What is Dyscalculia?

Maths assessment Sydney

Dyscalculia refers to a learning disability featuring a distinct difficulty understanding and applying mathematical concepts. This difficulty occurs without an accompanying intellectual disability, with the child often falling within the normal IQ range. Additionally the child’s performance and abilities in other academic areas are generally unaffected. Impairments in dyscalculia may involve areas such as simple number formats (whole numbers and time), arithmetic, number operations, spatial reasoning and measurement. The deficit may be specific and non-inclusive, such as difficulty with simple arithmetic but not with traditionally harder, more abstract concepts. The impairments involved in dyscalculia can vary according to age.

Young children may experience:

  • Difficulty learning to count
  • Trouble identifying printed numbers
  • Difficulty with simple arithemetic
  • Difficulty remembering numbers
  • Difficulty associating different proportions to a number (e.g. 4 horses, 4 legs, 4 cars)
  • Difficulty organizing objects in a logical way

School age children may experience:

  • Difficulty with times tables
  • Difficulty with mental arithmetic
  • Difficulty understanding and remembering mathematical concepts (e.g. fractions of a whole)
  • An inability to grasp and remember mathematical rules, formulae, and sequences (e.g. the order of operations)
  • Difficulty conceptualising units of measurement (e.g. time, volume, weight)
  • Difficulty with estimates (distances etc)
  • Mixing up operational signs (e.g. +, -, ÷, x)

Teenagers/ adults may experience:

  • Difficulty with/avoid using calculators (ordering operations)
  • Difficulty with/avoidance of  mental calculations
  • Difficulty finding multiple approaches to solve problems
  • Poor sense of direction
  • Difficulty with concepts of time and measurement
  • Difficulty/avoidance of estimation (costs, amounts, size of object, distances)

Assessment of Dyscalculia

To assess for dyscalculia at the SCDC we conduct an IQ test as well as tests of academic achievement, mathematical skills, and possibly visual processing. Academic achievement tests are used by the centre to identify whether the child is performing well across other areas of functioning. This is important to help identify whether the maths skills deficit is a learning disability or part of a wider issue reflected across other academic domains. The IQ test is used to identify any intellectual impairment which may be contributing to the mathematical difficulties. The IQ test assesses areas crucial to mathematical skills including working memory and processing speed. In addition, the assessing psychologist has opportunity to view your child’s attention skills and focus during the assessment. Working memory impairments can reduce a child’s ability to combine and manipulate digits in order to solve equations. Additionally, general memory issues involving storage and retrieval may be present which can hinder the child’s cumulative understanding of mathematical concepts. If a child has difficulty completing arithmetic and equations, this may indicate issues with visual processing. A child’s visual processing speed may be slower or less efficient than their peers, which may increase the time required for them to understand and build upon classroom concepts. If issues with visual processing are highlighted during the IQ assessment, higher level visual processing tests may be used which can identify specific issues. The child’s attention span is also paramount in understanding classroom material. Children with attention span issues often develop an accompanying learning disability simply due to their inability to stay on task and absorb the information the teacher is providing. As mathematical skills are developed in a cumulative fashion, an issue with attention span may put a child’s maths skills behind those of their peers.We may recommend that if other cognitive issues are noted, that the child has a more comprehensive neuropsychological assessment, or combines a dyscalculia assessment with an ADHD assessment. At the Sydney Cognitive Development Centre all testing is tailored to individual needs.

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