Back to school can mean back to worrying about your child: worrying about how they did at school and whether or not they're on the right learning track. The first thing every parent should do is take a deep breath, hold that for a few seconds, and exhale slowly (Most parents should do this again, at least two more times!). The second thing to do is to remember that every child has a bad day at school sometimes. Every child has a bad day in math class, or struggles with a certain chapter in the math book, or has a rough year with a teacher who isn't right for them. Sometimes students need extra practice, outside resources (like this awesome video series), or even a tutor to help them get through. While it is upsetting to go through these rough times, none of these are signs that your child has dyscalculia.
Dyscalculia is a neurological condition (meaning it can't be "fixed" with medicine or behavior changes) that impairs learning, understanding, and mastering math. Dyscalculia affects about 8% of the population, but this number is growing as awareness and testing grows. It's been called "dyslexia, but for math", even though the two occur in different regions of the brain. Children with dyscalculia are usually above average students in all other classes who struggle to measure, tell time, estimate, and recall basic facts and formulas. Dyscalculia does not change over time. Teachers and tutors can help these children by using accommodations or offering different instruction methods. Dyscalculia can only be diagnosed by a professional, like an educational psychologist or neurologist.
A key feature of dyscalculia is that repeated instruction doesn't make a real difference in understanding or performance. Neither does repeated practice. Neither does memorization (which is where accommodations come in-- but that's a topic for another post!). Dyscalculia doesn't produce anxiety (although it can wreck self-esteem and cause anxiety over the fear of failure), and it is different from ADD, which causes a lack of focus. If you have tried outside resources, tutors, or extra practice, and your child has continued trouble with math, talk to the teacher and talk to a professional. Getting the proper diagnosis is key to getting help.