Learning Chemistry Being A Dyscalculic

Last Updated on October 7, 2023 by Editorial Team

Most often, when we come across the term ‘dyscalculia,’ we relate it to the inability or challenge in performing mathematical operations. However, that is just one part of the wider picture. Students with dyscalculia do not just struggle with math but also other subjects such as Chemistry or Physics[1], owing to the difficulty in understanding numbers and quantities. 

Not only math classes but also chemistry tests may turn into a stumbling block for a student with dyscalculia, further affecting self-esteem. But, how to deal with this condition? 

The approachable and ideal proposition would be to understand the root cause of the problem. Therefore, in this post, we will dig deeper into the relationship between dyscalculia and chemistry, and also try to comprehend what challenges individuals with dyscalculia can face when it comes to chemistry skills. 

Obligatory attributes to grasp chemistry

Being one of the pivotal wings of modern Sciences, comprehending the notion of chemistry can be crucial to infer various daily life as well as professional entities. Just like other subjects like Math and English, this subject may need the learner to deal with numbers and spelling accurately. To ensure the same, every learner must display and exhibit a few attributes to assimilate. Let’s look into these attributes and the status of the same in Dyscalculics.

1. Number sense in Chemistry

May it be the atomic number of an element or balancing a chemical equation, Chemistry needs a strong grip on number sense and math notions. Pupils may even need to calculate the energy in reaction and measure chemicals in the lab.

Research[2] by Wilson Anna shows that Dyscalculics often feel it is taxing to deal with numerical cognition functions, which implies a core deficit in number sense. They may have to look at improving number sense by routine activities.

2. Visualization traits to analyze reactions

Visualization traits to analyze reactions

Chemistry is a subject about reactions between various compounds. To comprehend it better, the pupil can play with Visualization traits. For instance, Zinc and Hydrochloric Acid combine to give Zinc Chloride and Hydrogen gas. Instead of memorizing the phrase, the student needs to visualize why such a replacement of compounds is taking place.

Research by Dazhi Cheng[3] elucidates cognitive deficits and thus compromised visual perception in Dyscalculia, which implies they need to consider an alternative pedagogy and learning style to retain the facts.

3. The precision of atomic numbers

The precision of atomic numbers

The atomic number of Bromine is 35, and for Iodine, it is 53. Such values need to be retained with precision. Avoiding confusion between values makes precision pivotal to comprehending the subject fully. Research by Laine Kaufmann[4] showed that the mental representation of numbers is less precise in persons with severe mathematics anxiety (Dyscalculia).

4. Logical thinking and data collection for tables 

Most of the experiments in chemistry need the individual to collect data, arrange them in a table, and then draw conclusions from the same. All this needs logical and critical thinking. In research, Lillian Bird[5] measured logical reasoning in students in general chemistry and found out that these notions have improved their logical thinking. 

Individuals with dyscalculia, however, need to work on these skills. Research by Antonia Plaerou[6] supports the same by depicting that individuals with math learning difficulties compromise on arithmetic and thus logical thinking.

Dyscalculics & Chemistry – Comprehensible & Retainable?

Subjects like Chemistry expect logical thinking, accuracy, and the ability to grasp concepts. The need to understand the intense use of letters, numbers, and equations of various balanced chemical reactions is crucial. Furthermore, precision in retaining words and numbers is obligatory. Recollecting atomic numbers of various elements needs precision. This can hinder people with compromises like Dyscalculia. 

According to research[7] by Mohammed Amimul Ihsan Aquil, individuals enduring Dyscalculia can have issues in understanding and estimating quantities apart from simple computational tasks. This may stimulate them to put more stress while grasping subjects like Chemistry, where they need to deal with core concepts woven around quantities, numbers, and symbols. 

Dyscalculia can make individuals ameliorate their expertise despite these generalized manifestations by backing up with some custom-tailored strategies. 

5 Strategies that might help

The educational system may sometimes appear rigid for neurodiverse students. Making learning efficient for both students with learning disabilities, such as dyscalculia, and those with none requires adjustments in the learning process.

