Dyscalculia in the Workplace

mins read

Dyscalculia specific learning difficulty (SpLD) that influences someone’s understanding of numbers and mathematical concepts. Anyone can be dyscalculic, irrespective of age, level of education and life experiences.

It is estimated that research and understanding of dyscalculia is about 30 years behind that of dyslexia, despite having a similar prevalence in the population. It is thought that between five and eight percent of the population is dyscalculic (Peard, 2010; NHS, 2022).

It’s therefore unsurprising that awareness of dyscalculia in the workplace is lagging behind other neurological differences. Many assume that dyscalculic individuals simply don’t like or are anxious about completing mathematical problems. This may be true, but it’s not the full picture and this narrow view means that many employees don’t get the support they need at work.

What is dyscalculia?

Until 2019, dyscalculia was used as an umbrella term to describe all maths learning difficulties (National Numeracy, 2022).

But it’s now understood that dyscalculia exists towards the end of a continuum of maths difficulties, with more pronounced differences that affect number sense, including subitising, symbolic and non-symbolic magnitude comparison, and ordering.

Most of us develop a sense of numbers and their relationship to magnitude. But for dyscalculic people, the relationship or mapping of numbers to their value does not develop naturally.

Dyscalculia involves several cognitive functions, and as part of the Cognassist cognitive diversity assessment, we measure some relevant aspects of your cognition, including Numeracy and working memory. Working memory is important for activities including planning, problem-solving, decision making and spatial reasoning.

Dyscalculia can be present on its own, or it can co-occur with other SpLDs like dyslexia, and with mathematics anxiety and medical conditions.

Work can be a complex environment for anyone, regardless of neurotype or neuro-identity, but for dyscalculic employees, the workplace can pose additional challenges. Individuals may require additional support, such as reasonable adjustments, to remove any barriers or challenges which may cause them to be disadvantaged in the workplace.

Impact of dyscalculia on work

Neuro-inclusion is making its way onto many organisations’ equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) radar, but there’s still some way to go to ensure all workplace cultures are psychologically safe for neurodistinct employees. Without the right support in place, experiences for dyscalculic employees can significantly influence working life.

Dyscalculia can have a considerable impact on job prospects and promotional opportunities. Research shows that adults with ‘low numeracy’ earn on average £2,100 less per annum than adults with ‘average’ or ‘above average’ numeracy. In the UK as a whole, it is estimated that low numeracy levels cost the UK £20 billion per year, largely due to poor productivity. (National Numeracy, 2014)

Dyscalculia workplace challenges

At work, dyscalculic employees may experience challenges such as:

  • Feeling anxious about having to solve maths-related problems
  • Entering pin codes or passwords
  • Counting backwards
  • Understanding graphs or charts
  • Estimating how long it will take to complete tasks
  • Mental maths, such as working out how much change to give someone
  • Being punctual
  • Estimating quantities and sizes
  • Budgeting
  • Getting lost easily
  • Remembering dates or number-related facts

It’s also important to recognise the potential mental health impacts of dyscalculia. In addition to feelings of anxiety around having to complete numeracy-based tasks, some dyscalculic individuals may experience feelings of isolation due to challenges with being in the right place at the right time, or feelings of shame around not being able to complete tasks that may come naturally to others.

But these challenges can be addressed and mitigated given the right support mechanisms at work.

Dyscalculia workplace adjustments

Dyscalculia can meet the definition of a disability under the Equality Act 2010, regardless of whether employees consider themselves disabled or not. That means employers have a legal responsibility to protect both current and prospective dyscalculic employees from victimisation, discrimination and harassment. Employers also have a duty to provide reasonable adjustments for dyscalculia in the workplace.

But dyscalculia workplace accommodations are not just a legal responsibility, they’re a moral one, too. Providing the right support means that employees of all neurotypes can thrive and perform at their very best.

What are dyscalculia workplace accommodations?

Workplace accommodations, also referred to as reasonable adjustments or workplace adjustments, are changes or adaptations employers can make to reduce or remove a disadvantage at work associated with someone’s disability, in this case dyscalculia.

Supporting dyscalculia in the workplace is important for several reasons. Even small adjustments can make a big difference and enable dyscalculic employees to reach their full potential.

Examples of accommodations for dyscalculia in the workplace

Below we’ll look at three of our top dyscalculia workplace adjustments, that you can either implement to help yourself or a dyscalculic employee.

We have taken these examples from our collection of Personalised Workplace Adjustments. These are strategies and accommodations we provide on our platform for managers and employees based on neuro-difference disclosure, cognitive profile and job role. They are carefully curated to enable everyone to conduct their tasks without neuro-identity, cognitive differences or job-related barriers.

Spell out numbers

Dyscalculic individuals can often mix up or reverse the order of numbers, making it challenging to recall them accurately. Seeing numbers written out in full can help with processing and memorising them.

For example, rather than emailing employees telling them that the “meeting is in room 456”, you could say the “meeting is in room 456 (four hundred and fifty-six)” or “the meeting is in room number four-five-six (456)”.

