Over a third of all the enquiries we receive in relation to the online Dyscalculia Test that is offered by the Dyscalculia Centre come from adults who have gone through their school years without having been screened for dyscalculia but who fear they might have it.
And many of these adults who write in or call us have given up all hope of ever understanding basic maths. Indeed in many cases their one thought after a lifetime of hiding away from any engagement with numbers is to wonder if they really are stupid or if there is within them a special reason why they alone can’t understand maths, as everyone else can.
Indeed a lot of those people who write in share with us their stories, and many of these are utterly heartbreaking. For they are stories of a life blighted by not being able to do something that almost everyone around them can do. Something that is central to everyday life. The basic manipulation of numbers.
These adults often ask to be tested for dyscalculia, not because they have any hope of being able to understand maths, but simply because they want to know: are they just stupid or is there something else going on?
However some are wondering about themselves, not just because of a life blighted by a lack of mathematical understanding, but because they are seeing the same issues in their child and, because of their own mathematical failings, they feel completely unable to help the child.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that many adults with dyscalculia evolve strategies that have helped them cope with their dyscalculia, and as a result the dyscalculia might not be so readily revealed within the diagnostic test.
Which is another reason why diagnostic testing of pupils and students who might be suspected of being dyscalculic is so important.
Unfortunately, just as there are some people around who say they simply don’t believe in climate change (but produce no evidence to refute the findings of science) so there are a few who claim that dyscalculia doesn’t exist, despite the mountain of findings from experts such as Professor Brian Butterworth and Dr Stephen Chin. The gene that causes the problem has been located and the results are indisputable.
Once a person is tested for dyscalculia then it is possible to devise a programme of study which can give the individual the ability to understand the basics of maths and overcome their feeling of incompetence and stupidity (which is how many dyscalculics feel about maths).
Of course, if the testing is not undertaken until adulthood a lot of psychological damage may have been done by then, and that is very hard to undo. But even then some emotional relief may be brought to the individual.
However, in my view it is far better if the testing can be done earlier so that an alternative teaching approach can be utilised and the individual can come to learn at least enough maths to cope with everyday life.
I am, at this point, not especially wanting to push my own organisation’s diagnostic test for dyscalculia, but rather would say that if you have any doubt about the validity of the notion of dyscalculia, please have a look at the work of some of the experts on the subject and then set out your counter-arguments so that we can have a proper debate and understand your objections to the notion that this genetic malfunction exists.
On the other hand if you would like to know more about dyscalculia please do take a look at some of the articles on this site.
Tony Attwood C.Ed., B.A., M.Phil (Lond), F.Inst.A.M.
Head of the Dyscalculia Centre