Let us now see how those ‘adjustments’ or ways can make learning chemistry easier for neurodiverse students, especially dyscalculics.

1. Review Often

Since dyscalculia is also characterized by short-term memory, it is very crucial to make the students review what they have learned and understood on a recurrent note. If kids with dyscalculia do not review the concepts they have learned recently, mastering new skills would become challenging for them.  These new skills mostly build on existing knowledge and previous sessions, and the inability to retain previous information can become a stumbling block for learning anything new in chemistry.

One efficient way to help students with dyscalculia is to revise their chemistry concepts by using diagrams, flashcards, as well as drawn references. To make chemistry a subject less abstract, there should be repeated efforts so that this subject becomes comprehensible for students with dyscalculia. 

2. Use “Real-Life” Cues and Physical Objects

Making dyscalculics relate chemistry problems to the practicalities of daily life helps them make sense of the concept of the subject and understand the relationships between elements, symbols, and numbers. You can use different props such as cups and rulers to help kids with dyscalculia see chemistry as a concept rather than an abstract.

Use “Real-Life” Cues and Physical Objects

To represent atoms, molecules, elements, and compounds, a local toy or craft store can give balls or beads in various colors. Popper beads make good polypeptide chains, ‘slinky’ produces a fantastic helix, and 3D structures can be constructed with children’s dough or pipe cleaners in post-16 work.

Another way to go about this is to give opportunities to students to make songs, board games, raps, and other fun activities with their chemistry concepts to help them grasp the problems.

3. Talk or Write Out a Problem

For any person with this learning disability, a chemistry problem is simply something abstract. The numbers and symbols are nothing more than drawings on blank pages for them. Helping a kid understand the problem by talking through it or writing it down in an explanatory way can help dyscalculics understand the relationship between the elements of chemistry. 

When it comes to chemistry word problems, try rephrasing them for kids to help them organize and process the information and find the solution based on the newly organized information.

4. Make the problem graphic

If the student with dyscalculia can not process numerical or symbolic information, try making the problem graphic or giving them real-life forms. For example, drawing the chemistry problem can help them understand the relationship between the concepts. When students draw their problems, be it math, chemistry, or physics, they formulate their own way of understanding how the problem is reflected onto them and how they can solve it.

5. Break Tasks Down into Subsets

A difficult topic or notion can quickly overwhelm dyscalculic students, especially if it draws on past knowledge that they may not have retained. Students can focus better, recognize connections, and prevent overload by breaking down an issue into its component elements and working through them one at a time.


Although chemistry and dyscalculia may not go well with each other, children with dyscalculia can still be made to fall in love with this interesting subject. By grounding the chemistry problems abstractly into the physical world, it becomes easier for both parents and teachers to help dyscalculic students succeed and quickly grasp chemistry concepts effortlessly. Personalities like Emma King have shown that compromises like Dyscalculia are not a hindrance to being successful. Such compromises can be mitigated with a cut-above effort in learning. 

After all, no subject is unreadable or unlovable!


  1. Aquil, Mohammad Amimul Ihsan. (2020). Diagnosis of Dyscalculia: A Comprehensive Overview. 1. 43-59.
  2. Wilson, A. J. (2007). Number sense and developmental dyscalculia. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2007-04220-009
  3. Cheng, D. (2018). Dyslexia and dyscalculia are characterized by common visual perception deficits. https://doi.org/10.1080/87565641.2018.1481068
  4. Kaufmann, L. (2012, September). The Diagnosis and Management of Dyscalculia. https://doi.org/10.3238/arztebl.2012.0767
  5. Journal of Chemical Education, & Bird, L. (2010). Logical Reasoning Ability and Student Performance in General Chemistry. https://doi.org/10.1021/ed8001754
  6. Plerou, A. (2016, September). Algorithmic Thinking and Mathematical Learning Difficulties Classification.[6] Aquil, M. (2020, August). Diagnosis of Dyscalculia: A Comprehensive Overview.
  7. Aquil, M. (2020, August). Diagnosis of Dyscalculia: A Comprehensive Overview.

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