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How to estimate if an individual has dyscalculia without administering a test

On this website we have two tests for dyscalculia – one is a very straightforward free test which can be done in a matter of minutes; the other is a much more comprehensive test that can take between 20 and 30 minutes, and which gives a much more detailed assessment of the individual’s specific difficulties.  The results of this more detailed test are also accompanied by materials that can help the individual start to overcome problem areas that the test reveals.

But if you do not wish to involve the individual in testing, but instead wish to make a preliminary diagnosis from your own observations, you might care to look at the issues set out below.

None of these are going to give you definitive answers about whether an individual has dyscalculia, but they can be indicative of whether it is worth investigating further.  If you observe a number of these factors you might well decide that a more analytical test is going to be helpful.

1: Estimation.  At different stages in a child’s development, the ability to estimate how many beans, books, counters or pens there are in a group comes into play.  This doesn’t mean knowing that there are 35 counters on the table, but rather being able to estimate “30” as opposed to “100” or “5”.  A refusal to estimate, perhaps combined with signs of anxiety or simply being reliant on pure guesswork, at a stage when others are willing and able to make a reasoned guess, is a suggestive trait.

2: Mental arithmetic is normally very seriously impaired in dyscalculic people.  Again it is not so much the right answer to a mental arithmetic question that one is always looking for, but a guess or estimate of an answer that is in the right area.  A failure to grasp the general area of the answer can be an indicator of dyscalculia.

3: Young people with dyscalculia have a problem dealing with all numbers, so counting backwards can be a particular difficulty, and dyscalculics will often find that they can’t undertake this task when others who might be poor at maths but not dyscalculic can at least make a valiant attempt.

4: Timing.  Dyscalculics can learn to perform mathematical functions such as working out division questions, but invariably will undertake these more slowly than pupils and students who are poor at maths, but not dyscalculic.

5: Forgetfulness.  Because of the genetic issues that cause dyscalculia, it is common for dyscalculic students who have learned a mathematical process such as long multiplication, long division or indeed certain times tables, then to forget what they have learned in a very short space of time.

6: Telling the time both in a 12 hour clock and a 24 hour time table can be very difficult for dyscalculics, and they often have a much greater difficulty with time that their fellows of a same age.

7: Being able to describe directions to proceed on a walk that they know very well (while most fellow pupils or students can do this) is another indication that dyscalculia may well be present.

8.  The concept of zero can cause problems for dyscalculics, as this is, in many regards, a wholly artificial concept.  It is noteworthy that the Roman Republic and Roman Empire was wholly organised on a mathematical system that did not contain a zero.

If you notice a number of issues from the above list being present in a child it is certainly worth considering whether the child is dyscalculic, and then if you feel that is the case, proceeding to one of the tests for dyscalculia on our site.

There are details of our on line test which can be administered by teachers on this website while if you are a parent considering the situation relating to your son or daughter there is further information that you may find helpful here.