Provide templates and time expectations

Perception of time can differ for dyscalculic individuals. So simply providing extra time to complete tasks may not help as they won’t know how to segment this time appropriately per task. Templates and time expectations will not only help employees structure their work, but complete tasks and projects to deadlines.

For example, you could provide templates for certain types of work that not only break it down into smaller chunks but outline the timeframes in which you expect each chunk to be completed.

Help establish reference points

Dyscalculic individuals can find it challenging to estimate distances or travelling times, and may not understand what a reasonable amount is to pay for a certain item, or how good the value of a deal is.

You can help establish reference points for how long it should take to travel between two places, how much certain items should cost, or what reasonable interest rates or pension payments are. Make a list or cheat sheet for quick reference, using images or text descriptions where possible.

When it comes to applying reasonable adjustments for dyscalculia, they should form collaborative discussions between the employee and their manager. There should not be a blanket approach to providing support because everyone’s experiences can differ, even if they have the same diagnosis.

If you’re looking for innovative ideas for supporting neurodistinct employees in your organisation, you can find inspiration in our ‘27 workplace adjustments to support neurodiversity’ handbook.

Dyscalculia and working from home

The adjustments mentioned in this article are relevant whether the dyscalculic individual works on-site or from home. There are a number of benefits to working from home for dyscalculic employees, including:

  • Less pressure to answer numeracy-related questions quickly or without assistance
  • Less regular need for travel, which could help with punctuality
  • More flexibility to arrange workspace to make reference charts and cheat sheets visible

But there are some additional considerations worth mentioning for dyscalculic home workers:

  • Harder to keep track of how much time has been spent on certain tasks
  • Distractions when trying to focus on numeracy-based tasks
  • Less easy to run numeracy questions past colleagues

Tips for home working with dyscalculia:

  • Ask a colleague or manager to help you establish the right amount of time to spend on a type of task, and set yourself a timer to keep on track
  • Let housemates or family know when you need to set aside focus time for a certain task, or even ask for their help if you’re stuck

Benefits of dyscalculia in the workplace

Workplace adjustments are a crucial support tool for many of us who experience neuro-differences like dyscalculia. But they aren’t the only way to support ourselves or receive support at work.

Recognising the unique strengths of diverse thinkers is an important way to navigate dyscalculia-related challenges in the workplace. And many traits associated with dyscalculia translate into real competitive advantages. For example:

  • Creativity
  • Strategic thinking
  • Problem solving
  • Intuition
  • Observation
  • Reflection
  • Heightened ability to read non-verbal cues
  • Manual skills
  • Language skills

But how to use these strengths to your advantage at work?

  1. If you feel like you’re good at interpreting reality and processing knowledge and experiences, you might be skilled at making decisions based on your instincts. This sort of intuitive thinking is a desired skill in the workplace because it can help us find efficient and practical solutions to problems, where other people may over-analyse the small details.
  2. If you’re good at practical tasks, or prefer to get involved with tasks rather than observing, your hands-on skills could help you and your colleagues with an array of things from operating machinery to using software. If you notice your colleagues struggling with a practical task and feel able to offer assistance, try demonstrating it to them.
  3. You might have noticed that your thinking style is quite creative, you have a strong imagination or are skilled in the arts.Don’t be afraid to talk about your ideas. You can help boost your team’s innovation and productivity by sharing your unique point of view.
  4. You might be strong at thinking outside of the box, or are able to reflect on past experiences to gain unique insight and methods for solving problems.Problem-solving capabilities are a highly desired skill in the workplace – all teams need members who can offer solutions to novel problems.
  5. Many dyscalculic people are gifted writers, linguists and speakers. You don’t have to be the strongest at literacy to have these skills – many dyscalculic people are also dyslexic and are talented with language-related activities like communicating with others.

By leaning into these traits and advantages, dyscalculic thinking can become beneficial for individuals and the organisation as a whole.

This is especially true when employees of all neurotypes and neuro-identities collaborate and share their strengths. Top tip for dyscalculia skill sharing:

  • Talk about your cognition – the Cognassist cognitive assessment highlights strength and development areas, which can help you identify skill sharing opportunities.

Supporting dyscalculic colleagues at work

As a colleague or a manager working with a dyscalculic person, you have a vital role to play in helping to build a neuro-inclusive environment at work. You can help your colleagues feel safe to be their true selves. Together we can break down the barriers so that we can all confidently embrace our cognitive differences.

You can help create a supportive work environment for dyscalculia by:

  • Actively take part in dyscalculia awareness training

Expanding your learning to ensure everyone feels included is a continuous effort. Alongside online learning, have a conversation with your dyscalculic colleagues to learn more about what dyscalculia means for them and how you can support them.

