It has taken a long time for dyscalculia to become recognised as a significant special need that should be considered as a possibility whenever a pupil or student is thought to be performing in maths at a level considerably below that which might otherwise be expected.
The growing understanding of dyscalculia has been hampered by an occasional lack of awareness of the varied ways in which dyscalculia can express itself within a pupil or student’s behaviour.
This is rather different from dyslexia where a recognition of the genetic disorder can on occasion be more readily spotted.
The specific problem with dyscalculia originates in the nature of maths itself. Maths is, of course, the ultimate logical subject, with each element building on what has gone before.
At its simplest, if a child fails to grasp (for example) the essence of addition, then it is unlikely that the child will make much sense of multiplication. A child who doesn’t grasp division will have a hard time with fractions, and so on.
As a result of this, a pupil or student who fails to make progress in school in maths might not be making the progress because he/she has dyscalculia, but also might not be making progress because the child was absent for a prolonged period during the teaching of specific concepts in maths and has never had a chance to catch up.
Such an issue can be complicated by the attitude towards maths of the child’s parents. If the parents find maths hard going, or worse, if one of the parents takes the view that, “I was never any good at maths and it never harmed me” (or the variant – “what do you need maths for – you’ve got a computer haven’t you?”), then the child also starts to turn against maths and fails to apply him/herself.
But this is only the start of the problems with dyscalculia, because it turns out that issues such as problems with the transference between the short and long term memory can also cause dyscalculia-like difficulties.
In a recent article Tony Attwood, head of the Dyscalculia Centre which has undertaken diagnostic tests on over 1000 pupils and students suspected of carrying the gene variant that causes dyscalculia, outlined five different formulations of dyscalculia.
This article which originally appeared in SEN Magazine has now been updated and re-published on the Centre’s website here. It gives a clear indication of what the five types of dyscalculia are, and how they can be readily identified.