Subitizing’s role in Dyscalculia & Math Learning Difficulties


-Triveni Goswami Vernal
(Registered Special Educator CRR No A64010)

Subitizing refers to the ability to visualize or see the number of items in a small group instantaneously, without having to count them one by one. It is considered to be a critical skill for the development of number sense. Challenges in this skill are one of the core deficits of Dyscalculia and MLDs.

So, what is Subitizing and how does it play such an important role in Number Sense? For example, if you saw three oranges, would you be able to instantly know that they are three oranges, or would you have to count the oranges individually to arrive at the number?

The ability to see the number immediately is crucial in developing fluency in mathematical operations, be able to carry out additions and subtractions mentally and to see relationships between numbers and number patterns (Subitizing: A Skill that Leads to Strong Number Sense in It is a very important foundation for developing the skills for Mental Math.

Subitizing is part of the object tracking system in the brain. There are two types of Subitizing:

a) Perceptual Subitizing: It refers to the skill of being able to recognize the number of items in a small group, without having to count them individually. Research has shown that Perceptual Subitizing is innate in humans as well as animals, and is limited to around 5 items.
b) Conceptual Subitizing: It builds on the knowledge of Perceptual subitizing and it includes the ability to be able to view a number as being composed of smaller quantities. So, conceptual subitizing involves an understanding of part-whole number, decomposing numbers, number bonds etc.




a) FLASH DOT CARDS: Show the child a dot card briefly and then, take it away. Ask the child how many dots were there. Encourage them to also show the number with their fingers.
b) WHAT IS MISSING? Once the child is familiarized with all the numbers, till 10, the same cards can be used to help the child understand how a whole number is made of smaller units. For example, show a bigger dot card like 5 , then show another dot card with 4 and ask, what is missing?
c) NUMBER BONDS: The child can be taught to decompose the number into its various combinations, with the dot cards. For example, show the child a dot card of 5 and then show how different combinations can make 5. Like, 5 can be made with 0+5, 1+4, 2+3 etc
d) TEACHING TEENS: Take a dot card of 10 and show how the bigger numbers are formed by adding a few more dot cards.
e) FINGER PAINTING: Create fun activities with the child, by letting them use finger paint in two different colours for eg., blue till 5, and red for numbers beyond 5.

Sharing some Subitizing Games from the blog , in which the author has shared a wide range of games that involve kinesthetic /gross motor skills, executive functions like memory as well as auditory processing:
Which One Doesn’t Belong: Set out 3-5 cards where all the cards, but one, represent the same number and then ask your child to find the one that doesn’t belong.

Memory: Start this game with just two representations of the cards to match to each other. Once your children are good at this, add in two more representations and then they have more opportunities for correct matches. For example, the numeral 4 could match the dot pattern 4, the abacus pattern 4 or the 4 fingers. If your children struggle with remembering where cards are, you can place the cards into two separate columns or sets of columns (see picture below) where they pick one card from one side and then know there will be a match for it on the other side.

Hide and Seek: This is a great game if your child needs to get up and move around. Choose how many cards and which visual representations you want to use. You will not need matches for this game so you can mix it up a bit more. Then, you can play one of two ways. For version one, have the cards face up and visible around the room and ask your child to get a specific number. For the second version, have the cards hidden more and when your child finds one, she brings it to a work area and places each card in order from 1-5 or 1-10, depending on which cards you are working with.

Listen for the Number: For this game, have your child lay out the numbers 1-5 or 1-10 in order using whichever visual representation you would like. Then clap out a number of beats and your child has to touch the card that matches what you clapped out. This can be a fun game for each of you to being the ‘teacher’ “(

There are multiple ways of working with Dot Cards. The idea is to make the activities fun and engaging, so that learning and acquisition of fundamental concepts, is not boring for the child.
In my next blog, I will write about using Cuisenaire Rods and Cluster Cards to work on the skill of Subitizing.



Author Triveni Goswami Vernal

Triveni Goswami Vernal is an Autism advocate, registered Special Educator (CRR A64010) and an Independent Researcher. Her areas of interest include Autism, Disability Rights, Gender, Art and Northeast studies. She is a mum to an 11 year old on the Autism Spectrum.

The author is also Certified in Dyslexia Teacher Training, Learning Disorders, OG Phonics, Ripples Centre for Enhanced Learning, 2019.

Creative representation for this blog is done by artist Kabir Vernal

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