Think about how you present numerical information

The way numerical data is typically presented can be challenging for dyscalculic individuals, but there are simple adaptations you can make to ensure it is easier to understand. For example:

  • Use more dyscalculia friendly graph formats like pie charts or bar graphs
  • Spell out numerical digits where possible
  • Round up to avoid using decimal points, where possible
  • Increase spaces between digits
  • Use clear language when conveying the time

Devise templates

For example, if your team is required to use spreadsheets to record expenses, try to devise templates that everyone can use. Dyscalculic colleagues can find software like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets difficult to use, so templates can be beneficial. If you feel confident with these programmes or creating templates, you could offer to demonstrate how to use them to your colleagues or suggest internal training.

Offer to collaborate

Why not have a conversation about your strengths and challenges and find out if you and a dyscalculic colleague can work together to complete a task? For example, if you are confident with numerical-based tasks and your colleague feels comfortable with problem-solving but you don’t, find a way to use each other’s strengths.

Offer to be an accountability buddy

It’s not always possible to remove all numeracy tasks from a role, so it can help to volunteer to be an accountability buddy to check their work is correct. Accountability buddies can help to remove the stress from numeracy-based tasks and checking work is often standard in many workplaces. So, if a colleague asks you to check their work, try to be supportive and obliging; if you can’t help them, suggest someone who can.

Use time-management tools consistently

Some dyscalculic individuals have difficulty planning their workday or managing their time. Try to use consistent time management tools and encourage dyscalculic colleagues to make use of them, so they can record meeting times, appointments and deadlines. Some examples include:

  • Google Calendar
  • Outlook Calendar
  • Microsoft ToDo

Schedule regular check-ins

Because some dyscalculic individuals experience differences in working memory, it’s often useful to break tasks down into smaller, manageable chunks, limiting the amount of information that needs to be held in mind at any one time.

If you are working on a project with a dyscalculic colleague, check in with each other to regularly to track your progress, celebrate achievements and raise any concerns.

For some further guidance on supporting neuro-differences like dyscalculia in the workplace, take a look at our article and handbook.

Disclosing dyscalculia at work

If you haven’t told anyone in your organisation about your dyscalculia, that’s okay. It’s a very personal choice; some people are vocal about their diagnosis and others view it as private information.

Unfortunately, some outdated stereotypes still exist and you might be worried that telling people about your dyscalculia might make you colleagues or employer think differently of you. If so, you’re not alone. Over one third of neurodistinct employees surveyed who haven’t disclosed their neuro-differences, said it was due to concerns around people making assumptions based on stereotypes (CIPD, 2024).

For example, some people may still think that:

  • Dyscalculic people are lazy with maths
  • Dyscalculic people just don’t like maths
  • Dyscalculia is just ‘maths dyslexia’
  • Dyscalculia is related to intelligence

These myths can be harmful and it’s understandable if you’re apprehensive about disclosing dyscalculia at work. But without people being open about their experiences with dyscalculia, it’s harder to break down the stigma and misconceptions.

Consider the following when deciding whether to share your neuro-differences:

  • Talking about our neuro-differences, including any specific neurotypes like dyscalculia, helps contribute to an open and inclusive workplace culture. You never know, in talking about your experiences, you may empower others to share theirs.
  • Letting your manager know about your dyscalculia means they can provide the right support for you. , and your colleagues may not be aware of how you work best, so can’t give as much support as they might like to.
  • You don’t need a formal dyscalculia diagnosis to receive support at work. To aid conversations with your manager, have a think about any aspects of your role or the workplace that you find challenging, and together you can work out which, if any, reasonable adjustments you can try. You could ask yourself questions like, “What does a good/bad day look like for me?” to help figure out support strategies.
  • Does your organisation have a culture of openness and understanding? Does it have mental health support networks or mentorship schemes? These could be indicators of whether you’re likely to get the response you’re looking for when disclosing.
  • Do you know of any colleagues who talk openly about dyscalculia? You could talk to them about their disclosure experience at your organisation.

Dyscalculia awareness and manager training

Supporting dyscalculia and gaining support from others at work relies on a culture of neuro-inclusion. This involves a company-wide awareness of neurodiversity and diverse thinking. But how can this be achieved when everyone’s knowledge and background is incredibly varied?

Neuro-inclusion training brings everyone in an organisation up to speed with the same level of understanding of neuro-differences and what it means to be an inclusive colleague.

Dedicated manager training is vital, so that dyscalculic employees feel as though they can work with their manager to ensure their requirements are met. Dyscalculia-aware managers understand both the challenges and the benefits of dyscalculia in the workplace, creating a psychologically safe space for employees to explore how to work with their unique cognition, not against it.

The Cognassist Neuro-inclusion Awareness training, accredited by City & Guilds and ILM, provides in-depth courses for the whole organisation, from employee and manager awareness, through to Neuro-inclusion Champion training. The courses provide:

  • Up-to-date knowledge on reasonable adjustments and legal compliance
  • Best practice and tips for embedding neuro-inclusion
  • Personal strategies for professional development

For more information, get in touch with our team today.

Free Preview Course – Introduction to Neurodiversity in the Workplace

  • Why neurodiversity in the workplace matters
  • The science behind cognition and neurodiversity
  • Kickstart your neurodiversity journey from the bottom-up
  • Top neuro-inclusive practices to supercharge your DE and I strategy