines all of the information on dyslexia and dyscalculia that we have gathered over the years. It is relevant for users of our software as well as those who are discovering living with learning difficulties for the first time.

When letters don't make sense

At least one in ten children experience difficulty with reading or spelling, a condition also known as “dyslexia”. This manifests itself in a variety of characteristics and ways. Dyslexia is caused mainly by irregularities in the development of the brain. If particular channels, links and/or areas are under-exercised and not sufficiently mature, the proper assimilation and processing of letters and words is rendered difficult or even completely impossible, and the breakdown of words into their component sounds is often prone to error. What’s important to note is that this difficulty with reading and spelling has nothing to do with intelligence – quite the opposite, in fact, considering a number of celebrated scientists throughout history (including Albert Einstein himself) suffered from dyslexia. The occurrence of dyslexia cannot be attributed to a single cause; as with many other learning difficulties, the causes are diverse and vary from person to person. Multiple factors can promote the development of dyslexia and must also be taken into account in its treatment.

Genetic components
Often, dyslexia is passed down genetically within a family, where parents, relatives, and siblings all suffer similar difficulties. This genetic influence has been scientifically proven.

Neurological perception disorders
The function of language processing centers in the brain is impaired. Children with dyslexia have been found to exhibit deviating activation patterns in the frontal and temporal lobes in the left-hand side of the brain. This means that the areas of the brain required for language processing are insufficiently synchronized, while auditory and visual networks are rendered less efficient. Auditory and/or visual perception disorders can also co-occur and can worsen dyslexia by causing problems with gaze control.

Delays in language development
By the time they turn four, most late talkers have closed the gap between themselves and their peers. For those that don’t, dyslexia should be considered as a possible cause of the developmental delay.

Signs of Dyslexia

When children are first learning how to read and write, they make the same mistakes at varying degrees of frequency. For most children, the mistakes decrease in frequency after a short time and are eventually eliminated altogether. Children with dyslexia, on the other hand, make a significantly greater number of errors than their peers, and the problems persist over a long period of time. What is particularly characteristic of dyslexia is the enormous inconsistency of these errors: it is often difficult to establish regular error patterns, and the errors occur without a common factor or theme.

The following signs can indicate the presence of dyslexia:

General wellbeing

  • …has anxiety about going to school
  • …has anxiety about taking tests
  • …has a negative perception of their own intelligence
  • …is withdrawn
  • …expects to fail
  • …displays frustration and a reluctance to try in other subjects
  • …lacks self-confidence
  • …experiences psychosomatic symptoms (stomach ache in the morning)
  • …displays aggressive or depressed behavior

Doing homework

  • …requires a disproportionate amount of time
  • …quickly becomes tired
  • …is disorganized at home and school
  • …needs a lot of support
  • …wants a parent or other adult to be present
  • …frequently seeks reassurance that their answers are correct
  • …often forgets what is to be done as homework
  • …often gets confused about verbal instructions
  • …has the feeling that they are not getting better, even after lots of practice
  • …reacts sensitively when trying to work, with frequent arguments or tears

Typical spelling and writing mistakes

  • …finds it difficult to tell similar-looking letters apart
  • …finds it difficult to map letters to sounds (phoneme errors)
  • …finds it difficult to break letters down into component sounds
  • …leaves out letters or parts of words
  • …adds extra letters or parts of words
  • …mixes up the order of the letters within a word
  • …distorts the appearance of letters (e.g. writes them as mirror images)
  • …makes frequent errors with upper and lower case
  • …has difficulty remembering and applying spelling rules
  • …writes the same word in different ways within the same text, yet is not able to recognize that the word is written differently each time or which version is correct
  • …makes a noticeably large number of grammatical errors
  • …has difficulty using punctuation(«»/ ,/./?/!)
  • …often has illegible handwriting, unable to maintain consistent letter sizing throughout an entire text

Typical reading mistakes

  • …has difficulty breaking words down into syllables orally
  • …exhibits poor rhyming skills
  • …has difficulty recognizing beginning, middle, and end sounds
  • …mispronounces words or parts of words
  • …leaves out particular letters or parts of words
  • …adds particular letters or parts of words
  • …reads very slowly and deliberately, often taking long pauses between words
  • …skips over punctuation, not leaving a pause for breath
  • …spontaneously replaces letters, syllables, and words with other letters, syllables, and words
  • …finds it difficult to begin reading out loud; lots of hesitation
  • …often loses their place in the text
  • …swaps words around within a sentence
  • …swaps letters around within a word
  • …has difficulties pronouncing double vowel sounds (diphthongs)

Typical difficulties with comprehension

  • …often finds it difficult to follow written instructions
  • …finds it difficult to formulate statements about reading material in their own words
  • …has difficulties drawing conclusions from reading material or identifying correlations
  • …struggles with questions on the content of texts; often needs to use their general knowledge to answer questions instead of formulating answers from the information they have read.

When numbers and quantities are an abstract concept

Counting and calculating
Around 5 percent of children suffer from difficulties with numeracy, also known as “dyscalculia”. For them, numbers are often nothing more than empty symbols. They find it difficult to acquire a sense for the size of different numbers or to compare them with one another. Performing calculations is almost impossible. These weaknesses typically lead to impaired school performance and, later, to disadvantages in the working world.

Mathematical skills are required in countless aspects of everyday life. Precise amounts are required in cooking; carpenters must be able to make accurate measurements; engineers must be able to perform precise calculations. Sophisticated mathematical skills are required in more or less every profession. Those who experience difficulties with math perform poorly at school and have great limitations in their professional future, with both child and adult sufferers experiencing enormous pressure to acquire mathematical skills at any cost. For children with dyscalculia, the skills with which many of their peers struggle in the first years of school remain an excruciating lifelong obstacle. If a child with congenital dyscalculia is not supported effectively despite the best efforts of their parents and school staff, they will continue to lack confidence and motivation in their efforts to learn. The bitter disappointment of not being able to keep pace with their peers often results in a general aversion to anything learning-related.

