How Spatial Awareness Is Affected By Dyscalculia?

Last Updated on October 11, 2023 by Editorial Team


Do you tend to copy the numbers 23 and 32 incorrectly? Or do you stumble mostly when you are climbing up the stairs? If these cases resonate with your everyday problems, you might be suffering from spatial dyscalculia[1]. Apart from the difficulty in mathematical operations, Dyscalculia manifests as disrupted spatial awareness. In this post, we intend to walk you through:

  1. What is spatial dyscalculia – Established definition
  2. Aspects of spatial awareness that dyscalculia may affect
  3. Ways to improve spatial awareness in dyscalculics

So, let’s begin!

What is spatial dyscalculia – Established definition

Author John E. Mendoza 2011 established the definition of spatial dyscalculia. h (extracted from Encyclopedia of Clinical Neuropsychology) as the inability to perform operations due to incorrect telling apart of numbers from one another. Especially when the numbers comprised invertedly shaped digits like 6 or 9, etc., dyscalculia drove children to err in calculations.

Aspects of spatial awareness that dyscalculia may affect

According to the study[2], “Developmental dyscalculia is related to visuospatial memory and inhibition impairment”, it is safe to infer that the developmental type of dyscalculia is responsible for three types of adverse impacts:

1. Poor visuospatial working memory

Due to dyscalculia, you see a number but cannot retain its form or shape in the mind. So, the result is you write the same number incorrectly at different locations on the same page. Also, the ability to understand a mathematical function and to apply it is conspicuously diminished or is absent despite repeated interventions.

Apart from studies, the person suffering from dyscalculia may show some deferred abilities.

Other examples of poor visuospatial working memory include:

  • Incorrect judgment of things with respect to their spatial arrangement
  • Inability to judge the size of the ball or speed with which it comes to the receiver
  • Erroneous telling of big objects from small ones
  • Limited number processing capacity; hence, inability to tell bigger subset apart from the smaller subset.

2. Visuospatial short-term memory

We are able to reach a destination using a given path because the brain is equipped with the facility to memorize routes. Dyscalculia interferes with the capacity to develop short-term memory of a visuospatial nature. Hence, when suffering from a lack of visuospatial short-term memory, the victim is most likely to:

  • Forget the route to reach any destination
  • Display a lack of spatial attention[3] leading to loss of retention of cues. As a result, the dyscalculic is not capable of remembering instructions or of following those when stated in a specific order.
  • Report dismally slow numerical processing[4] speed

Dyscalculia disrupts short-term memory cultivated by visuospatial awareness. Hence, this learning disorder is reflected in the shape of slow calculations, incorrect calculations, incorrect copying of problems from the board, and inexplainable mistakes while noting the problems.

3. Inhibition impairment

Impairment of inhibitory actions is the third most important impact of dyscalculia on spatial awareness. The person suffering from impaired inhibition may display socially unacceptable behaviors. He/she may tend to do things simply out of impulse and lack of control over the self. Dyscalculics who report the disruption in the executive memory function display impairment of inhibitory control. Some of the examples that explain inhibition impairment as a symptom of spatial awareness dysfunction are:

  • Eating uncontrollably or not conforming to norms of etiquette while eating: This symptom will be pronounced in people with autism and ADHD who also suffer from dyscalculia. Have you ever met a person who is mindlessly eating pastries one after the other when he is supposed to be on a diet? It may be due to a possible lack of inhibitory control.
  • Not doing things as per social cues: You are required to wait in a queue, sit silently in a library, or keep limbs inside the window while traveling in a bus or car. These are social cues. The person with disrupted spatial awareness caused by ADHD-led problems and as a symptom of dyscalculia[5] may not register cues. Therefore, it may manifest as actions that are not as per social norms.

When not controlled, or corrected or if it remains undiagnosed, non-conformance to social cues and poor response inhibition may result in self-destructive behavior. A person may not be able to keep a record of medicines taken or may show undue repetition of acts like doing workouts more than required. All these may exhaust a person beyond control.

Ways to improve spatial awareness in dyscalculics

Extracted from Minimizing Dyscalculic problems through visual learning, you can improve spatial awareness by use of a combination of:

  • visual learning: Employ visual cues to enable dyscalculics to develop spatial awareness. For example, designing signs that are easy to remember for instructions, per se.
  • tactile learning: Teach by touch. You can use manipulatives like shape manipulatives, etc. to induce better levels of spatial awareness
  • auditory learning: When the visuospatial problems are prominent, the auditory alternatives of teaching may be used for seasoning the dyscalculic learner for better performance in spatial awareness display.

Apart from adopting these teaching styles, you can also include a repertoire of activities like:

  • Playing spatial reasoning games: Make big and small human circles, arrange things in the order of their sizes, etc.
  • Encourage physical activities to improve brain plasticity like playing outdoor games, exercising, etc.
  • Solve puzzles: Sudoku, setting puzzle pieces on the storyboard, or making maps by arranging pieces
  • Play board games that improve math reasoning skills

Summing up,

Spatial awareness is very much essential for living a normal life. If a learning disorder like dyscalculia doesn’t allow you to develop this intelligence, you must know the reasons, types of problems, and activities. Take cues from this blog and find ways to give dyscalculia a tough fight. Repetition and practice are two key supports that help you defeat all problems including dyscalculia-led poor spatial awareness.


  1. Mendoza, J.E. (2011). Spatial Dyscalculia. In: Kreutzer, J.S., DeLuca, J., Caplan, B. (eds) Encyclopedia of Clinical Neuropsychology. Springer, New York, NY.
  2. Szucs, D., Devine, A., Soltesz, F., Nobes, A., & Gabriel, F. (2013). Developmental dyscalculia is related to visuo-spatial memory and inhibition impairment. Cortex; a Journal Devoted to the Study of the Nervous System and Behavior, 49(10), 2674-2688.
  3. Attout, L., Grégoire, C., & Majerus, S. (2019). How robust is the link between working memory for serial order and lexical skills in children? Cognitive Development, 53, 100854.
  4. Cárdenas, Sonia & Silva-Pereyra, Juan & Prieto, Belén & Castro-Chavira, Susana & Fernandez, Thalia. (2021). Arithmetic processing in children with dyscalculia: an event-related potential study. PeerJ. 9. e10489. 10.7717/peerj.10489.
  5. Coutinho, T. V., Santos Reis, S. P., Miranda, D. M., & Malloy-Diniz, L. F. (2017). Deficits in Response Inhibition in Patients with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: The Impaired Self-Protection System Hypothesis. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 8.

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