Demystifying Dyscalculia: Assessment, Evaluation, and Identification of Dyscalculia

As mentioned in the Defining Dyscalculia post, dyscalculia is a learning disability in math.  But how is it identified?  It is identified by a comprehensive psychoeducational evaluation performed by a licensed psychologist.  It begins with a comprehensive developmental history interview.  Then, the child is administered a series of assessments.  The assessments include examining:
  • Language and verbal retrieval skills

This is important for the retrieval of previously learned math facts.  In addition, language is important for math word problems.  That is, picking out the most important details within a math word problem in order to arrive at the correct answer.
  • Working Memory

Working memory is the ability to briefly hold information in your mind and then mentally manipulate it.  A good example of that is being able to say your address or phone number backwards.  Or more practically, following multi-step instructions; you must hear all of the instructions first, and then do the first one, then the next one, and so on, while holding all of that information in your mind.  Working memory is important not only for performing mental math, but also written arithmetic.  For instance, remembering the order of operations of a problem or remembering the steps you are performing.
  • Executive Functions

Executive functions are skills that are important in order to execute a task.  The most important executive functions in math are planning, organization, selective attention, and self-monitoring.  For planning, it is important to understand how to perform the problem before jumping in.  Poor planning typically results in impulsive responding.  Organization is important in the visual-spatial realm.  Poor visual organization typically manifests in incorrect responses.  Selective attention is being able to choose the most important information, while ignoring “distractors” (i.e., not important information); like in a word problem.  And self-monitoring is important for ensuring that the calculations are done correctly, and the correct operations are chosen.  It is not uncommon for students to add numbers that they are supposed to subtract or to subtract numbers that they are supposed to add; this is indicative of poor self-monitoring.
  • Visual Spatial Alignment

Multi-digit addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division requires individuals to be able to line up numbers correctly.  Deficits in visual spatial alignment is associated with right parietal dysfunction.
  • Mathematical Achievement

When assessing for dyscalculia, it is important to assess calculation, problem solving, and fluency.  This is typically done with comprehensive achievement tests and sometimes diagnostic math assessments.  More importantly, a well trained examiner will be able to identify “why” the child is incorrectly solving the problem through qualitative analyses of their work. If you are concerned about your child having dyscalculia, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Andersen (602.699.4543;  He offers FREE phone and teleconference consults!