When the brain doesn’t want to do maths</>
In childhood, particular regions of the brain develop and specialise in the processing of numbers and mathematical thinking. For children with dyscalculia, the development of these specialised regions of the brain does not occur as it should.

Even as babies, most of us are able to distinguish between different quantities. This is a basic skill that paves the way for an elementary understanding of numbers. Without this skill, it is impossible for school-age children to learn how to link a perceived number of objects with a number word or a written Arabic numeral and to visualise a number line. When we solve our first maths problems as children, we predominantly engage the front (anterior) regions of the brain, which assume particular sub-functions and are responsible for the provision of stored knowledge. This frees up the rear (posterior) regions of the brain and creates capacity for the processing of complex, more difficult mathematical tasks. In children with dyscalculia, this specialisation of the posterior regions of the brain is frustrated. While dyscalculia sufferers are required to focus intensely and count out numbers, their classmates arrive automatically at the correct result. This laborious counting out of numbers is tiring and time-consuming for the anterior regions of the brains and is also highly prone to error. If multiple problems are required to be solved in a short time, the anterior regions quickly become overloaded – and the resulting anxiety further slows down the thought processes, decreasing the capacity available for storing automated knowledge and skills in the posterior regions. A true vicious cycle!

Signs of Dyscalculia

It’s important to take signs of dyscalculia seriously. At the beginning of school, all children experience occasional difficulties with math. If these problems fail to dissipate with supported homework sessions or several additional hours of practice, however, parents and teachers should be on alert for potential dyscalculia.

The following signs can indicate the presence of dyscalculia:

General well-being

  • …has anxiety about going to school
  • …has anxiety about taking tests
  • …has a negative perception of their own intelligence
  • …is withdrawn
  • …expects to fail
  • …displays frustration and a reluctance to try in other subjects

Doing homework

  • …requires a disproportionate amount of time
  • …quickly becomes tired
  • …feels the need to concentrate intensely, even for simple tasks
  • …needs a lot of support
  • …wants a parent or other adult to be present
  • …frequently seeks reassurance that their answers are correct
  • …often forgets what is to be done as homework
  • …cannot explain their work
  • …has the feeling that they are not getting better, even after lots of practice
  • …reacts sensitively when trying to work, with frequent arguments or tears

Typical mistakes at primary level

  • …has difficulty understanding spatial relationships – mixes up left/right, front/back, above/below.
  • …has difficulty judging how one quantity compares to another, e.g.: bigger/smaller, less/more.
  • …has difficulty transposing a number into a particular quantity or size; instead, simply remembers the name and sequence of numbers.
  • …mixes up numerals or writes them as mirror images
  • …has an imprecise concept of weeks, months, and years
  • …has a poor sense of time, e.g. in 10 minutes
  • …struggles to say a number sequence backwards, e.g. 20 to 1
  • …almost always counts on their fingers
  • …mixes up tens and units positions, e.g. 12/21,13/31
  • …always starts over when solving problems that follow each other in a logical pattern, e.g. 6+2, 6+3…
  • …struggles when crossing the tens boundary
  • …often misses the correct answer by 1, e.g. 7+5=13 / 12-8=5
  • …is slow to recognise similar problems, e.g. 6+2= und 16+2= und 60+20=
  • …thinks about the problem for so long and in such a long-winded way that they can no longer recall the sum they are trying to solve
  • …has great difficulty with substitution exercises, e.g.? – 7=15
  • …prefers to solve even even simple sums on paper
  • …frequently mixes up “plus”, “minus”, “times” and “divided by”
  • …is not able see the difference between (e.g.) 7-4= and 4-7=
  • …is not able to spot obvious mistakes
  • …has problems with times of day, units of weight and other dimensions
  • …switches around the positions of numbers to make sums easier to calculate, e.g. 63-25=42
  • …is uncomfortable solving text-based exercises
  • …struggles to comprehend the difference between units of currency, e.g. 50 cents vs. 5 dollars
  • …generally struggles with money, e.g. calculating change

Typical mistakes at secondary level

  • …needs more time than their peers, since they are still counting out numbers to solve addition and subtraction sums
  • …forgets explanations very quickly
  • …has far less ability to solve text-based exercises than numerical sums
  • …usually picks an arbitrary operation when solving text-based exercises
  • …has trouble with substitution exercises, e.g. ? – 8=13, or solves them incorrectly, e.g. 5-8=13
  • …solves simple addition and subtraction tasks in the 100s range in writing
  • …always recites multiplication tables from the beginning
  • …is not able to recognize that their calculations are incorrect
  • …has great difficulty crossing the tens or hundreds boundary
  • …makes numerous subtraction errors
  • …struggles to deal with quantities (weight, length, time)
  • …struggles to perform calculations with money
  • …applies explanations in a mechanical fashion, but forgets them soon afterwards
  • …swaps numbers around to avoid having to cross the tens or hundreds boundary, e.g. 234-236=202
  • …deals with times tables in a mechanical, parrot-like fashion, without any understanding of the logic behind them (they know that 5×5=25, but recite the entire 5x table from the beginning in order to answer 6×5)
  • …perceives 6:3= and 3:6= as the same sum
  • …struggles to explain the relationship between plus, minus and times
  • …finds it very difficult to estimate an approximate result
  • …has great difficulty with written division
  • …does not understand the rules of fractions, or continually mixes them up
  • …does not understand the significance of periods in decimal fractions and calculates that 1.6 + 1.6 = 2.12
  • …gets confused when dealing with equations