The lockdown period has been the busiest spell encountered by The Dyscalculia Centre in our near 20 year history.
The cause of the activity has not been hard to trace: more parents than normal have been working with their own children at home, and some have noticed that the child in question seems to find maths much more difficult than other subjects.
And so the suspicion can arise - could this difficulty with the subject be more than maths simply being an area of work that the child finds difficult? Could this be a case of dyscalculia?
It has always been my habit to jot down the essence of each enquiry, just so I could see what the main areas of concern are. And during the lockdown period I thought I might pull these together and give my own very short and simple answers to each topic. Of course, you may not agree with the answers I give – but I do hope that if you find the areas of parental concern of interest, you might find this short article of interest.
Question 1: How can I prove my child is dyscalculic?
My answer is that there is no proof – only a diagnosis which is not the same thing. The most fulsome diagnosis comes from an educational psychologist who specialises in dyscalculia. It will be expensive, and just having the diagnosis does not itself help the child, although some psychologists will give guidance and advice as to what to do. Most specialists in the field argue that a different approach to teaching maths is needed, and this is normally multi-sensory, and undertaken either on a one-to-one basis or in a very small group with others who have the same issues with maths.
Question 2: My child wants to go to university but they are asking for Grade 4 in GCSE maths. Can I get an excusal because my child is dyscalculic?
This depends on the course and the university. Where maths is an inherent part of the course an excusal from having a suitable maths GCSE is unlikely, but even then it can be worth contacting the Dyscalculia – Dyslexia – Interest Group at Loughborough University.
But where maths is required as a sign of a rounded education (rather than having anything to do with the course that the student wishes to study) then it is normally possible to argue that for dyscalculic students the requirement of a specific maths grade at GCSE should be set aside. That is certainly the clear implication of the Equality Act, which applies throughout the UK.
3: Does my child have to take GCSE maths twice a year, all the time she/he is at secondary school, even though because of dyscalculia my child will never pass?
It does seem to me illogical, but some argue that this is what the government in England requires. However, if that argument is being used then most certainly the Education Act also requires that tuition is given to the individual commensurate with her or his needs – which implies taking into account any special needs such a dyscalculia.
Whatever the regulations say, as far as I can tell (and do remember I am not teaching in a school) there are many schools that do not insist that a student has to resit maths twice a year, if they believe the child has the special need of dyscalculia.
That view that dyscalculia is present can come about because of the teacher’s observation of the teenager, it can be through using the Dyscalculia Centre’s diagnostic test or it can be through obtaining a report from an educational psychologist.
4: How does one cure dyscalculia?
Sadly, there is no cure for this as it is a genetic issue. However, there are ways of teaching maths which seem to have a much greater impact on dyscalculic pupils and students than the more common classroom teaching methods may do. These are discussed on our website, and we have several volumes of teacher materials on the site that may be of interest.
5: What are the signs of dyscalculia?
Most obviously a lack of understanding of maths commensurate with the individual’s age and intellectual ability in other subjects. However one needs always to distinguish between not being very good at maths (a normal human condition, exactly as being rather good at maths is a normal condition), and not being able to study maths because of dyscalculia.
This is what the various tests for dyscalculia aim to show: are we looking here at a person who simply can’t learn maths because of a genetic issue, or a person who perhaps had a difficult time at school and who missed a considerable amount of education. Because of the logical and sequential nature of maths, difficulties with maths can appear to be more pronounced than with other subjects although there is no suggestion of dyscalculia.
6: Are there other signs of dyscalculia as well as simply not being able to do maths?
Many people who suffer from dyscalculia also report that they have difficulty remembering sequences of events, map reading, learning journeys, telling the time and handling money.
Obviously as we have entered the digital age many of these skills have become less necessary. We don’t need to deal in change if using a credit or debit card. Most dyscalculics can relate to a digital clock much more easily than an analogue clock. Many mobile phones have access to a system that will guide one where one wants to go.
However sequences can still be a problem. Learning one’s phone number can be difficult, as can plotting out a series of events that one has to prepare for or undertake.
Tony Attwood C.Ed., B.A., M.Phil (Lond) F.Inst.A.M