I first noticed there was something different about my brain in primary school. Dyscalculia was not a recognised condition at the time, certainly not at any of the schools I attended. As soon as I was expected to detach visual aids from maths, it became a problem for me. I could understand maths when I could see the things to count, even my fingers. Removing this, broke my fragile relationship with maths. No one understood why I could not grasp these supposedly simple concepts. My memory of this time was there were a lot of teachers who just didn’t understand why I could excel in certain subjects and fail stunningly in anything related to maths.
What is Dyscalculia?
There are lots of things my brain refuses to cooperate with me on. I have never been able to learn my times tables. All that chanting out numerical sequences baffles me. Those patterns that you can see and recognise in times tables, well I can’t understand them nor retain that knowledge.
Never take it personally that I don’t remember a certain date or your phone number. My brain does not like numbers so it farts out large chunks of numerically based data, then scrambles the remaining few digits. That’s why I write stuff down, my brain cannot be trusted with any information containing numbers whatsoever.
When I see a list of numbers, things sort of rearrange themselves in front of me. I find it hard to read and often have to use my hands to mask sections. Even then, I will still transpose numbers or miss some out.
I’m unable to do mental arithmetics. Yes, I do still have to use my fingers to count, I’m just better at disguising what I’m doing now. Anything too complex and my standard answers become “who cares?” or “do it yourself”. When asked to perform feats of maths, I get panicky, then the rushing sound starts. As my blood courses its way through my head, pounding each beat with emphasis, I start to feel sick. No maths can be done in this state.
Other Ways Dyscalculia Affects Me
Then there’s the no sense of time, direction or spatial awareness aspects. Since numbers don’t make much sense to me, I easily lose track of time and am always late. If you leave me in a large paper bag, I will get lost. Making mental maps, reading maps, finding my way about is another set of tasks my brain misfires on. I walk into immovable objects a lot. Doors, door frames, the occasional wall and more can all bear witness to this. No those bruises are not dodgy, and yes I really did walk into a door. I forget how long my arms are, how wide my shoulders are and prang them constantly.
Numbers are a foreign language to me. I understand the basics but am unable to master the finer complexities of it. I will always sound like a non-native speaker in the land of maths. Permanently confused. You could try to teach me, but there’s no guarantee I will retain anything for any length of time. My uncle taught me how to play chess one evening, then was annoyed at the fact I had forgotten most of it a day later. Even complex sets of rules for a game can cloud my brain into non-compliance.
Being Wired Differently
School was a nightmare for me. People bullied me badly because of my oddly wired brain. Let’s face it if I confounded adults I scared the crap out of other kids. From primary 5 onwards I was bullied incessantly. I had moved to yet another school, my accent was the object of ridicule along with the fact I didn’t live with my parents. My teacher was bullying me, I had no idea who to tell nor who would care. She was a friend of the aunt I lived with. At a private meeting between my aunt, the teacher and I, it was made clear to me, that this teacher was going to make my life hell, so I assumed my aunt had recommended this course of treatment. The teacher would pull me up in front of the class to make fun of me. I earned the nickname “Smart Thick Kid” from her and it stuck.
It was only when I got to high school and noticed a few people with dyslexia, that I joined up the dots for myself. They had diagnosed one of my friends with it. I eventually asked her what it felt like and how it affected her. As she explained her story to me, I realised that there was a similarity with my own issues. “That’s like me, but for maths!” I told my friend, so I started calling it maths dyslexia.
Many years after I had left school, I was finally in a household with my own internet connection. One which I knew no one would give two hoots for my looking up learning difficulties. Armed with a sense of freedom and a search engine, I looked up the term “dyslexia maths”. There were pages of information, many detailing similar problems to my own.
I cried, like a baby when I realised I was not alone. My strange brain wirings were also other people’s problems. All those odd things that I couldn’t do but I didn’t even realise were connected – were. In black and white, I could see my wiring laid out. I no longer felt so alone. The mere knowledge there are others like me, soothed me greatly.
The bullying I received throughout my entire education did not end when I left school. Even in a workplace environment, I have been told that I am “smart but thick”. Nonchalantly and to my face, as if this is somehow an acceptable form of conversation.
My comfort comes from my verboseness, my love of words, languages, the way I can see patterns in words. I notice tiny details, that allows me to appreciate and create art in my own unique way, I see things others fail to. My brain adores clinging on to random interesting facts and then firing them out at the strangest of moments. There are many things I can do, which do not rely on the miswired sections of my brain. Perhaps my talents exist because I see things differently from most people? I’d like to think it’s a reward for having wonky maths. The only thing I would like to change is other people’s perceptions of my condition. It is absolutely possible to be terrible at all things maths related, yet not be a complete, blithering idiot. After all, we all have our own unique strengths and weaknesses.