Numeracy difficulties in adulthood | Dyslexia UK

Numeracy difficulties in adulthood

March 6, 2023 Keir Williams Comments Off

Unlike with admitting a reading difficulty, there is not so much of a stigma with admitting a difficulty in working with numbers. However, when so many people exaggerate their own difficulties, it can depreciate or belittle those who have genuine, fundamental difficulties in understanding mathematical concepts.

Difficulties in understanding maths may have many different origins, such as schooling issues including periods of absence or poor teaching, maths anxiety, working memory difficulties etc. More recently dyscalculia has come to the fore as (mislabelled) ‘dyslexia for maths’. Although everyone can occasionally have difficulties with maths, those with dyscalculia struggle to a greater extent and their difficulties continue over time. Dyscalculia is a specific learning difficulty that affects a person’s ability to understand, recall or manipulate numerical information, or conceptualize numbers as abstract concepts.

Dyscalculia affects approximately 5% of the population and has a 60% co-morbidity with dyslexia. A person with dyscalculia may have difficulty reading or writing numbers, understanding place value or estimating quantities. People with dyscalculia frequently struggle with reading numerical information on timetables, graphs or diagrams and have difficulty with telling the time or working with money.  

Numbers form an essential part of modern living and difficulties in using numbers create many challenges. Adults with poor numeracy skills are twice as likely to be unemployed, receive training at work and receive lower weekly. They are also less likely to be promoted. It is therefore natural for people with numeracy difficulties to seek out study and careers that appear to not involve much numeracy skills. However this is easier said than done as there are some difficulties with this approach.

Firstly, many universities and jobs require applicants to have a minimum requirement of a grade C (or 4/5 in the new grading system) in maths, which for some is an insurmountable barrier to entry. In addition, many courses at college and university attract applicants who are unaware of the amount of mathematical content required as part of the study. These include subjects such as the social sciences, psychology, business courses, and subjects in the medical field such as nursing. Statistics, sequencing, and reading graphical information are skills required in all of these courses of study.

In the workplace, often recruitment tasks include a timed mathematical element, which can restrict those with mathematical difficulties from being successful. Maths anxiety can also cause anxiety and physical symptoms such as sweating, increased heart rate, dizziness or tears, leading to an avoidance of such tasks in the future. Within many job roles, aspects such as accurate timekeeping or money management are essential, frequently within careers that one would not necessarily consider to be the case.

On a day to day basis, maths difficulties can mean that the adult struggles with transportation, such as difficulties with their general sense of direction, in reading public transport timetables or even in remembering road names when planning journeys. This can exasperate another common difficulty for those with dyscalculia or similar: time management skills. Budgeting and managing personal finances is a further area of difficulty.

Next steps

  • If you are concerned that you might have dyscalculia, then you can get an indication dyslexic from Steve Chinn’s adult dyscalculia checklist.
  • Whilst a formal diagnostic assessment is the only way to confirm whether or not the difficulties you encounter are due to dyscalculia, as the assessment process is much more involved, and the skill set of the dyscalculia assessor are less common, there are few dyscalculia assessors currently working in the UK.
  • At Kent Dyslexia we have experienced dyslexia assessors who conduct dyscalculia screening assessments. The dyscalculia screener can provide an explanation for an individual’s difficulties in school, university or the workplace and the resulting report will provide a detailed examination of the person’s strengths and difficulties, including personalised recommendations for school/university/workplace, specialist teaching and home. Find out more at:

A useful article to look at dyscalculia can be found here:

For the information about useful apps for people with maths difficulties, click here:

The first part of a two part article on gamifying maths can be read here:

Contact us to discuss an adult dyscalculia screener: