- Part one: What is dyscalculia?
- Part two: Exams and employment
- Part three: Entry requirements and discrimination against dyscalculic people
- Part four: The tests for dyscalculia
Dyscalculia is the name given to difficulty in learning about, comprehending or using numbers, which is out of line with the individual’s general educational level.
In a typical case we might find a person who is clearly of average or above average intelligence, and yet when it comes to maths is unable to undertake the most basic calculations.
Such people will have difficulty in undertaking mathematical calculations such as adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, and can often find they also have difficulty understanding money, time, distances, directions and so on.
Dyscalculia is sometimes called “Number Blindness” and it was first noted in 1919 by Salomon Henschen, a Swedish neurologist, who specifically noted that the people he was considering had lower than expected mathematical abilities but average or above average intelligence in general.
The cause of dyscalculia is now known to be genetic – which means that dyscalculia cannot be cured. However it is possible, with the right kind of specialist teaching, for dyscalculic people to come to understand and use maths. It is obviously most helpful if this specialist teaching is undertaken at school, but because this does not happen in many cases, the dyscalculic person can reach adulthood having had no help in overcoming this disability and not having found the support and help he or she quite reasonably feels is needed.
A typical comment from a dyscalculic person who has never had any specialist help can be along the lines of, “I know I’m not stupid, but I just can’t do maths!”
Unfortunately, although dyscalculia is a recognised medical condition, it does not readily come under the ambit of GPs or the NHS, not least because it is genetic in origin and therefore (as already noted) there is no cure that can be offered. However this does not mean that dyscalculic people cannot be helped.
The Dyscalculia Centre is a private organisation which primarily provides materials to help pupils and students in school, college and university attain a basic level of maths ability. However, since we were founded in 2010 we have had a growing number of enquiries from adults who feel they may be suffering from dyscalculia – hence this page, and the fact that our tests for dyscalculia can be used by adults as well as pupils and students.
Thus we work in two major fields: one is the testing of individuals to see if it is likely that they have dyscalculia, and the other is the provision of materials to help people who are dyscalculic understand basic maths. Both of these fields of work can be used by adults as well as children.
The diagnostic test and the materials are not age dependent. The materials do on occasion make reference to “pupil” and “student” as the majority of people taking our diagnostic test or being taught using our materials are under 18, but this should not be taken to mean that the materials are not suitable for older people.
There is a tradition in British exams that where a person taking an exam suffers from a condition that has nothing to do with the issues being studied, but which may affect the taking of the exam, then the examining body should arrange for special provision to be made for the individual.
Thus a person who is dyslexic may be given extra time in a geography exam to write essays, and may also have a person sitting with him/her who will read the questions to the student and perhaps read back the student’s written answers. These arrangements are there because the aim of the exam is to test the student’s understanding of geography, not the student’s ability to read and write.
However the exact details of how exemptions are arranged is down to each exam board or organisation running the exam, and these not only differ between exam boards, but can differ over time.
But exemptions are special arrangements and are not always applicable. To give an extreme example, an accountant clearly has to be able to cope with maths at fairly advanced level, and thus the fact that a person is dyscalculic would not be considered an acceptable reason for that person not having the expected ability in maths at the start of the course.
Likewise, when a nurse wishes to become a prescribing nurse she/he has to take a maths test, and no allowance for dyscalculia is made, because being able to prescribe and administer the correct dose of a drug is considered to be the essence of the work. However it seems that some exam boards do now extend this notion, and are refusing to make any allowance for dyscalculia in any exam.
It is common for universities and colleges to stipulate that students applying for a specific course must first have certain qualifications. And indeed sometimes this is perfectly logical and understandable, as noted above with the case of a course in accountancy. But the institution is on less solid ground if teaching A level art, or a degree course in art, and requiring that the student has to have a good pass in maths at GCSE. However that claim is still made in some cases.
Unfortunately an appeal against this which goes to the university will normally be rejected on the grounds that “these are the regulations”. Taking the appeal further will be very time-consuming and normally the student wants to enter a course now – not in two years’ time after various appeals procedures have been completed.
Testing for dyscalculia comes in various forms, and it is important consider why you want the test done, as well as what the results of the test will tell you. Tests range from being free, up to costing £350 or more, so it is important to think this issue through before you begin making arrangements.
The simplest type of test is the indicative test, and an example of this is available on this website. It is available for free. The results don’t say you have or don’t have dyscalculia, but they do indicate if you are likely to be dyscalculic or not.
You can read about this introductory test here, and from that article you will find a link to the test.
The second level of test is the online diagnostic test , and again such a test is available from the Dyscalculia Centre. This test costs £49.95 and is much more comprehensive than the introductory test and the results are much more detailed, giving insights into where the specific problems with maths are identified as being. If you take the test and we find that you are likely to be dyscalculic then we will also provide you with materials that can help you overcome your dyscalculia.
However please note that these materials do need you to work with another person who is not dyscalculic. That person does not have to be a teacher or a mathematician; it just has to be a person who does not have dyscalculia – a person who has passed GCSE maths at any time in the past will be able to help you with these materials.
You can pause the test at any time to give you a break, especially if you feel worried about facing mathematical questions. You can start again later.
Calculators and other devices that can work out mathematical answers are not permitted at all in the test. You can, however, work out answers on paper or using fingers, but must not look answers up or get help. You may well find this short article on the test helpful.
The test costs £49.95 and this price includes the delivery to you of the resources that we feel will help you work with a friend or colleague to overcome your dyscalculia.
To proceed with the test please either send a cheque payable to Websites and Blogs for £49.95 to 1 Oathill Close, Brixworth, Northants NN6 9BE, or call 01604 880 927 where you can pay by credit card.
If writing to us please include your email address and we will reply, directing you to the website which will provide instructions for the test, and this will then allow you to move onto the test itself.
However if you would like a definitive pronouncement on whether you, a friend, or another member of your family is dyscalculic, you will need to see an educational psychologist who works with dyscalculia. To find an appropriate person you might wish to contact the Association of Educational Psychologists or the British Psychological Society As a very general guide we are informed that the cost of a test for dyscalculia is often in order of £350, but you will obviously need to check with these organisations to find if they have anyone in your area, what the current cost is.
But it should be noted that any diagnosis of dyscalculia, or possible dyscalculia, by a psychologist does not of itself do anything to help you overcome the problems dyscalculia brings; it is simply a diagnosis of a cause. Likewise you should not assume that having had a psychologist give such a diagnosis that a school, college, university or employer will automatically take note of this. We have come across situations in which individual school headteachers will refuse to give extra support to children who have been diagnosed by a psychologist, giving as their reason the fact that the school management do not believe dyscalculia is real or do not accept this psychologist’s diagnosis. You may wish to be particularly wary of schools that say, “We’ll have a look at what the psychologist says, and see what we think.”
The unfortunate decline in the number of inspectors visiting schools has meant that such an approach can be overlooked by the inspectorate or merely responded to with a warning from the inspectorate to the school and nothing more.
If you find you are dealing with a school or educational authority in any part of the UK which is being less than helpful you may well find that our article “Special Needs and the Law” will help you.