To be perfectly clear, you cannot tell if a person is dyscaculic just by looking at her or his behaviour or personality any more than you can tell is an individual is going to excel at football by considering his or her literacy ability.
There is in fact no dyscalculia pattern of behaviour, save a difficulty with handling numbers – not least because the behaviour that an individual exhibits can be something that is related to the person’s genetics or to something learned in the early years at home or to something learned at school.
Thus we can find that an individual who clearly is intelligent but reveals an ability with maths which is much lower than we might expect given that intelligence, may also be very disorganised, having a desk or bedroom (or later in life an entire house) which is completely chaotic.
But equally we can find dyscalculic people who are compulsively orderly and who really don’t like to have anything out of place.
Likewise we might find that a dyscalculic child in class is one who is very quick to blurt out silly remarks which can get a laugh from the rest of the class (and disrupt the lesson). Yet other dyscalculic people become very quiet and withdrawn in class, perhaps embarrassed that they cannot undertake simple calculations.
From this we might anticipate that the former child is very “playing the fool” to avoid being laughed at by classmates because of his or her inability to add up or multiply, while the other is ashamed of the inability to do long division when everyone else can and so is withdrawing from the world in order to try to hide an inability to learn which she or he cannot understand.
Going further some dyscalculic children are known to be very light sleepers, while others are deep sleepers. Some are sensitive to some foods and some not.
In other words – dyscalculia can be associated with a whole range of other visible health, personality and behaviour indicators. But these are not directly signs of dyscalculia. The only thing that indicates dyscalculia is the inability to learn to undertake mathematical calculations at a level and speed that one would expect for an individual with that level of intelligence.
Thus we have to realise that some of these features of the child’s behaviour might well be genetically related to the dyscalculia, but others not.
The only way to tell if a person has dyscalculia is to have the individual undertake a test for dyscalculia. And indeed, if you want an indicator to see if dyscalculia is likely to be the cause of a failure to learn how to spell at a rate that one might expect given the individual’s intelligence, then our online test can be a useful guide.
But if you want a definitive test then you will need to see an educational psychologist who specialises in dyscalculia. You can find details of educational psychologists from the British Psychological Society and the Association of Educational Psychologists, both of whom have web sites with helpful information.
However having a formal test with a psychologist can be expensive, and simply being diagnosed does not mean that the individual automatically becomes better at doing maths. You still need to find a teacher who is specialised in helping dyscalculics. This is why as an alternative we offer our own online testing service – it is lower in price, but will still give a specialist teacher an indication of where the problems lie and how they might be overcome.
Tony Attwood C.Ed., B.A., M.Phil (Lond), F.Inst.A.M. Head of the Dyscalculia Centre.